Beer of the Week: Delirium Nocturnum

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John Linn
Pink elephants dance in your brain.
Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it: How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

If you want to see pink elephants, go Belgian.

Not only does the iconic pink elephant adorn the bottles of both Delirium Tremens (the world's best beer in 1998 according to the World Beer Championships in Chicago) and its sister beer Delirium Nocturnum, but you'll be seeing hypercolor pachyderms floating around your skull after a few pulls from the bottle.

Not that we're advocating drinking Delirium straight from the bottle -- that would be a crime. No, this triple fermented Belgian ale needs room to breath, preferably in something bulbous and wide-lipped. (No offense to the Rush Limbaugh fans out there.)

Huyghe Brewery's Delirium Tremens, named slyly for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, has become a landmark in the murky sea of Belgian beers. While you won't exactly find the blue- and gray-speckled bottles at your corner grocery, it's one of the most popular Belgian imports out there. Delirium Nocturnum is essentially a darker version of its brother, more robust and tougher to find. Both beers run about 8.5% alcohol by volume, making them sturdy sipping beers. Experienced drinkers of Belgian-style ales will actually find that number a bit low (many of the tripel and quadrupel Belgians shoot upwards of 15% ABV).

So how does Huyghe justify promoting a beer that's considerably less-potent than many beers of similar style as an alcoholic's worst nightmare? I think it has something to do with drinkability.

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John Linn
Delerium Nocturnum may only be 8.5% alcohol, but it's still potent stuff.
At this relatively "low" alcohol content, the Delirium brews mask their burn fairly well behind a layer of sweet malt and well-balanced hops. Nocturnum in particular is a fun drinker for those who want a more robust beer: it has the tart, yeasty character typical of Trappist brews but with a chocolatey, almost coffee-like flavor. You may also taste raisin and pumpkin. It's spicy and wet on the tongue and finishes with a slick feel, which leaves you begging for another sip. And that's where Nocturnum gets its hooks in. You'll try to drink it like a session beer, but after two bottles or so those largest of land mammals start flying. I shared a 750ml bottle with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and even a single glass had my feet floating out from under me.

Nocturnum and Tremens are not cheap beers. Even at mega stores like ABC and Total Wine you're likely to drop close to $20 for a four pack or $10 for a big bomber bottle. I recommend the bomber, since it's fun to share and the ceramic-looking bottle is a great trophy for your top shelf. Just be careful with it -- the lower alcohol content may fool you into a circus like adventure of your own.
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