Last week, Allagash Brewing Co. teased and then announced a change that was a long time in the making: One of its most popular beers, Curieux, is now available in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles. Changing a packaging style on a single beer doesn’t usually get my attention, but I had to make an exception for a beloved beer that is finally getting this packaging change-up.
Curieux is Allagash’s Belgian-style Tripel ale that’s been barrel-aged. Tripel and Curieux start their beer journey with the same recipe, using Allagash’s house yeast to produce a golden-hewn brew that is sweet, complex, biscuit-y and somewhat dry. All the way back in 2004 (hard to believe it’s been that long), Allagash decided to see what would happen if that Tripel was aged in barrels, and that experiment became Curieux.
To make Curieux, the beer is put into bourbon barrels for a seven-week stay – just shy of two months – and spends all that time absorbing the flavors of bourbon and oak, mingling sugars and booze and beer. The aged beer is then blended back with a small amount of the original Tripel to balance out the beer’s taste and to even out any differences from barrel to barrel.
The resulting beer is as much of an olfactory delight as it is a gustatory one. There are few Maine beers that are as familiar to my sense of smell than Allagash Curieux. Take any tour of Allagash, and you will walk through a room where the Curieux barrels are kept, lining the walls in neat rows and stacked to the ceiling. The smell upon walking into the room is that of sweetness, molasses and vanilla. It’s so exquisite that I’ve suggested to Allagash employees that they should consider selling Curieux candles, but no one has taken me up on that yet.
Its taste is a delicately-tuned balance of strong flavors. It is a dance between the sweetness and slight boozy notes of the bourbon, the vanilla and coconut from the wooden barrels, and the underlying malt-forward Belgian beer that still finishes cleanly, despite all the added age. The best way to enjoy Curieux is slightly warmed by the heat of your hands around the glass; it allows the esters and aromatics to get their time in the spotlight.
The addition of four-packs is something that’s been requested by beer lovers for some time, mostly because of the beer’s high alcohol content. The large format 750-milliliter bottle contains two to four servings, depending on the pour size, at 11 percent alcohol each. While the large bottles are nice in principle, there was an unmet need for people who wanted to enjoy Curieux more often or have just one with a meal or at home without the commitment of opening and drinking multiple servings or needing a special occasion to share.
The four packs of bottles will meet that need but won’t replace the 750-milliliter bottles entirely. The four-packs will also be limited in their distribution to Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and California. In Allagash’s announcement, the company stressed that this limited roll-out is to make sure the quality is the same when production increases for the new format.
Curieux was Allagash’s first barrel-aged beer, and it remains its most popular. In 2004, many craft brewers were choosing to package their beer into larger 750-milliliter or “bomber” bottles, a trend that became less popular as smaller-scale canning and bottling became more affordable and readily available. I am thrilled that Allagash’s lineup of four-packs (which already includes House, Saison, Black and the flagship White, along with the recently-added Sixteen Counties and Hoppy Table Beer) now reaches through its entire catalog.
While I have never met anyone that didn’t enjoy or at least appreciate Curieux, I have met many that haven’t tried it. Having the four-pack option for distribution may lead this beer to go into more curious hands, and I think that’s a very fine thing.