Follow the Elephant

The first time I visited Amsterdam, in 2011, I know nothing of Huyghe’s Delirium Tremens. It rained constantly on that trip, and there’s little that I find more frustrating than getting to know a new city in the pouring rain. The first night, upon leaving one bar to move onto another, I noticed a sign jutting out from the side of the building. A pink elephant, glowing brightly against a sky blue background, and some elegant lettering above the image, which I couldn’t read, since fat raindrops on my glasses obscured my vision.

“That’s how we’ll get back to this point” I said. “We’ll just remember to look out for this elephant sign. Follow the elephant.” Landmarks are precious in unfamiliar cities. Recognizable sights are the difference between a short drunken stumble and a long, bumbling one, with too many wrong turns. Of course, it’s important to make sure that the chosen object is indeed novel, and not something that may pop up on every corner.

Too late into the evening, I realized that the elephant was not the symbol of one bar, but in fact the symbol of a beer, made by a brewery more than a hundred miles away, in Melle, Belgium. Upon discovering my mistake, tasting it for myself seemed like the only sensible response. I’d had several beers already by this point, and still didn’t know the name of what I wanted to order. In the next bar, I pointed at the handle bearing the same whimsical design. The bartender produced a tulip glass scattered with tiny pink elephants, and poured me a glass of blond beer. It had all the fruity and spicy esters that I’d expect from a Belgian beer, and I liked it immediately, so much so that I learned the name so that I may ask for another. However, I hadn’t noted the 8.5% abv, and by the time I’d emptied my glass, I had forgotten again.

A couple of years later, when visiting Belgium for the first time, I sought out more Delirium, this time sampling the Delirium Nocturnum. Reddish brown with an off-white foamy head. Aromas of caramel, licorice and coriander. Roasted malt and a crisp bitter finish. Once again, far too easy to drink for its 8.5% abv. And once again, I eventually made it back to my hotel in an unfamiliar city, even without following the elephant, though the details of how meandering that journey became are lost to the night.

I enjoyed a glass of Delirium Nocturnum again recently, for the first time in a long while. At least this time, my stumble to bed was mercifully short.