Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Lambic Kriek
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Lambic is a very old style of beer. As Michael Jackson points out in his "Beer Companion", it seems likely that lambic is the beer dispensed from earthenware jugs in the feast paintings by Breugel the Elder. I might be gilding the lily slightly when I say that this style is a thousand years old, but it is certainly the most primitive and unpredictable way to brew beer - essentially, boil some grain all day, and then leave it to ferment naturally. The natural yeasts (saccharomyces) will produce a beer of around 4% abv, tasting like old, stale real ale. Further ageing in wooden casks cask imparts two further types of character; lactic character from barrel flora (lactobacillus), and eventually the slightly dirty, stinky brettannomyces yeast does its funky work. These can fester, sorry, mature in cask for three years or more, slowly gaining strength and complexity, having the rawness slowly rubbed out of them. Fruit is added to the cask, traditionally glut crops from the area; in this case, cherries (kriek) or raspberries (frambozen). These steep together, lending flavour, colour and a little sweetness.
If that makes it sound a bit unappealing, it's honestly not meant to. But if you're the sort of person who likes your food overly sanitised or your cheese not too stinky, then you'll find the unsweetened fruit lambics of Cantillon quite a challenge. There are plenty of others to seek out. I'm very fond of Girardin's old, unblended lambic, which is a little mellower than the Cantillon offerings. Boon make good fruity examples, and are still more accessible. The mass market offerings of Belle-Vue, Timmermans, Mort Subite et al. draw pained looks from the purists, possibly from the migraine-inducing amounts of sweetening in them. However, even these bastardisations of a classic style serve a purpose; to prick the curiosity of beer novices, and to demonstrate that there is more to beer than fizzy yellow (there's also fizzy pink).
For all their disdain heaped upon them, the sweeter versions of kriek are great with chocolate desserts. Their drier, more mature ancestors are great for rousing an appetite. I know of someone who has professed to enjoy several pints of Cantillon beer before dinner; that's bravado, a sort of heroic barbarism. But in modest quantities, the very pleasurable shock that I display in the video is thoroughly enjoyable. I just feel that I'll never be completely accustomed to them, and that, I think, is what keeps me coming back.
I thought that this would be a good way to celebrate the arrival of spring - some zingy, fruity beer with the sun streaming through the windows. Unfortunately, snow started falling while I was making this video. Oh well, the best laid plans, etc.