Dean McGuinness, the Beer Messiah, reviews 'Delirium Christmas'
Christmas Movies and Booze has come around again, and we have a Christmas seasonal beer to taste. In keeping with the delirium associated with the holiday season in Ireland, we have Delirium Christmas from Brewery deHuyghe in Melle, Belgium. At 10% a.b.v., this beer is a step above the norm for the Delirium range (Delirium Tremens comes in at 8.5%), giving a little bit more to help lubricate the Christmas Spirit!
Seasonality has always been a factor with beers – beers such as Oktoberfest (‘Marzen’ or ‘Festbiers’) are associated with autumn time. Summertime brings with it lighter, crisp golden beers and wheat beers. In the U.S., pumpkin beers make their appearance around Halloween and Thanksgiving time. However, more so than any other time of the year, Christmas has always been a special time for beers. Chimay Blue was originally brewed as a Christmas beer (now available all year around due to its popularity). Many breweries brew beers specifically for the Christmas season.
There are three key characteristics that are associated with Christmas beers. Above average alcohol strength are appropriate as Christmas is the time of year where we are allowed to indulge that little bit more. In beer terms, higher alcohol provides a warming alcohol sensation on tasting the beer. A complexity of fruit flavours and/or malt character is most common in Christmas beers – often the fruit flavours parallel the flavours associated with Christmas cake or Christmas pudding – raisins, plums, dates, figs, currants and other dark fruits. Finally, spice is not unusual in winter and Christmas beers – both from spice additions in the beer (sometimes), but also potentially as a flavour developed from a fermentation using Belgian yeasts.
Belgian beers have a particular advantage when it comes to Christmas beers. Already associated with strong beers, the Belgians have a particular expertise in building the alcohol content of a beer, and achieving delicious flavours while maintaining the drinkability of the beer. Belgian yeast are particular in the character that they deliver to the beer. While ale yeasts are best known for delivering fruit flavours, Belgian ale yeasts can also contain the ‘POF’ gene – the ‘Phenolic Off Flavour’ gene. The term ‘off-flavour’ is entirely inappropriate in describing this gene (the complexity of flavours associated with Belgian yeasts are superbly delicious). An array of spice flavours and warming phenolic character can develop in beers that are brewed with Belgian yeasts. In many cases, the necessity to add spices to the beer is completely obviated by the use of Belgian yeasts – sufficient warmth and balancing flavour character comes through purely from the character developed in vessel.
Belgian beers also typically pour with a full head – giving that luxurious mouthfeel, and the impression of abundance that one associates with the holiday season.
The flavours associated with these beers can be paired with the full array of foods served for the Christmas season. We have given some suggestions that we work to after the tasting notes on the Delirium Christmas, but as always with beer and food pairing, experimentation, and trying out something that ‘feels right’ can often result in the most wonderful pairings.
The pink elephant is the iconic logo for Delirium Tremens. With Delirium Christmas, the pink elephant goes out for a holiday trip, with three different random labels used on the bottles – dressed in a Santa hat and scarf sitting on a sled in the winter snow on the bottle, and ice skating with same said Santa hat and scarf on a second, and accoutred in the same Christmas garb and skiing on the third. The Delirium Christmas glass has a team of pink elephants pulling Santa’s sled!
Delrium Christmas pours with a full, tan coloured head of three fingers, and presents with a bright, rich deep amber gold colour. The case in which Delirium Christmas comes takes pains to emphasise the pour so that the ideal presentation is achieved – pouring into a tulip glass (if available), and pouring to achieve a full Belgian head. They further suggest that only half of the bottle is poured so that the head can be replenished with a second pour, and, on coming to the end of the bottle, the lees (sedimented yeast in the bottle) should be left behind so that the clarity of the beer is maintained in the glass.
Warming spice – cinnamon, clove and nutmeg comes through immediately on the nose. Dried apricot and Belgian spice are the two most distinctive features of this beer to come through on the palate, but they are immersed in a complexity of flavours. Sour cherry, liquorice, dried apricot, dried white currants, honey and a suggestion of dark chocolate (specifically, chilli-infused chocolate) all combine on the palate. The sweetness of the beer is balanced with an understated level of bitterness – not discernible on the palate, but present to ensure that the beer is incredibly drinkable. Spice provides the tastable flavour balance, with spices on the aroma (clove, nutmeg, cinnamon) combining with warming phenolic flavours and white pepper. These spices combine with the warmth of the alcohol of the beer giving a pleasant warming character to the beer.
Our Christmas Day always involves an array of beer experiences over the course of the day. Having had our morning glass of Deus, and some palate cleansing pale golden beers such as Chimay Gold early in the day, we get ready for a series of food pairings over the course of Christmas dinner. A Timmerman’s Oude Gueuze provides a sour citrus accompaniment to the smoked salmon and salad starter. A minimum of three glasses is the order of the day with the main course – Maisel’s Original to pair with the turkey and Rodenbach to provide a sour cherry counterpoint to the stuffing. Delirium Christmas comes into its own both with honey glazed ham and with Brussels spouts panfried with bacon lardons and almonds. Chimay Oak Aged is the selected pairing to go with the Christmas pudding, and the cheese board, as well as to sip into the evening while settling down to watch the Christmas movie.