This week will be exactly two years since I wrote about Framboise. Well, what about Kriek?
I brewed my first batch of “as authentically possible” Lambic in 2013. The second batch was in early 2014. After letting that batch sit for a year, I kegged some and fruited the remaining two different ways. The first one became the Framboise you may have read about in the aforementioned article (10 gallons, 3lb/gallon). The second part received cherries at a rate of 2.5lb/gallon (5 gallons total). I’m going to admit here that I didn’t have access to any great cherries at that particular time, so I used frozen ones from Costco. There you have it, I’m not an actual lambic brewer and you can strike down the title of this article to whatever you wish.
Why is that? Well, let’s take a look at what Kriek means.
The term “Kriek” came to us in the late 19th century, when small industry brewers used cherries to flavor lambic that had been aged for two years. It was extremely popular, and blenders soon began to follow the trend. As WWII began, ingredients became harder to acquire and the excellence of Kriek became less than ideal. From backsweeteners being used, coloring agents, and thinner blends emerged a new style of Kriek: a sweeter version rather than the more authentic tart style. Hence the name for Kriek and Oude Kriek (old Kriek).
If you’re drinking a Lindemans Kriek, that would be a new Kriek. Very sweet, and slightly sour. More like medicinal syrup than tart beer. If you are drinking a Drie Foneinen Kriek, you’re drinking the older style with much more complexity. This older style is what I shoot for when making this style: the Oude Kriek.
Cherry selection is completely up to the brewer obviously, and this is where I’ve been choosing to cheat a little. Cherries are great fruits, and if you can get your hands on them easily I would recommend using them whole (yet smashed.) Traditional cherries used are Schaarbeek, a very hard to grow cherry and must be harvested by hand. Nowadays, other varieties of sour cherries are used depending on the brewery.
I’ve used a tart cherry concentrate to flavor my lambic and lambic-style beers into Kriek and sour-cherry beers. I know, I know, for once I’m not taking the hard route, but the amount of time, effort, and beer saved is worth it. Not to mention cost. I can get enough concentrate to flavor ten gallons of beer for under $25. Not too bad, especially living in Alaska. Framboise is totally different. I haven’t been able to find a 100% raspberry concentrate. That, and Alaska raspberries are super-flavored, intense, tart, and plentiful.
Back to this batch: I used the Costco sweet cherries. 5 gallons seems like a lot of lambic to use testing this out, but if it worked I didn’t want to be wishing for more. If it didn’t work, I’d only be out 10% of the total batch. I aged the fruit and lambic in a corny keg, which I vented several times per week. In retrospect (and from looking at the pink stains on the wall), I would attach a blow-off tube in the future.
After 6 months, I racked it to a new stainless keg and carbonated forcefully. After letting it settle for a week, I tried some. It had great color and cherry flavor, but was a touch sweet for me. There was also a slight Cheerio flavor which I attribute to tetrahydropyridines (THP). Like most issues with sour beers, I figured the best thing to do would be to let it sit.
Two years later (and now over 3 years from brewday), I found myself in the garage, bottling beers to take to HomebrewCon2016 (about 3 weeks ago.) As I was packaging Lambic v3, I glanced through the rest of the semi-full kegs on the wall. On top was one marked “Lambic with Cherries”. Thankfully, I didn’t have to disturb it to take a taste. It was fantastic. Color was amazing. Thankfully, it was even slightly carbonated. I racked off 2L to take to Baltimore.
In Baltimore, I shared the bottle with several friends in the hotel, at the Milk the Funk meetup, and the last few ounces at club night. No one remarked on the cherry character being anything but great. I thought it was delicious, even though I only got to try a few ounces the whole trip. Here’s an example where Relax, Don’t Worry, Hide the Keg and it Will be Great Later (RDW,HKWGL) delivered a tasty beer. Not many would call it an Oude Kriek – but then again, not many could begin to tell the difference.
Aroma: Musty, funky, and cherry-licious. Some stone-like fruits. Nothing medicinal (thank goodness!).
Flavor: Tart. Great fruit flavor. Not much in the way of sweetness. Light brettanomyces notes, that classic “Lawnmower Lambic” flavor. Dry in the finish, lightly tannic.
Mouthfeel: The mullet of mouthfeels – full bodied and fruity up front, dry in the back. Leaves your mouth slightly puckered and dry.
Overall: Even at room temperature, this beer delivers. I’ll say it again, I’m thankful nothing medicinal comes through. Too many cherry beers often have cough syrup notes to them. The cherry flavor is great. Color is lovely. I do wonder if my love of the color increases my perception of cherry.