Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Fox and the Elephant: a Belgian fairytale

If you happen to be in Brussels for a family reunion and to have some of the authors of this blog as friends, then buying some Belgian beers to bring back to London sounds like the most natural thing to do.

I manage to convince a Patient Friend to come with me to a shop that, according to my city guide, has a selection of more than 400 beers. When we enter Beer Planet we soon realise that it isn’t an overstatement.

The place is bigger than I thought and the style is quite minimalist. The walls are covered (almost from the floor to the ceiling) in simple shelves loaded with beers. I must confess: I’m lost. The beers are too many and look quite different from the ales I'm used to.

Because I am trying to approach beer-tasting scientifically, I know I need a criterion. I thought that the most appealing graphic could have been a good one...

There are plenty of interesting and diverse labels in the shop: elegant, colourful, even very silly (one with Poirot’s face is so kitsch that I am really tempted to buy it). I am particularly fond of a nice greenish label with a black fox. Simple, but with a hint of Art Nouveau.

Unaware of my focused research (that could have been mistaken for aimless wandering), my Patient Friend suggests to ask the staff for a more informed opinion. I give a look at the man at the till and he seems so reassuringly confident that I decide to try this way. I approach him, confess my complete ignorance and explain that I want few bottles to bring back home and share with my friends. He smiles at us in a slightly patronising way and, with no hesitation, selects five beers, one for each type and put them in front of us.

The man and my friend smile at each other awkwardly while I keep staring silently at the bottles. The thing is that the man has selected, with scientific precision, some of the lamest and dullest bottles of the shop. I understand that, according to his beer religion, real beauty is on the inside, but the black fox was really cute. And isn't art nouveau as much Belgian heritage as highly alcoholic beers? Not to mention the pink elephant on the Delirium Tremens logo. I have had a thing for that animal since I was 20. So I grab the bottle with the fox and substitute it with the one of the same type that the beer-master had selected for me. I am going to do the same with a variant of the Delirium Tremens called Delirium Nocturnum when I heard my friend coughing discretely.

“What?” I ask, looking for my pink pet

“You can't do that”

“Of course I can, I’m actually already doing it.”

“No, Vale, listen: you really can’t.”

The atmosphere in the shop is getting weird. My Patient Friend might be right. I start feeling overwhelmed by guilt. But I don't want to give up my pink elephant. I put my Delirium Nocturnum next to its less pretty but allegedly better-tasting sister the shopman has suggested. He is pretending I do not exist.

I ask him with my best casual voice: “Soooo, which one do you think is better?”

He looks at me with contempt and doesn't answer. I have to admit, it was a very stupid question.

“Do you think there is a huge quality difference between them?” I try again. Still no answer.

I am not able to bear his blame so I buy all six bottles. And my friend, in order to make up for my rudeness, has to buy two very fancy beers and the official Delirium Tremens glass (an object I have been chasing for years).

The moment I leave the shop I am already looking forward to our Belgian Night in London!

Besides a little touch of fictionalisation, Beer Planet has actually a large variety of Belgian beers of any kind, from the cheapest and most famous to the finest vintage beers. They also have shelves of beer glasses in the oddest shapes and decorations. They even sell the mug with Poirot’s face.

To be continued...

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