In the year 2000, our beer-cycling group parked its bikes and boarded a train from Brugge, Belgium, to Melle, a one-time countryside village known today as the home of Huyghe, brewer of Delirium Tremens.
Alain, heir to the brewery, had agreed to conduct a tour. My fax indicated a 2 p.m. start, but from the outset it was clear that something had gone wrong. After much uncomfortable waiting, Alain finally appeared, remarking that we’d come on the wrong day. I asked him to look again, and he emerged from his office red-faced. An apocalyptic afternoon followed.
Alain explained that Huyghe’s sales had stagnated in the 1970s, and its future was uncertain until his father decided to specialize and create ales more in keeping with Belgium’s diverse brewing heritage. Delirium Tremens, the company’s flagship, was born, and its pink elephant has become one of Belgium’s most immediately recognizable beer labels.
In the original brewhouse, an excellent beer and brewing exhibit has been installed, complete with a contemporary, half-circle bar for the obligatory post-tour tasting.
Expansively, Alain offered a chance to taste most of the Huyghe brands: Delirium Nocturnum, St. Idelsbald Blonde, Bruin and Tripel, Campus, Golden Kenia Pils, Vielle Villers Dubbel and Tripel, and eventually, a transcendent bottle of Artvelde Grand Cru cellared since 1988.
A dense thicket of glasses and empty bottles grew atop the bar, and Alain proposed a toast, which I must paraphrase:
“To all beer-loving Americans, who know quality, appreciate the best and share in the universal love of beer … and who’ve done so much to support the Belgian brewing industry … here’s to you.”
A classy gesture, but equally moving was my cohort Bob’s assessment of the visit: “A guy can get f&#ked-up in a place like this.”
Indeed, he can, and we were.
Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.