Brewery: Brewery Huyghe
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Delirium Tremens is one of the world’s great beers, no questions asked. You don’t need to know that it has been awarded multiple gold medals and countless other accolades in the world’s most respected beer competitions. All you need to do is taste it. This beer alone, with its funky, off-center branding, has carried Brewery Huyghe to unimaginable heights, but it wasn’t a masterful strategy that brought about this success. The brewery’s CEO, Alain Delaet, loves to tell the story of how a stroke of luck, not genius, resulted in the pink elephant’s global appeal.
The recipe for what is today Delirium Tremens was developed in 1989 as a contract brew for a customer in Italy. He had the name and branding ready to go and was looking for a special strong beer to sell to the Italian market. All was going well until a couple of months later when the Belgian customs tax collectors visited the brewery to review exports and the like. They stuck around afterwards to taste some beers with then-CEO Jean Delaet (Alain’s father). They fell in love with it and urged Delaet to sell the beer in the Belgian market. Keep in mind that Brewery Huyghe was quite a small operation at the time. The brewery had not even considered selling this beer domestically so they didn’t even have a name for it. The tax guys were unfazed by this hurdle and promised Delaet that they’d come up with a name for it right then and there, so they just kept drinking. Several empty glasses later, the tax guys were pretty smashed and still didn’t have a name. That’s when one of them, ready to call it quits, said, “If I keep drinking these beers looking for a name I will certainly get the delirium tremens.” He was of course referring to the state of confusion and hallucination caused by alcohol withdrawal but Delaet immediately liked the name and, against the advice of his sales manager, declared that the new beer would be named Delirium Tremens!
For the packaging they used a shipment of gray bottles that had been collecting dust in storage. They were stored a few years back when the customer they were meant for went out of business. So they filled the gray, labelless bottles of Delirium Tremens and sold them directly to the public as a one time release. Again, everyone loved the beer and couldn’t get enough of it. It was plain to see that they were onto something. They decided to make it a regular release but still didn’t have a proper label. That’s when a student who was working at the brewery that summer offered to design the label in exchange for two cases of Delirium Tremens. He came up with what he imagined were the dreams and hallucinations you’d experience under the effects of delirium tremens, taking inspiration from Disney’s Dumbo movie and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and who knows what else. The end result was unlike anything Brewery Huyghe or any other brewery had released at that time. Today the pink elephant is everywhere, from the brewery’s façade to iPhone cases, even ladies’ underwear. The success of Delirium Tremens catapulted the brewery from a village brewery to a global powerhouse selling their strong ales all over the globe.
To celebrate Delirium Tremens’ 10-year anniversary, the brewery released Delirium Nocturnum, a strong dark ale that like its predecessor comes in at 8.5%.
The Nocturnum is highly effervescent; it’s not uncommon for the beer to come roaring out of the bottle when you pull the cork. It pours out into a deep, copper color with a tan head. Like many of the strong Belgian ales, it does go through a second fermentation in the bottle. This accounts for yeast sediment you’ll notice when you pour it. It is flavorful and quite complex with a combination of malts, bread, dried fruit, fig, and a hint of coriander in the background.
Cigar Pairing: Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco
The Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco delivers a well-balanced core of earth, smooth pepper, and dark chocolate. These flavors provide a perfect compliment to the beer’s malty and fruity base. Where the pairing really takes off is how flavors of caramel and apple are teased out of the beer after each puff. Sensational.