When I was six, my parents took me to a Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. I think I vaguely remember the elephants and possibly the trapeze, but the most memorable part of the evening was coming home with chicken pox. It was a dreadful experience of pain and itching that will, unfortunately, always be associated with being under the big top.
While I don’t have an especially positive association with the circus, it does not make it any less impressive. If you’ve ever been to a local circus or been fortunate enough to see a Cirque de Soleil, there is no doubt that it takes thousands of hours of preparation and a keen attention to detail. Undoubtedly, this is what it takes to make great beer.
A three-ring circus aptly describes the spectacle that is Delirium’s Tremens, a lively Belgian Pale Ale that entertains from the get go. The character of the beer begins with the packaging that features a speckled, cream-colored ceramic bottle with a menagerie of creatures adorning the bottle, from pink elephants, strutting green alligators, and other creatures balancing atop yellow balls. Evidently these “represent the three different phases of production” of the Tremens. It resembles your dad’s Old Spice bottle that your kid sister got a hold of in art class. The bottle stands out in a crowded Belgian ale market (or any market for that matter).
These are strong, complex flavors that, when coupled with ample alcohol, do not necessarily agree with everyone’s palate.”
Though light-hearted and fun on the outside, what comes from inside the bottle belies a thoughtful, balanced, and disciplined beer. The aromatics are a complex blend of malt, yeast, and spices with a noticeable wafting of alcohol across the top. Don’t pour too fast, though. The effervescence and carbonation are in your face and you’re liable to get a glass of foam if you’re not careful.
Pale blond in color and rich with sediment, this strong ale is brewed using three different yeasts. Coming it at a forceful 8.5% ABV, it packs a punch, yet with restraint. There is no attempt to hide that alcohol resides here, yet it doesn’t overpower the wheat and spicy undertones that round out the bold, balanced flavor. There’s a strong, lasting presence on the palate. It’s not heavy, per se, but it is substantial. A dry, hoppy finish makes for a nice aftertaste that delivers an appropriate curtain call.
Tremens was originally released in 1988, and in 1992 the “confrerie (universal brotherhood) of the Pink Elephant” was formed in order to promote it. The brotherhood itself is a true council comprised of 28 active members dedicated to “promote the ancient traditions and Melle local beers … so they can finally be appreciated as ‘truly local.’” Since then the beer itself has won numerous accolades, most recently taking the silver medal in the International Beer Challenge in London this year.
Thus, the three rings of the circus – aroma, taste, and color – offer something concurrently unique without overpowering the consumer. That is the trick of great beer: being present and adding to the production without being overly noticeable. The balance of flavor and aroma with the color and fizz at once keeps your attention and yet doesn’t take over the show entirely.
To be sure, this is a sipping beer. It’s high alcohol content and complex flavors aren’t meant to be guzzled. Like the old adage of how one is supposed to eat an elephant – one bite at a time – this beer is to be taken in deliberately. In this sense, the Belgian strong ale genre is not for everyone. These are strong, complex flavors that, when coupled with ample alcohol, do not necessarily agree with everyone’s palate. After a week of diving into this style, I realize that I am one of these people.
The circus itself is meant to be enjoyed as the sum of its parts: the clowns, the animals, the trapeze, the sounds, the sights, and the smells (hopefully without the chicken pox). So it is with the Tremens. Sit back, relax, then, and enjoy the show.