This is how badly I wanted to try Brooklyn Brewery’s latest quarterly experiment; I rushed all the way from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan for a tiny taster cup – and I usually avoid midtown like it’s Disneyland and I’m an unvaccinated child. Yes, I did manage to track down K Is For Kriek, Brooklyn Brewery’s American take on a Belgian kriek beer!
Simply put, kriek is Flemish for cherry. Kriek beers are made from lambics, a style of Belgian sour beer. Those beers are then aged in barrels on whole cherries. Due to multiple fermentation cycles, these beers take a while to make – your typical kriek lambic usually ages between one and three years. The result is a beer that tastes like tart, delicious cherry juice with the added benefit of getting you drunk.
I’ve had a soft spot for kriek beers since high school. I went to an international school in Switzerland, and once a year we’d have an international day. Given that we lived in a country where the drinking age is 16, we were allowed to serve beer. I had a Belgian friend with an awesome mom who gave us free beer samples. One of them was a kriek. I was amazed by its sweetness, and the fact that it tasted like someone had just straight-up dropped cherry Kool Aid in my beer. However, the brewery is lost to time, since I didn’t care about that stuff back then.
I totally and completely forgot about kriek lambics until a semester abroad in The Netherlands, three years later. I rediscovered them thanks to a crowd of drunken Australians, who took me out on the town on my first night in the country. I think I may have frightened them when I reacted with such excitement to the familiar, crimson-hued drink.
K Is For Kriek is a little different, being Brooklyn Brewery’s American take on a kriek beer. It’s not quite a kriek, since its base isn’t a lambic, but it still tastes like a kriek for beginners. While it doesn’t have the same pucker-up goodness, it’s more forgiving on palates uninitiated to sour beers.
The brewers start with the Local 2, a dark abbey ale that I talked about in my last post. Then, they throw it into charred bourbon oak barrels with whole Montmorency cherries from Michigan for six months. After that, they bottle it, toss in some Brettanomyces and Champagne yeasts and let it age for yet another six months. . That’s the thing about sour beers: most of them take a really, really long time to happen – kriek lambics are typically spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts for a year or more. Meanwhile, K Is For Kriek is fermented not once, not twice, but three times!
What’s interesting here is that the Local 2 is a pretty sweet beer from the start, since it’s brewed with honey, candi sugar and orange peels. That sweetness seems to cancel out the tart funkiness usually imparted by Brettanomyces and the dry mouth feel associated with Champagne yeast. K Is For Kriek is tart enough to be refreshing, but I missed that traditional sour lambic taste.
It’s still a complex beer; it hits you hard with the cherries, then the bourbon, and then a little bit of smoky oak near the end with a warm, boozy finish. That makes it almost a seasonless beer; it tastes like summer but makes you feel cozy like a woolly winter sweater. Like most of Brooklyn Brewery’s Quarterly Experiments, its alcohol content is quite high at 10.1%. The aroma is almost entirely cherry. I was surprised by how much of the bourbon oak was present on the palate. The orange peel wasn’t entirely evident at first, but appeared and lingered long after the tasting.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great look at the bar, Beer Culture – it’s a tiny location and it was absolutely PACKED. I did manage to escape with two bottles of the K Is For Kriek: one to try with my Beer Nerd Boyfriend, and one to stash somewhere and forget about for a few years.
The cool thing about Brettanomyces is that there are about 1,000 different strains of it, and it can be cultured, although it can also develop spontaneously as a wild yeast strain. Aging a bretted beer will usually lead to an interesting, wine-like funk.
Fun fact #1: Brettanomyces is actually considered a contaminant in most beer styles. Fun fact #2: it can also develop in wines, mostly in barrel-aged reds. A lot of what people think is cork taint is actually a Brettanomyces infection. Fun fact #3, courtesy of the Beer Nerd Boyfriend: Brettanomyces are a vintner’s worst nightmare; according to him, the wine infection is so terrible that they will run and hide if you make them taste any kind of bretted beer.
If you’re still iffy about sour beers, or haven’t really tried one before, a sweet American-style kriek beer is probably a good place to start. You’d better hurry it up if you want to get your hands on K Is For Kriek, though; Brooklyn Brewery’s quarterly experiments are brewed in limited supply, and once a batch is done, it’s gone.