When I find myself perusing the aisles of Bootleggers or Uncle Tom's, my eye is almost always drawn to a particular brand. It's really no surprise, as it's the only beer I know to come in a faux ceramic bottle, complete with a blue foil top, golden-dove-rimmed label and trippy picture of a pink elephant. If you've ever seen this distinctive brew, you know exactly what I'm talking about—Delirium.
The first few times I saw it, I thought it was some kind of hallucinogenic microbrew smuggled from Europe and decided to keep my distance for fear of going blind on a bad batch. It wasn't until a couple of my friends came back from being abroad that I heard the true tale of Delirium.
Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum, the two most famous beers manufactured in Belgium by Huyghe Brewery, are classic examples of big things coming in weird packages. In fact, Delirium products were initially banned in the United States on the basis of their names.
Delirium Tremens is actually the clinical term for "the DTs," the violent sickness which alcoholics experience during withdrawal.
When the beers were first imported into the States, a law was in place that prohibited alcoholic products thought to encourage binge drinking, and thus Delirium was snatched from stores nationwide because of its reference to alcoholism.
Eventually the law was changed, benefitting not only Delirium, but also other high-alcohol-content drinks like Four Loko. For a while, though, the Huyghe Brewery actually changed the Delirium name to "Mateen Triple" in order to sell it in America.
The controversial Delirium Tremens won a "Best Beer in the World" award at the prestigious World Beer Championships in Chicago in 1997, while Delirium Nocturnum has also enjoyed high acclaim among beer experts and enthusiasts. So what lurks behind this infamous pink elephant?
The straightforward answer is that these brews are Belgian strong ales, similar to a brown ale like Newcastle, but with a more complex flavor. At 8.5 percent alcohol by volume, Delirium Tremens and Nocturnum are deceptively strong beers, and unlike a lot of other brown ales, they are triple-fermented, with living yeast added to the bottle in order to change the taste with age.
I decided to try the Nocturnum on this particular occasion, and it certainly lived up to the descriptions I'd been given concerning the Delirium brand.
After popping off the champagne-style cork, I poured a glass and immediately witnessed the head of the beer expand almost entirely to the top, a phenomenon common to such high-yeast brews. Unlike many other ales, this foamy mass was tan in color and made for a beautiful sight when combined with the caramel liquid that slowly appeared.
As soon as I took my first taste it became fairly apparent why these beers have garnered so much admiration. Unlike other beers, which either have no real taste (Natty Light, I'm looking at you) or too strong of a particular taste, the palette of Nocturnum is both complex and subtle.
One will instantly recognize the flavor and mouth-feel (I can't believe I'm using this term) of the yeast, but what one experiences past this will most likely vary.
There is definitely some sweetness, perhaps calling to mind various fruits, but also some caramel and smoky flavors, as one would infer from the color. Overall, the alcoholic content is not overpowering, but with a 750 mL bottle I would probably suggest sharing. Certainly this is a beer to savor, and one will be well rewarded by doing so.