You know, despite having become a huge fan of all sorts of American-made Belgian beer styles in the last few years, Belgian beer that is actually from Belgium can still be something of an oddity for me. I find it much more difficult to select a random Belgian beer off one of the shelves than a comparable American brew, unless I recognize it as being a trappist ale or something else that I figure is a near guarantee of quality. A lot of the breweries I just don’t know, and it’s not like there’s a lot of helpful English description on the side of the bottle to enlighten me.
In the end, I often find myself looking at a beer I don’t fully understand, noting how much more expensive it is than the American-style brew from a brewery I know, and then putting it back on the shelf and buying the “better deal.”
So it was with heightened interest that I actually purchased and tried De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout the other day. Why did I do it? Well, the guy at the package store said “You should try this,” and then graciously allowed me to buy a single bottle, that’s why. And I don’t say no to that sort of thing. It’s part of my “accepting things from strangers” rules–if the thing is beer, then you always say “yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”
What do I expect? I have no idea. “Belgian stout” is such a nebulous pseudo-style that seems like it can taste anywhere from “stout” to “quadrupel” at will. And I am afraid of all the extra descriptors–were “extra” and “export” really needed after “special”? Anyway, on to the tasting.
NOTES: 330 ml bottle (METRIC SYSTEM RAAAAAGGGHHHH) poured into a tulip glass.
ABV: 9%, Belgian foreign export stout
APPEARANCE: Explosive carbonation fills the whole glass and then takes ages to dissipate. Extremely carbonated. Not sure if this is somehow my fault, but it takes a half hour to really pour the whole thing.
AROMA: Sour cherries and intense, vinous, sweet fruit aromas. Grape? Some archetypal Belgian funkiness on the back end, but mostly a fruit bomb. Smells kind of like a quad.
TASTE: After smelling it, I was afraid that this was going to be all fruit, but here it’s clear that this actually is a “stout.” There’s helpings of roast, and fruit and a low level of sour tang. There’s enough roastiness to keep it from being totally out-there, which I appreciate. There’s some booze, but it definitely doesn’t taste like 9% abv beer. These elements all work together in good harmony. Think like, chocolate-covered cherries.
MOUTHFEEL: Prickly carbonation. I don’t know what was going on with this bottle, carb-wise. I’ve experienced this with a few beers from Belgium. In this case though, it makes the mouthfeel lighter than a 9% beer would normally be, which is okay with me.
DRINKABILITY: Really quite high, for something so strong and with a good amount of residual sugar.
OVERALL: I am pleasantly surprised. It’s a very satisfying balance, especially as it warms. You’ve got equal elements of sour, roast and fruit working in harmony. It’s got it all. It’s almost like they just took a quadrupel (which I often find too sweet and cloying) and added a roasted element to dry it out just a tad. I give it a praise-worthy 3.5 hops.