After the refinement of classical Bruges (or Brugge as it’s referred to when you’re there), we travelled the short distance inland to Brussels. There are even more beer opportunities here, as befits a major European city with a pretty rich history. We visited the Cantillon Brewery (see previous post), and also several bars and cafés – the most notable (and famous) being the Delirium Café, hidden in a backstreet to the north of the Grand Place. The street address is Impasse de la Fidélité 4, but it took some wandering along alleys populated with tourist restaurants before we found it, even with the street name.
There are three floors to Delirium, the top one is non-smoking, and this followed the pattern of every other non-smoking area we saw in Brussels – in that it was almost totally deserted. Coming from the UK, it was a shock to the system to be surrounded by smokers again – of course we’d forgotten how much it affects those of us that don’t – so we started up the top, joined only by a couple of middle-aged American men clearly on a beer holiday. As the place was so empty, the barman was chatting to them and helping them choose, then bringing each drink to their table – no wonder they were enjoying themselves. He even let them go behind the bar and pose for photos. In their honour I had the only non-Belgian drink to pass my lips during the holiday – a Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA (7.1%), which was predictably hoppy and alcoholic, and very nice.
But we’re here to talk about Belgian beers after all, and as there was a complete lack of atmosphere upstairs, we descended into the bottom-most bar. Things were much better here, we got a seat at the back in the raised area and picked from the ’select beer menu’ that was on the tables. Delirium is renowned for it’s enormous range – they were in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most beers on sale in the world (I think it was over 2000 in all). Those larger menus were at the bar, and as the table versions had about a hundred Belgian ales on them, that was more than enough choice!
La Guillotine (9.0%)
Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle
We’ve featured Delirium Tremens on the BeerCast before, and surprisingly it didn’t do that well. I attribute this to the early days of our beer journey when we reviewed it – as it’s become one of my (and my girlfriend’s) favourites. I’d never tried La Guillotine before – which is essentially a stronger version, so gave it a go at Delirium. It pours a dark golden amber colour, and gives off deep alcohol aromas. The taste is wonderful, it really is a darker, punchier, DT. It really doesn’t taste 9% either, so could be very dangerous. Aside from the Van Steenberge Tripel de Garre I’d had in Bruges, this was one of the beers of the trip for me.
Queue de Charrue Brune (5.6%)
Brasserie Vanuxeem, Ploegsteert
La Guillotine was a tough act to follow, so I figured a change of tack was the best way to go. Sour Flemish ales are an acquired taste – possibly the hardest to acquire in the beer world (you need only look to the bottom of our beer rankings). Having not had much experience with the style – and certainly none that were pleasant, I nonetheless went for one to counteract the rich grassy fruit of the last beer. Picking a total random beer I’d never heard of (always one of my favourite things to do) landed me Brasserie Vanuxeen’s Queue de Charrue Brune, from Ploegsteert. The bottle looked old and battered, but the beer was actually pretty good. Crucially for me there was just a touch of sweetness that counteracted the more acrid flavours from the tart yeasts. It was in no way as bitter as something like Rodenbach Grand Cru, although still being quite puckering. It made an impression on me, that not all sour Flemish reds are the same, and was actually pretty refreshing.
Bobeline Blonde (8.5%)
Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle
Keen to try as many types and styles as possible in what was sadly a limited time in both Delirium and Belgium, next I went on to a blonde ale. I’d tried one before – the really rather good Bruges Zot Blonde, in the city of the same name – so went for another from the minor menu in the café. Bobeline Blonde packs a punch at 8.5% (the small menus in Delirium don’t have abv contents listed), and comes in a nice-looking artistic bottle. I found out later it’s actually produced by our old friends Brouwerij Huyghe, so I actually had two rarer ‘house beers’ in the Delirium Café. Bobeline was very sweet and rich, with a peachy taste. It poured a hazy golden colour, with a dense pillowing head. It kind of reminded me of champagne, with that carbonated sweet/dry palate and fruity tinge (although the tinges were more ripe stone fruits than tart green ones). Again, it didn’t taste anywhere near it’s weighty abv. These Belgian brewers know how to craft a good beer, of that there is no doubt.