Best case of the DT's, ever
Ever since I’ve started writing about beer, almost everyone I know has suggested one or another that I just had to try. The advice is always welcome, even if rarely taken. You never know when you’re going to get turned onto something that was just overlooked before. Like finally finding out how good that little corner diner is that you always walked past, but never ventured into. Then, sometimes, you get clued in on something that is a little hard to find. Something you would never have just stumbled upon without being pointed in the right direction, but once found, you wonder how you ever got on without it.
Thus it is with Delirium Tremens, a strong pale ale from the Huyghe Brewery in Belgium. A beer I never remembered even hearing about until three consecutive people came out of nowhere and told me it was one of the ’had to have’ beers. First off, I’m not one to go for cute names. I’d have been put right off by this one, especially after learning it’s actually a Belgian with that ridiculous American hot sauce style name. How unfortunate that would have been!
I’m very lucky to live within staggering distance of a great little bar that specializes in the beers of Belgium. I knew they’d have Delirium. Even though I might not have heard of this quaff, it apparently is famous. It has been named the best beer in the world. So I grabbed the special lady friend and went in search, still expecting to be under-whelmed.
We arrived on a crowded Saturday night, but were just in time to snag a couple stools dead in front of the taps. It still took awhile to finally get the overworked barman’s attention. Every single order being shouted over my shoulder was for the usual Stella and Hoegaarden. Not that there’s a thing wrong with either of those, but with so many other choices you‘d think at least one person would give something else a go.
They clearly didn’t know what they were missing -- nor did I, yet. The wait allowed me time to look over the lengthy beer menu. Delirium was duly listed in the middle of the second page. The fanfare was saved for the small print. That’s where you learn about the several prestigious awards it’s garnered and the alcohol content, which is a whopping 8.5 to 9%.
Our order finally in and the beer poured, a smallish snifter-style glass was unceremoniously plopped in front of me. The lauded beverage it held was golden with a large fluffy head. I expected it to reek of the alcohol, but it was mostly cloves and citrus. Chunks of yeast were swirling about. I know I’m unusual in these parts, but I love cloudy, unfiltered beers. As long as it’s meant to be cloudy and unfiltered, and not just some previous fat bastard’s superfluous chicken wing bits floating around in there. No poultry here, just the proper yeast.
I’d heard something about there being some sort of initiation rite associated with this beer. The mascot for it is a pink elephant -- yet another cutesy marketing gimmick that normally would lead me to the next beer down the list. Anyway, too late now. The story is you get initiated into the Order of the Pink Elephant, or some such rubbish, by chugging down the first Delirium you have. I’ve been to college. Chugging this little glass down wouldn’t have been a bother. But, that’s not what I was there for. I’m meant to taste the stuff and let people know whether it‘s worthwhile. It also wouldn’t have seemed especially suave to my date. So, who wants to be in their stupid Order anyway?
I took a normal sip, still looking for the alcohol. That much can’t be hidden, right? Well, those diabolical Belgians have done just that. It’s crisp with hops right off. As soon as that registers, a quick nip of syrupy sweet malt flits by, but very quickly. Then some spices at the end finish things off nicely. The alcohol may have been there, but it hardly seemed so. The mouthfeel is perfect, lighter than you’d expect. The carbonation lends a tingle, and the whole effect is refreshing and smooth.
This is one that’s going to get you in trouble. It’s too good, and much stronger than it seems. The small glass they serve it in is brilliant. At least then you have to go through the effort to keep ordering more. And I did, that first one didn’t last long.
I quickly realized we’d better get something to eat with this stuff -- I’m experienced, unfortunately, and have learned these things. Sadly, this great little bar doesn’t have the kitchen going. Instead, they allow customers to order from the Vietnamese across the street and then they go after it when it‘s ready. We quickly ordered a number of dishes we’d never heard of before and it arrived before the third round, which came around quicker than is probably wise. The slightly spicy food went perfectly with the Delirium. It would also end any meal well.
At this point we were well-primed and made our exit. The night was still too young. I could have easily sat and tried to drink this stuff comfortably for hours. But, I knew after a couple more I’d be far more comfortable than is seemly. Is it really the best beer in the world? I don’t know, I haven’t gotten around to all the others yet, but it is damn good. It’s as complex as you’d want. Each sip discovers the bit of apple, or pear, or banana, or orange, or bread, or coriander that was missed on the attempt before. But be careful. It is very strong. And it is very, very, very drinkable.