Delirium Noel: Blah, Humbug!
I tried to love this beer. I just can't. I try it every year, hoping the otherwise fabulous Brouwerij Huyghe can get it right. I love Delirium Tremens, and anybody that can come up with that obviously knows everything about brewing beer. How can they possibly get their Christmas beer wrong? It's meant to be a gift to all their loyal beer loving customers. Not that it's awfu -- I doubt they could make an awful beer even if they tried -- but this Christmas Ale falls so far below expectations that you may just want to re-gift it to the crazy uncle.
It looks, and smells, like it might even surpass expectations. And the 10% alcohol could make for a very merry Christmas season. It's a deep reddish amber, but not as dark as many big Belgian dark ales. The head fades quickly to lacing, but that's not unusual in most Christmas beers. While not being clear, it would be hard to call it cloudy. Maybe a thin, sedimentless fog. The aroma is both complex and entirely unusual for a Christmas ale. You expect to find a load of spices, tons of alcohol and plenty of malt. Those are there, but they are way back behind an almost saison-style earthiness. Then a load of strange fruits for a Christmas beer, the most prominent being banana, of all things. None of this is the least unpleasant. Unusual for the style, maybe, but very promising.
But that's the point where the Noel loses me. The earthiness and sweetness battle on the tongue. Each sip seems to change my mind about which side is winning. This is no small skirmish, either. There's some carbonation that attempts to fizz away the effects of this fight, briefly revealing that odd banana again, and some pear, plum and a tiny pinch of cloves. But the onslaught continues. Eventually, the sweetness looks like it will prevail but, almost in desperation, a wave of strange sourness comes in to finish the two weakened forces off. These flavors don't work in concert and aren't balanced. It's a war, and the result leaves an unpleasantly oily mouthfeel.
Do you really want to eat anything with this beer? I could only suggest something so overpowering that it might help clean up the battlefield, and maybe dull the taste buds a bit for the next surge. I'm all for full flavored beer, but it needs to be pleasantly full and somewhat balanced. Nibble on the sharpest, strongest cheese you can find. I can't see many people wanting more than one of these in a sitting anyway, the extremely high alcohol content aside. This is more of a beer to finish up the night on. When you've already had a few and any delicate complexity is going to be lost, but you want one more. This will not be the wisest one more and may induce the, later regretted, emails and phone calls, but that's the road we sometimes travel.
It may well be that this is just a disappointingly average beer from an otherwise excellent brewer. Delirium Noel is not even close to being a bad beer, but it is also a far cry from their Tremens -- easily one of the best beers in the world. It may be that I'm unduly hard on it because my expectations were so high. It's also possible that I'm cutting it too much slack because all their other beers are so good. It would be like going to a 3-star Michelin restaurant and expecting all the bells and whistles, but getting the equivalent of an Outback Steakhouse. Sure, it's not bad, but it is not nearly up to standard, either. Delirium Noel also seems to be one of the most readily available Belgian Christmas ales available. That's unfortunate. It's priced like an extremely fine beer. You'll do better with either the regular Delirium Tremens or the Nocturnum. If you must have a Christmas style Belgian, look for the St. Bernardus. Otherwise skimp a bit, and pick up one of the better domestic styles. You'll save money and be happier with the product. I'm loyal, and I'll try it again next year, but there are many other Christmas Ale options more deserving of your beer consumption dollars.