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April 6, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Balmy Belgians

I love Belgian beer. It’s exciting, it’s different, and a little bit crazy-go-nuts. The Belgians are not afraid to try something different, whether it be out of necessity or creativity. This ingenuity sometimes translates to the beers’ labelling, where anything is possible – from pink elephants to a large-breasted pig. These cute, yet crazy, cartoons made me think the beer may be aimed at the somewhat younger market. But after a glance at the 9%+ alcohol volume, I realised the designers were probably testing their product while creating the labels.

Necessity, not creativity, was the mother of creation for a lot of Belgian strong beers. In 1919, Belgian politicians decided it would be a great idea to stop the sale of higher alcohol drinks. Luckily, beer was excluded from this law. So the Belgian brewers took it upon themselves to fill this new gap in the market and were more than happy to invent highly alcoholic beer. This law wasn’t repealed until 1983, so brewers had many decades to refine their strong ales.

De Dolle Oerbier (9%) has what looks like a gingerbread man cartoon on the label, and a polka dot bow tie across the neck of its bottle – just like your 4-year-old cousin at a wedding. The beer, however, has obviously had more than 4 years development. Before it even touches your lips you know you’re drinking a strong beer. The fruity aromas jump out at you, even if you’re not paying attention. In the mouth you get a generous helping of plums and similar dark fruits, and no hint of the strength except the happy, tingly feeling in the back of your head.

Delirium Tremens’ (8.5%) cute and crazy bottle stands out a mile: five pink elephants, two marching alligators and two pink dragons all adorn an imitation ceramic bottle on a bright, baby-blue background. The flavour stands out as well. Tremens’ has plenty of herb character and a fair amount of spice and cloves, but she remains sweet, balanced and incredibly drinkable. Careful though, this one will make you deliriously drunk faster than you realise.

The label of Hoegaarden Verboden Vrucht (8.5%) has seen the beer banned from the USA, as it was deemed too ‘shocking’. The label depicts a Rubens painting of Adam and Eve – in the nudie. Well, you can see boob, but the naughty bits are covered by those annoying censor leaves. As the name ‘Forbidden Fruit’ suggests, this beer is quite fruity. Dark berries and plum fruits mainly, but they have a well-spiced malty background, making this quite a mouthful.

So it’s all thanks to those delirious Belgian politicians for forbidding the sale of strong spirits and allowing local brewers to create such strong innovative beer.


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