Dean McGuinness reviews Delirium Blond and Delirium Black
We are into the dull and dreary days of January, but rather than depressing ourselves with resolutions that we don’t want to have to adhere to, I’m suggesting that we start off the New Year with a positive and pleasurable approach to beer.
No ‘Dry January’ today on Movies and Booze – instead, we are proposing #DLDBanuary – ‘Drink Less, Drink Better -anuary’.
In this spirit, we are tasting two particularly fancy beers today – both aged in Bourbon barrels for at least six months. Delirium Blond is a Strong Belgian Gold (like Delirium Tremens) aged in bourbon barrels, and coming out at a hefty 11.5% a.b.v. – suggesting that it is betting a portion of the angels share, but starting out with a slight leg up on Delirium Tremens (which is normally 8.5% a.b.v.). Delirium Black is at the same alcohol content, and is a blend of two beers aged in bourbon barrels. The winter seasonal that DeHuyghe brews as Delirium Noel is blended with Delirium Nocturnum (their year-round Strong Dark Belgian Ale) and barrel aged.
Beer and Health –
The government likes to bad-mouth alcohol. Minimum unit pricing, reducing drink driving limits, increasing excise on alcohol – all of these initiatives have the potential to make things better in society, but all too often the focus of the initiative is on the headline rather than the result of the initiative. The result, sometimes, is that the only result that they really achieve is the headline. In some cases, it can be demonstrated that the initiative achieves the opposite of the result that it should be achieving – but at least the politician gets good press! (Yes – there is sarcasm wrapped up in there, and it is intended!)
‘Dry January’ is an example of an initiative that has the potential to completely miss the point. If we are considering how we should attempt to shape drink culture in Ireland, it is good to focus on facts.
To begin, though, I’m going to first acknowledge that we often drink too much in Ireland. In the interest of full disclosure, I have an interest in beer. I like drinking it. I like talking about it. I like researching it. I like understanding it better. Just like Justice Kavanaugh in the U.S. – ‘I like beer’. I am not likely to be a person arguing for full abstinence from beer. At the same time, I also believe that the drinks industry writ large (read large breweries) often speak out of both sides of their mouths – ‘Drink 50 pints of my beer, but please drink responsibly’ – and I don’t agree with this.
I also believe that the start of responsible drinking is the individual. People need to make decisions for themselves. If a person decides to drink irresponsibly, a web-site is not going to change this. People who drink irresponsibly tend not to look up web-sites to find out exactly why they should not be drinking irresponsibly.
It is good to give people good information, and this information might help that person make a better decision for themselves. However, ultimately the only way that a positive result will be achieved is if individuals make decisions that make sense. Prohibition did not work in the States. Al Capone can tell you that!
Simple health facts. Drinking large quantities of beer is bad for you. In particular, drinking large quantities of beer in one sitting is even worse. If you are drinking fifteen pints of beer a day, I would suggest that you should consider having a dry January. If you are drinking fifteen pints of beer every day, considering having a dry February through to dry December as well is not something that should be taken off the table.
The government often talks about measures designed to reduce consumption of alcohol. However, these measures paint everybody with the same brush. People drinking to excess need to be aware that their choices are not good for their health. The message that is suitable for these people is not necessarily the same message that is suitable for everybody else.
Fact number two – Drinking in moderation results in a longer life expectancy than not drinking at all. Again, I will be careful in the information that I am delivering here. There are certain people that are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. There are certain people that have had the misfortune to develop an alcohol habit. Drinking in moderation is not good for these people – because their genetics means that drinking tends not to stop at the ‘moderation’ point.
However, there is an interesting corollary that grows out of fact number two. If you do not drink at all, statistics tell us that you will (on average) not live as long as somebody who drinks in moderation. This means that, if the government is encouraging to drink less to improve their health, then the science says that the government should also be encouraging people who do not drink at all (that are not pre-disposed to alcoholism) to drink in moderation every week. In so doing, they would be improving their life expectancy, which has to be the ultimate measure of health for an individual.
I look forward to the politician who has the courage to start an advertising campaign that proposes that (a) people should not drink to excess, but that also (b) people who don’t drink at all should consider drinking in moderation to improve their life expectancy. If the politician has a goal to improve the average health of the nation by addressing drinking habits, the science says that this is the way that they should do it.
What about press reports that state that there is a link between consumption of alcohol and cancer? A book called ‘Panic Nation’ lists out the different things that have been linked to cancer in the media. The list runs for about three pages, and finishes with the conclusion that ‘living causes cancer’.
However, this is a serious topic, and I don’t want to be blasé about it. Studies have shown a link between alcohol consumption and propensity to develop cancer, but it is important to understand exactly what these studies are saying. When you combine smoking with heavy consumption of alcohol, this correlates with approximately 3% to 4% of cancer deaths. Take out the smoking, and just look at heavy drinkers, and this figure drops to around 1%. Take out the heavy drinkers, and the figure drops to a level that is below the margin of error. There is no statistical conclusion that moderate drinking can definitively cause cancer. And remember, if you are drinking moderately, you are improving your average life expectancy. This fact does not sit with the idea that all drinking causes cancer – the link cannot be reconciled with the facts about moderate drinking.
Next fact – alcohol needs to be filtered in your system, and your body (specifically your liver) needs to work to do this job. If you over-work your liver, they you cause damage to your liver – this is why heavy drinking is bad. However, our livers have evolved to do this job quite well. We can process up to about one unit of alcohol an hour without over-burdening our liver. I am not proposing drinking one unit of alcohol an hour for twenty four hours a day. Just that drinking slowly in moderation does not put a strain on your body in the same way that chugging back ten or fifteen pints in a three hour sitting does.
Final fact – if your body is becoming fatigued from processing alcohol, simple exercise works to replenish your body. Exercise can repair damage caused by alcohol. Rather than thinking about giving up alcohol for January, and sitting at home depressed, it would be far more healthy to resolve to walk for a few kilometres a few days every week, and reward yourself with a beer every time you do this.
So, first a critique of Dry January. Dry January is an initiative that is appropriate for people for whom alcohol consumption has gone out of control. Dry January might help these people to de-tox to some extent. However, if one gives up drinking for January, and then goes back to over-consumption in February onwards, I would argue that not much has been achieved.
For most other people, we should consider an alternative to the ethos of Dry January. Dry January says binge drinking up to January is okay because it will all be balanced out by giving up drink in January. This is not how the maths works. Drinking to excess is bad for you. Not drinking at all means that life expectancy is shorter than if you drink in moderation. If you want to be healthy, drink in moderation all year round, and there will be no need for Dry January.
In this spirit, I am going to propose #DLDBanuary – or ‘Drink Less Drink Better’-anuary. It proposes January as a month in which we seek to permanently change our habits. Drinking in moderation, and enjoying what we drink will result in better health than binge drinking followed by abstinence. And if we treat ourselves with smaller quantities of better quality beer, I would argue that the enjoyment that we derive from it will be far more than chugging back large quantities of bland beer.
But ultimately, it is all down to personal choice. I had one wise man suggest to me that the best philosophy for life is to experience everything in moderation – including moderation.
Delirium Blond –
Beer Style - (Bourbon) Barrel Aged Belgian Strong Golden Ale
Alcohol by Volume - 11.5% a.b.v.
Brewed by - DeHuyghe Brewery
Brewed in - Melle, Belgium
First a note on distinguishing these two beers. Both are beautifully packaged in a black, pre-printed bottle that shows ‘Delirium Barrel Aged’ on the front. However, the bottles for both of these beers are almost identical – the only difference is in the encapsulator. Delirium Blond has a gold encapsulator with a black band at the base, and has the word ‘Blond’ on it. Delirium Black has a black encapsulator with a gold band at the base, and has the word ‘Black’ on it. Both encapsulators show the year of release of the beer (in this case, 2019), and neither bottle has a best before date – this beer will age well if it is stored properly.
For Delirium Blond - aromas of sherry and Madeira immediately greet the nose on this beer. Suggestions of almond sponge come through as well, as well as background notes of spice and smoke. The aromas of this beer are most interesting – it is incredibly complex, but superbly well balanced. As I was tasting the beer, I found that little flashes of different aromas would come through, with one never over-powering the next, but rather just replaced by it so that each one could be enjoyed for a flash in turn.
On tasting the beer, juicy fruit (mango, green grape, white wine, sherry trifle) combine with the sherry and alcohol of the beer. Sweetness is present at different levels – coming from the fruit of the beer, and combining with almond sweetness and candi-sugar sweetness. Different layers of nuttiness – almond in particular, but also some walnut – come through, and different spice (chilli, white pepper, allspice, liquorice) are all present to balance the beer. Ginger spice is most interesting in the flavour of the beer – it comes through both as ginger snap biscuits, but also combines with the juicy fruitiness of the beer to deliver a flavour of fresh, juicy ginger. Spice combines with a soft smokiness from the bourbon barrels to further balance the juicy, fruity sweetness of the beer.
The beer finishes with alcohol warming, sherry and Madeira and a slightly winey (dessert wine – muscat) character, with suggestions of spice, but the finish is incredibly clean. Overall, while this beer has significant substance, it is a medium to light bodied beer.
Incredibly complex and layered. This beer is truly artistic in the manner in which it balances the complexity of the base Belgian beer with the complexity of the contribution from the bourbon barrel.
Delirium Black –
Beer Style - (Bourbon) Barrel Aged Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Alcohol by Volume - 11.5% a.b.v.
Brewed by - DeHuyghe Brewery
Brewed in - Melle, Belgium
Delirium Black presents very different from the gold. While it has the same full three fingers of head, the colour is much richer, and more reminiscent of the bourbon that was the previous resident of the barrel in which this beer has spent some time. Deep red-brown colour contributes to the colour of the head causing the head to be much more tan in colour than bright white.
Smoky bourbon and burnt sugar are evident immediately in the aroma. The evidence of the bourbon is much more in evidence – probably because the complement of the dark beer and the bourbon accentuates the bourbon more.
Again, this is an incredibly complex beer. Many layers of sweetness are present – brown sugar, burnt sugar, cola cube – are all in evidence. This sweetness is balanced by a smoky character and the spice of bourbon. The spice is complex and soft – creamy nutmeg, suggestions of chilli and black pepper, white pepper and liquorice.
As the beer is drunk, the complexity of the base beer comes through. Bright juicy blackberry from the Delirium Nocturnum develops the complexity of the beer and adds another dimension to the flavour. Sour cherry combines with pithy bitter cherry stone to provide another layer of complexity.
The finish of this beer is delightful. While there is no mistaking that you are drinking a beer, the final impression of a complex bourbon lingers into the finish making this a delicious beer to savour in the cold nights of winter.