Curieux, which is French for “curious,” is exactly what Allagash Brewing Company founder Rob Tod was when he decided to avoid wasting an extra batch of beer by aging it in bourbon barrels. We had the privilege of hearing him recount the entertaining story behind this fine beer during last year’s Allagash dinner at Granville Moore’s. We thought those of you heading over to The Reef tonight for Firkin Thursday would enjoy the story behind this week’s beer.
This is a beer we totally stumbled on, which is like a lot of the funky beers we come up with. I mean, beers we’ve kind of stumbled on, or mistakes or problems we’ve tasted and been like, “Wow this is kind of good. We should sell it.” This is one of those. The story with this beer…
We had a batch of Tripel, and this is back when we only had a couple tanks and we bottled the Tripel in the big cork-finished bottles. There’s only a couple bottle factories in the world that make this traditional Belgian-style shape bottles. We buy them from a plant in France, and they’ve got to go from France to Belgium to, I don’t know, Newark, New Jersey, and then up to Allagash, but they’ve gotta clear customs and they get held up in customs all the time.
This started around September 11th; everything was getting held up back then. We had a batch of Tripel we wanted to bottle, but we were basically short on bottles because there was a whole containter of bottles that was being held up in customs. We had no idea when it was going to show up, and we needed to bottle this batch of Tripel. We were going to have about 150 gallons of beer that didn’t have a home that we were going to dump.
About two weeks prior to that we had gotten a couple Jim Beam bourbon barrels. We just wanted to mess around with beer in bourbon barrels. People always envision doing a darker beer, not a light beer, for some reason, in the bourbon barrels. But anyway, we don’t like to waste beers. We kind of looked at the tank and looked at the barrels and were like, “We’ll fill the barrels with the Tripel so we don’t waste it, even though it’s probably going to taste like shit after a little while.”
So we filled the barrels with the Tripel, and bunged them real solidly with wooden bungs, which I guess was kind of a mistake. That was on a Wednesday. When I came in on Saturday there was nowhere for the pressure to go in these barrels because the bungs were so solid. I don’t know if they were refermenting or what was going on, but the barrels were almost vibrating with pressure. There was literally beer squirting out the heads of these barrels, and between the staves, and I kind of panicked because I thought one of these barrels would explode. I think they maybe could have because the heads were bulging.
So I ran to grab a screwdriver and a hammer and got down on my knees to start tapping a bung to loosen it to let some pressure out. The bung exploded out of this barrel making a huge pop. The bung went up and hit the ceiling. It went up 14 feet to the top of the warehouse. I got covered with foam, and I took my glasses off and there was this foam cascading down the side of the barrel. We don’t like to waste beer. So when that started happening I was down on my knees and I began slurping the foam that was cascading out of this barrel. I was thinking, “Wow, this stuff is f*&%ing good!”
I immediately called Jason, who is now our brewmaster at Allagash. He’s been there 12 years. I said, “Man, we gotta make this stuff.” That next Monday we ordered 10 wood barrels from Jim Beam and since then we’ve had a great relationship with them. This beer is just our Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. We totally stumbled on this beer.
It only ages in the barrels for about six to eight weeks, and right when the beer hits the barrels, it just sucks the bourbon out of the wood and into the beer. It’s almost like instantly aging the beer for a couple years in this wood because that bourbon that gets sucked into it just has all these wood flavors, so it totally transforms the beer. It gives it a coconut character, almost a dill character, of course a little bit of bourbon, and some kind of roasted charcoal notes.
Photo by Bernt Rostad used under Creative Commons license