So what is the connection between Tripel, Curieux, and Barrel & Bean? Well, they all start out as the same beer; it’s just what we do to those beers after they’re brewed that makes all the difference.
As a Belgian-inspired brewery, we knew that we wanted to brew a Tripel from the beginning. For background, Tripels are a traditional style of golden ale, first brewed in Belgian abbeys hundreds of years ago. Back in 1997, two years after he founded Allagash, Rob brewed our first batch of what is now Allagash Tripel, a strong golden ale that relies on our house yeast for its balanced notes of passion fruit and honey. It is an elegant, dry, and supremely drinkable beer, despite its 9% alcohol by volume content, which is fairly high by beer standards; the average Pilsner will hover around 5% alcohol by volume.
So what does Tripel have to do with Allagash Curieux? It’s the beer that, after aging in Bourbon barrels for seven weeks, essentially is Curieux. Though its origin story is a matter of some dispute around the brewery, the widely accepted version starts with a delayed shipment of bottles. That bottle delay left us with a large amount of Tripel, which we had to find a home for; and it just so happened that we had some empty bourbon barrels—that we had been pondering for months what to fill with.
By aging Tripel for just seven weeks, the beer gained rich notes of caramel, vanilla, and even a hint of coconut out of the charred oak of the barrels. Then, we found that by blending that aged beer back with a small portion of fresh, un-aged Tripel, it highlighted, rather than subdued, all of that newly gained barrel-aged character. Of course, there’s a hint of bourbon flavor to Curieux, but how much bourbon flavor depends almost entirely on the person sipping the beer. We’ve heard people call it anything from subtle to downright prominent. You can let your palate be the judge.
BLENDING BARRELS AND BEANS
Then we have Barrel & Bean. First brewed as “James Bean,” Barrel & Bean is our Curieux blended with cold-brewed coffee. Here, there is no dispute about the circumstance that led to this beer’s creation. Jason, our brewmaster, very much enjoyed the coffee of a specific roaster, Matt, of Speckled Ax in Portland, Maine. Apropos of nothing, Jason sent Matt a note about how much he enjoyed his coffee. Turns out, Matt shared equal admiration for Jason’s beer-brewing skills. So the two started talking and worked together to find the perfect coffee to blend with Curieux. After tasting eight different types of bean, they, and our brewing team, landed on a favorite for the blend: a single-origin, naturally processed Ethiopian bean.
To make Barrel & Bean, we grind hundreds of pounds of freshly roasted beans and stick the grounds into mesh sacks. Those sacks then go into a large holding vessel that we fill with water and let steep until the cold-brewed coffee is flavorful and ready. We then add both the coffee and Curieux into the same vessel and let the two marry, resulting in Barrel & Bean. In that beer we find a wonderful mix of roasty coffee, vanilla, oak, caramel and just a hint of fruit from the Belgian yeast’s aromatic esters. A decadent and completely delightful beer.