Size: 375 ml
ABV: 5 %
Cantillon has five entries in the ‘Top 100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ – it would have been more but the authors felt it might skew the book somewhat. As we have previously ascertained there were hundreds of lambic brewers and blenders in Brussels in yesteryear (#89), but now there is just this one.
The Cantillon Kriek is renowned for its quality, and having only drunk the Lindemans Kriek (#78) on this journey so far, I thought I would use this opportunity to share how Cantillon make theirs as an exemplar to all thriving replicants.
The lambic beer is already sitting waiting when the cherries arrive by lorry on what is hopefully a warm summers afternoon. Cantillon usually buy theirs from auction at St. Truiden, resulting in thousands of kilos of the Kellery variety. About 150kg of this rich fruit is put in each 650 litre capacity barrel, and then the appropriate one and half year old lambics are chosen to add to the barrels. It is essential that the lambics chosen are healthy as it would spoil the beer at this stage. The unhealthy ones will have to wait, but Cantillon are experts at knowing which lambics to use, and curing those that aren’t.
Once the barrels are filled, the hole is sealed with a sheet of paper to avoid impurities reaching the mix, but still leaving the barrels open to the natural yeasts. Within about five days the fermentation fires up, whereby the sugars from the lambic and cherries start to activate the yeasts that are sitting in the wood and in the skin of the cherries. It is here that the amazing rich red colours begin to form. As the brewers here tend to start at the same time each summer, they are prepared for the fermentation to wind down around the 10th August, whereupon the barrels are finally closed, and the acids in the lambic begin to leach all the flavour and remaining colour from the cherries. Spiders are a key part of the result at this stage as they prove to be better than any insecticide, protecting the environment from infection and encouraging the perfect natural equilibrium.
It doesn’t end here as the Kriek then gets a secondary fermentation in the bottle from the beginning of October. This is either done by mixing young lambics with the kriek, or by refilling the original barrel with lambic to mix with the left over pulp. All that remains then is to let the beer sit for about three to five months where it will saturate, and then it is ready for the discerning drinker. It can spoil if left too long and therefore drinkers are advised to imbibe within a year of bottling, although of course that is a matter of personal taste.
Speaking of which, I am probably still coming to terms with the whole lambic taste. I was expecting the rich sanguine flavours of the cherries to engulf me as the Lindemans had, but the overriding experience was still one of sourness and mustiness. Once you open the cork, and you get past the strong cidery nose, you just don’t expect something so flat. I enjoyed sipping it and rolling it around my oralities but yet again I am not sure whether it’s truly for me. I will keep working on it as there are plenty more to come.