There’s a beer for every palate and a beer for every mood. Sometimes you might want the burly double IPA, but other occasions might call for something a bit more subtle. It’s at those times when you might reach for a Kriek.
The old farmhouse breweries of Belgium make lambic, a light, prickly ale that’s left out in the open after brewing, allowing the wild local yeast to settle in and ferment. The breweries are often, quite literally, old barns, and the barrels into which the finished wort is poured may have been reused for the better part of a century.
The resulting beer is punishingly tart, and the uncontrolled concoction of yeasts throw off all kinds of funk-inducing phenols and esters, so the brewers add fruit (traditionally raspberries or cherries) to round out the flavor. Kriek is the cherry version.
Drinkers of fruit beers, especially those of the male persuasion, have to deal with certain stereotypes. While some lambics can be, oh hell, let’s just say it, “girly,” the style can span a gamut of flavors and carry a complexity difficult to equal in beerdom.
Depending on the producer, kriek can vary from supersweet and soda-like to mellow and almost creamy in character, to comically tart. Unsurprisingly, it’s the sweeter, cleaner, sodalike Lindemann’s Kriek that gets the lion’s share of sales volume in the USA. Brightly colored and highly carbonated, Lindemann’s aims to produce a beverage that appeals to young, frequently female, taste buds. It is, however, readily available and makes a nice apertif.
Mort Subite, by Brouwerij De Keersmaker, is somewhere in the middle. The ruddy, nearly rust-colored brew leads with a sweet cherry nose and just a touch of champagne effervescence. The character imparted by the cherries is more essence than dominant flavor and the beer rolls off the back of your tongue in a pleasantly sour wash that recedes to nothing after only a few seconds. Refreshing, without being cloying or sugary.
Boon Kriek, from Brouwerij Boon,is a pinnacle of the style, boasting a round, creamy character that buoys up the fresh aspect of cherries rather than the sweet. No fruity beer stereotype applies to Boon’s complex kriek; it would be at home in the beer fridge of a bourbon or single-malt lover. Unfortunately, it is all-too rare in upstate New York.
Cantillon Brewery, of Brussels, is famed for its challenging, mouth-puckeringly astringent lambics. Its yeast creates a tart wash that manages to stay light enough so as not to detract from the Schaerbeek cherries within. It’s also the funkiest in our list, with a pronounced musty character and an aroma that many lambic lovers find exquisite. Some others, however, think it smells like sweaty gym socks.
Wherever you fall on the scale, kriek pushes the perception of what beer is, and what it can be, and few styles are as evocative of time and place. If you’ve ever had the good fortune of drinking one in Belgium, a bottle purchased back home will instantly transport you back to Flanders’ fields.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.