Belgian Cherry Beer

Belgian cherry beerSpring has sprung and cherry blossom is everywhere - and our thoughts have turned to cherry beer!

Belgian lambic beer sounds like something that shouldn’t work, but it does. Lambic fermenting allied to sour cherries ought to produce a really horrible beer, but in fact Belgian Cherry Beer, also known as Kriek, has an intense, refreshing flavour and a depth of character that makes it a delicious drinking experience.

The history of Belgian Cherry Beer

Traditionally the cherries used for making kriek are Schaarbeeks - named for a district in Brussels in which they grew. They have become a rare commodity, last produced in any number in the excellent harvest of 2007, so most breweries now use sour (Morello) cherries instead.

So what is a lambic beer? It’s a beer that is dry in note and somewhat sour, the distinctive flavour of which is created by spontaneous fermentation with airborne yeast. While we tend to think that hops have always been the traditional flavouring for beer, but in fact cherries have been used as a beer flavouring for centuries before hops replaced them as the widespread ‘extra ingredient’ in traditional beer making. To this lambic fermented beer, whole cherries including the pits are added and left in the beer for several months, re-fermenting the sugars present in the fruit. This means that there will be almost no sugar left in the beer, so it will have a complex fruit flavour with no sweetness. Once the cherries are removed a further maturation takes place, adding a depth of flavour that balances the beer.

Modern Belgian Cherry Beer

It’s worth bearing in mind that many modern breweries add cherry extracts to beer rather than conducting a second (lambic) fermentation. As long as any degree of a beer or ale contains lambic ingredients it can be called lambic, so if you want the intense lambic experience, look out for Cantillon Kreik Lambic Bio which uses fermented fruit.

If you’re looking to have your first experience of cheery beer, we’d recommend Kasteel Red cherry beer. This beer, also known as Kasteel Rouge blends the traditional Kasteel Donker with sweet cherry liqueur. to give an aperitif style beer, with a rich aroma and a powerfully fruity flavour. As an introduction to cherry beers this one is very digestible, popular with those who aren’t regular beer drinkers (so beware, introduce your friends to this one and they might drink it all and ask for more) and it’s not as sedimented as the traditional beers that should be stored at an angle to preserve the sediment.

Serving Belgian Cherry Beer

Finally many kriek beers are sediment rich and opinions are divided on whether or not to serve the beers with the sediment - some say it adds richness to the taste, other can’t stand the presence of sediments. We’ll leave that decision up to you!

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