There are several reasons for this. One of the biggest is Alabama’s 16-ounce container limit on beer. Most of the great sour beers are packaged in either 22-ounce or 750-milliliter bottles.
Another factor is that the American craft breweries on the cutting edge of what I would call the “sour beer movement” have chosen not to distribute here yet, and this may have something to do with the issue of container size.
But something else that must surely be implicated in our dearth of sours is consumer demand or, rather, the lack thereof. Birmingham has a voracious appetite for double IPAs, but there seems to be little demand for sour beer. And this is something of a catch 22, since it’s hard to generate demand for a style of beer that’s nearly impossible to find in the area. It’s an easy jump to go from drinking IPAs to double IPAs, but there isn’t really a readily available beer in Birmingham that works as a good training beer for serious sours.
But all hope is not lost. If you’re willing to pay a bit more than you would for “normal” beers, there are a few good sours to be had at select stores. I’d like to review a few of them over the next few weeks as a way to stimulate demand for some beers I consider to be among the highest forms of the brewing art.
First up, De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva. The biggest pro of starting a sour series with this beer is that it’s very mild on the sour scale. It’s just mildly tart, so it is to sour beers what IPAs are to double IPAs. The biggest con of starting the series with this beer is that it’s one of the most expensive beers sold in Alabama. I paid over $10 for one 11.2-ounce bottle at Vulcan Beverage. The high retail price of Special Reserva is due in part to it being an expensive beer to produce. Another factor is supply and demand, since it is made in very small quantities.
In my opinion, it’s worth the money. How many people think $20 is too much for a bottle of wine? The real difference here is that to get a bottle of wine with Special Reserva’s quality, scarcity and distinction, you’d have to pay in excess of $100.
Special Reserva is a stronger, barrel-aged version of De Dolle Oerbier, a Belgian strong dark ale. The barrel aging gives it the subtle tartness I mentioned earlier, and the special version happens to have a 13-percent ABV. The flavor is full of candied cherries, a little chocolate, a spicy Belgian yeast character and a light acidity providing the tartness. It’s exceptionally complex.
I’m inclined to enjoy a special treat like this on its own, without food interfering with my appreciation of the subtleties. But you could enjoy a mild, earthy cheese like Camembert with it.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com