Kriek beer offers an exceptional drinking experience.
It appeals so vividly to all the senses simultaneously: big fruity aromas, luscious red hues, concurrent sweet and sour tastes, the dry mouth feel, and even a fizzy sound as it is poured all contribute to a truly unique beverage. Krieks defy all the "normal" patterns I look for in other styles, such as ales or pilsners. The serious malt tastes and an ominous color of a porter, for instance, are contrasted greatly with the light-hearted, yet sophisticated kriek beer.
Unfortunately, kriek is something I cannot get hold of readily in Germany. Drinking it is a treat and usually reserved for a special occasion. As a result, my palate is usually slightly shocked when presented with the sourness and wine-like qualities of a kriek - but a good kind of shock. And unless you are Joris Pattyn or seek krieks out regularly, I suspect this is a common experience among many RateBeerians.
Yogi Beera and I were therefore eager to take advantage of the Kriek Beer Tasting Session at the Great British Beer Festival this year (GBBF 2003). Not only would we get a chance to sample several great beers, weíd also deepen our understanding of the style.
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Setting of the kriek beer tasting session at the GBBF 2003
Our guide through this wonderful world of kriek is the Italian beer expert Lorenzo Dabove. Lorenzo is funny, personable, and very knowledgeable - the perfect leader for the session. In his thick Italian accent he regaled us with stories of travel throughout Belgium, which he describes as his second home. We felt lucky to have such a competent guide on this hot summerís evening.
Lorenzo invested quite a bit of time talking about how to taste beer, in general, and how to enjoy krieks, in particular. He even drew diagrams of the tongue showing where taste regions were and how kriek beers general effect the palate. (I learned later that the taste map of the tongue he referred to is <a hrefhttp://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0008DB75-22F1-1CBF-B4A8809EC588EEDF>all wrong - oh well). Combined with short lessons on aroma, color and texture as well, one could nonetheless better appreciate this style after the session.
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Afterwards at the White Horse in London
- Lorenzo is always the life of the party
Lorenzo went out of his way to acquire some rarities for this sold out event:
It is extremely rare to find Cantillon Kriek (or any other Cantillon brew) on tap. This really is a treat for all of us, and we tried to draw out the pleasurable experience as long as possible.
This kriek commences with distinct, rather pungent, metallic aromas fairly typical of this brewer. The cloudiness in the opaque cherry red color suggests a complex, hand-crafted beer. Wrapped around the central sweet cherry body are tastes of lemon and grapefruit, and at times even balsamic vinegar. It goes without saying that this beer is very sour and tart: your mouth puckers so much you feel like your head is going to shrink like a Warner Brothers cartoon character who has just consumed alum unknowingly.
Hops are detectable, though not really bitter, as they gently scratch the back of the tongue in the swallow. The mouthfeel is dry and chalky with a full body. What an incredible balance from an outstanding beer! Its aggressiveness may put off a newcomer to kriek beers, but for those who crave sour beers, itís heavenly.
Drie Fonteinen Kriek
Here is a complex beer right from the beginning: a wine-like nose greets you with grassy, spicy and pine-like aromas. The clear red color makes you happy just looking at it. This kriek delivers an intense cherry flavor up front. Drinking this on a warm summerís day was amazingly refreshing. The finish exhibits a dry astringency at the front of the tongue, tying off an overall scrumptiously sour drinking experience. The blenders at Drie Fonteinen have achieved an unreal balance in this kriek - seek it out at all costs!
To quote Lorenzo: "this is uncredible!"
Felix Kriek (Oudenaards)
This kriek is based on oud bruin beer, not lambic, and our sample was over ten years old. One notices its difference to the first two brews sampled just from the color: the brown-based beer mixed with the red cherries creates a lovely hazelnut brown hue. As expected, there is a substantial foamy head. The nose was much sweeter than the Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen and reminded me of cherry candy or jello.
The Felix has a thick, sweet body, attributed to the heavy malt base from the oud bruin. As Lorenzo says "it leaves a carpet of malt in the middle of the tongue as it goes down." Syrup and caramel-like qualities with traces of chocolate increase through the sample, subtly subduing the sourness. A woody finish brings it to a close. Overall, the sweetness is balanced well with later arriving sourness at the back of the mouth, though this could be much more sour. There is no denying that this is fantastic non-lambic kriek.
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From left: Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Felix, De Ranke, Sciresona and Le Baladin Mama Kriek
De Ranke Kriek
The ancient Sumerians added fruit to beer, as Lorenzo reminded us. Fruit beers, such as krieks, arenít a marketing gimmick of recent creation. They have a long tradition and special place within the history of brewing. So, donít let the clear, red Kool-Aid-like color of this one fool you.
At first there is a pungent, sharp cherry and lemon nose. Then, your mouth is thoroughly bathed in rich fruity flavors that are evenly distributed. Apart from cherries (of course), there are hints of lemon and even mango. After a slightly woody middle, a certain bitterness comprised of hops and cherries kicks in with the dry finish. As you swallow, a puckering, acidic aftershock emerges, but without lingering.
Overall this is a sophisticated brew that takes some effort to fully understand, but the enjoyment is immediate.
An Italian kriek beer? A purist might exclude this from the kriek style, but we were game.
This beer opens of with an amazingly fruity nose: black cherries, honeydew melon and peaches - very complex from the onset. A big fluffy head sits atop a cloudy brown-red colored body. The cherry flavor is the soul of this beer for sure, but it plays secondary role to tastes of plums, chocolate and toffee that punctuate flavor profile at different times. It concludes with a licorice taste amidst a powder-dry ending. A gritty effervescence adds traction to the mouthfeel giving this a tactile palate
Le Baladin Mama Kriek
With twenty ingredients, this is a very complex brew without doubt - just insane. Actually, itís schizophrenic with multiple personalities. Though fruity in nature, its designation as a kriek is dubious.
The nose greets you with a wild mix of fresh hops laced with coriander, sweet apricots and mixed spice aromas. It resembles a weizen in appearance with its dark, cloudy gold color. Flavors of peaches and apricots burst quickly out of the sweet malt body, but the profile drops off quickly. Chicory, coriander, fruits, hops, malt, sugar - this brew is everything at once. Adventurous for sure, but where are the cherries? Overall, the Mama Kriek offers quite a unique tasting experience, though not convincing in balance and overall execution.
Yogi_Beera rates a kriek beer at the tasting session
Lorenzo obviously has a rather broad view of the kriek beer style, tending to be inclusive. Many seemed to agree that the Le Baladin Mama Kriek didnít quite fit in with the others, and the Sciresona was questionable as well. The Cantillon and Drei Fonteinen were simply amazing and the hits of the day. Many, including myself, preferred the later as the best of the evening. Nonetheless we enjoyed all the beers thoroughly and had a great time.
Another highlight of the evening was get together afterwards between RateBeerians and the Burgundian Babble Belt group at the White Horse in London. Thanks to all who made that enjoyable as well.
To sum up, the beer was great, the speaker was entertaining, and we enjoyed our kriek in the company of some interesting beer fans. What could be better?