I love cherries and I'm also quite keen on beer, so you would think that I would have jumped at the chance to try a Belgian cherry beer on tap when offered one; yet I at first refused. Although I adore cherries -- they may just be my favorite fruit -- I abhor fake cherry flavoring. This is why I am unable to take cough medicine or drink cherry soda. It just tastes fake and wrong to me. So last year, while visiting the lovely city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, I had to be convinced to try the cherry beer that is a staple at most pubs in the fall. I am so glad I relented.
Kriek (pronounced like “creek”) is a fruit beer made from lambic, a sour and dry Belgian beer, which has been infused with sour cherries and their pits. According to the bartender I chatted with in Haarlem, the pits are where the real cherry flavor lies. Lambic is only brewed in Belgium. It is unique in that brewers don’t add any yeast as an ingredient. Fermentation instead occurs through exposure to yeast strains and bacteria native to the area of Pajottenland (is it me, or does that sound like a name thought up by Dr. Seuss?). The marriage of lambic with sour cherries is really a regional match made in heaven.
After sipping my friend Corbin’s kriek, I was hooked. My first response was literally “Wow!” The cherry flavor was tart and sweet, but understated and not syrupy, and the texture of the brew was perfect. Although we had just had a big meal, I drank two and a half pints. I realized this was my one and only chance to have this stuff on tap (well, until my next visit to Northern Europe, whenever that may be) and I wanted to make the most of it.
The next morning, before I flew to London, I dashed to the local liquor store and bought a few bottles of kriek to share with my husband, who was stuck at home with the kids while I gallivanted throughout Europe with my oldest friend. It was the least I could do -- really. I knew he would love it, and wasn’t sure I could find the stuff at home.
But a few months after returning home, I saw it on the menu at Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. And, although it wasn’t as fresh and earthy as the lovely brew on tap in Haarlem, it was close enough to make me quite happy. Our waitress told us she had seen it at Whole Foods, so I journeyed over there a few days later and bought some, along with a bottle or two of framboise, kriek’s raspberry cousin which is equally intriguing.
The most common brand sold in the United States is Lindeman’s, which comes in both 750 ml and 8 oz bottles, and is sold at both Luka’s Taproom and Whole Foods. But if you’re interested in trying a few other varieties, The Trappist in Oakland has a number of different brands by the bottle and actually sometimes even has kriek on tap (at least their web site says they do). I tried a bottle there recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, but it was less sweet than the Lindeman’s and quite good.
Although Luka’s refers to kriek as a dessert beer, I think the designation is too limiting. Since finding that I can get it here, I’ve tried it with numerous dishes. Kriek is a fantastic accompaniment to roasted pork, spinach salad, and baked chicken. It’s also nice with a plate of cheese -- the stinkier the better.
So if you come across some kriek, I highly recommend it. Better yet, if you find yourself in Belgium or The Netherlands in the fall, try a pint on tap. You won’t regret it.