De Dolle Oerbier: Simply the best?
I’ve been saving this one. Oerbier is one of the very best beers in the world, and I thought it best to taste about a million others before I attempted to describe how great it really is. Just to be sure. Besides, this is a somewhat rare and hard-to-find beer, and the fewer people that know about it, the more there is for me.
So, just how good is it? It is staggeringly good.
Oerbier means original, and it is a strong, dark Belgian ale from De Dolle Brewery in Esen. But this is proof positive that it doesn’t take centuries of toiling by lonely monks in dark monasteries to come up with perfection in a bottle. A couple of college kids with a typical five gallon home brew kit came up with this concoction in 1980. I have no idea what their position in life is today, but here’s hoping they’re Bill Gates-rich and laughing.
Pour this ale into a proper Belgian snifter and look out for the foam. The huge, dense, tan colored head is massive and will last longer than you’ll allow the cloudy, dark brown beer to remain in the glass. The incredible complexity of this beer is already apparent in the aroma. It smells delicious. Tart apples, cherries, and some spice come out first, but you can sniff away as long as you like and all sorts of nuances will come out. Granted, it is mostly malt aromas, but it still manages a crackle without a big hop presence. Take your time and enjoy the aromas. This is a beer that rewards you every step of the way.
But drinking this stuff offers the true reward. A pure pleasure to sip, the mouthfeel alone is superb. It caresses the mouth with a warm, velvety smoothness. The flavors are as complex as the aromas. The malts are certainly front and center, with only a slight, but impeccable nudge from the hops at just the right instant. A delicate, creamy sweetness is wrapped gently in the tart apples and cherries so well that the sweetness never comes close to overpowering the flavor. The carbonation and alcohol lend a snap and warmth to add even more dimensions. Keep sipping and there are seemingly infinite surprises to discover — bananas, pepper, bread, raisins, plums, cloves, citrus (maybe orange), mint…all this and more, without ever turning into a confused and muddled mess. It even opens up more as it warms to some riper and darker fruits. Then the finish holds just enough of a bite to cleanse the palate for the next taste. This is also one of those beers that are perfectly fine to age. Put them aside and cellar them, if you can, and let the bottle fermentation continue, and the flavors begin to meld further, resulting in an already fine beer being enhanced with a hint of a fine wine undertone.
Any meal would have to be spectacular to compete with this beer. I think I prefer to sip it on its own, but a great steak, or any especially good meat dish, could pair nicely. You’ll be sad and want more at the end of the glass, I’ve never not wanted another one of these, but keep in mind there is a hefty 9% alcohol content. Then, there is the hefty price. Greatness doesn’t come cheap.
Oerbier is spectacular. It’s hard to imagine a beer can be better. Maybe, it can’t. Massively complex and extremely delicious, it’s practically a perfect meal in itself. Treat yourself, or someone very special, to one of the finest beers on the planet. They are expensive, but worth every single penny. But keep all this to yourself, and, please — leave one on the store shelf for me.