Session 6: One Fruit Beer – Kriek De Ranke, Wevelgem, BE

Greg had the power for today’s version of The Session for August and he picked fruit beer as the topic. To be utterly fair, if you are going to pick this topic, it has to be in August when all the world is plump with the results of all that “tra-la it’s May” of a few months ago.

It’s not like I am a stranger to the subject. I’ve posted a bunch of posts about fruit beer, whether sweet lambics, syruped experimentals from the Ottawa Valley, ranges from the Low Countries to ranges largely from North America. I know I was fascinated by the date dubbel from De Regenboog, I liked Floris Honey on a hot day, I am not entirely sure about Fruli but I hated Belhaven’s foul take. All in all, I think the Historic Ales of Scotland were the most interesting – including the seaweed one. And then there are my sour beer studies, trying to sort out some of the most severe confections there are.

But do I like fruit beer? I have no idea. So I am going to follow the posts today like the one from the great guys at Lost Abbey to pick up any threads or themes I see going and pop some sort of fruit beer later today.

Update From Amongst The Laundry: Heading out on holiday for a few days when you have kids starts and ends with laundry so we are a bit pinched for time here at beer blog HQ but we will suffer through with this evening with the help of a 750 ml of Kriek De Ranke, a traditional cherry lambic – qualifying this post for another entry in the sour beer studies as well as my entry for The Session. I picked this one up at Tully’s in Wells, Maine for 17 bucks, best before July 2006. The beer pours a light pink candy floor fine head over cloudy red cherry ale, the head resolving to thin foam. In the nose, more fruit than tart giving me hope that there is going to be some civility in the severity. The Beer Advocate gives this background on the beer:

De Ranke Kriek emulates the famed Oud Kriekenbier from the defunct Crombé brewery in Zottegem. De Ranke Kriek is a mixture of two blended soured pale ales and Girardin lambic, all steeped in whole fresh cherries from Poland and then aged for six months.

Did I mention I love Polish cherries, having worked there for four months? They are put to good use here. In the mouth, there is dry tart acid but also a good measure of true sludgy cherry fruitiness as well that works with some cream of wheatiness. On the swirl, a light cream aspect is added from the yeast, bracing up the body as well. This is quite a genial lambic or, according to the wrapper, “Belgian sour ale fermented with cherries with lambic added”, as there is plenty of the complexity – some of which is pleasant. Three others in the house for dinner tried it, did not screw up their faces yet declined another taste. That is pretty good for this style. Interestingly the paper wrapper says this brewery is a weekend working hobby for the brewery, something you might guess from their website. All 78 BAers love it.

Finally, I have a foothold in the world of dry lambics.

Sour Beer Studies: Gueuze Cuvée René, Lindemans, Belgium

lcr1I had great concerns about this beer given my whole Cantillon thing and my expectation of mouth puckering sourness. How wrong I was. While it is dry and even assertive in its acidity, this is no lemon.

On the nose there is fright fruit with some pear and berry. The beer pours a slightly cloudy deep straw with some lighter highlights. The head is a rich fine white with sheeting lace. In the mouth there is a creamy soft water aspect that frames the biscuity champagne blended with dry apple cider. Grassy notes with pear and even hints of strawberry. The acid is subtle, quite unlike Cantillon: gentle instead of strident. The Lindeman house style is definitely there – a minerally cream of wheat thing.


What did I learn? Sour beer can work with food. This would make a good strong counter point to a summer grill, fennel and prosciutto salad, herbed chicken or a lemony haddock bake. Strong but not universal approval from the BAers.

Sour Beer Studies: Rose de Gambrinus, Cantillon, Belgium

The famous nude lady sketch beer that outraged Maine or at least some officious Mainers. I never thought such a human condition was possible. Just to make a statement, I bought this 2005 375 ml bottling in Maine at the ever excellent Tully’s at York for $8.50 USD. However will I hide the empty from prying eyes as it sits in the recycling box by the curb?

Pinked amber ale under a slightly blushed fine white head, no doubt aware of the circumstances it found itself in. In the mouth, mild vinegar sour over Granny Smith. Not that much barnyardy poo in this one thankfully. There is a bit there but it melds with the over-riding under-ripe gravenstein apple effect. There is raspberry in the way that there is raspberry in raspberry vinaigrette except that there is no sweetness. After, though, you are left with an echo of the raspberry.

Most BAers approve. Do I? I am certainly less shocked having now had a few Cantillons. And I do find this one has a cream or maybe even vanilla note within the sharpness that I can’t imagine leaning on before like I do now, seeking a reason to approve. I certainly could see poaching a fillet of sole in this but the butter in the pan would temper it yet I have to admit that it is still more acidic than any white wine or rose I might enjoy. If the same fluid were labeled blanc de blanc, would we care so?

More sour beer studies here.


Sour Beer Studies: Barriquée, Panil, Parma, Italy

A few weeks or maybe months ago I received an email from a reader asking that I do not use the “Week Of…” format anymore as RSS could not deal with a constantly growing post. I resisted the idea but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that perhaps in addition to the RSS issues, the “Week of…” posts were not as useful as they might be, might not add up to more than a set of notes on a style that are not often used by either me or you, the reader. So I am going to change things around and group some separate posts by themes for a while.

The first topic has been one I have also been thinking about – the sour styles of the low countries. Prior to last year I don’t think I had had a true dry lambic and when I had my first Flemish red, a Rodenbach Grand Cru in December 2004, I called it “the best malt vinegar you will ever taste.” I ended up being nicer in the full review but, by contrast, I was not nice at all when I had a Cantillon last year:

Quite plainly watery at the outset then acid and more acid…then one note of poo. Not refreshing to slightly sub-Cromwellian stridency. Annoying.

I’ve been goaded, guided and chastised. I’ve been told that I miss the point. There is one point that I have been wondering about, however, is how these traditional sour beers developed in “ye olde medieval tymes” when there was no tradition of storing beer before a certain point. Beer was made to be consumed quickly or at least within a season. Storing a cask for years is an act of luxury. When did the era of cask storage arise and who did the storing? You have to be careful about these things as we learned in Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski in his discussion of biere de garde which might seem a traditional style but it is one that was framed in its high alcohol form through adoption by students in Lille, France in the 1970s. So one has to ask how it is these things came to be with a wary eye, especially when luxury is claimed…can its cousins snobbery and price inflation be far behind?

That all being said, this is a study of single beers as well as broader phenomena and the first I am looking at, Panil Barriquée, can only be described as a gift from the kind people at Ontario beer and wine distributors Roland and Russell. I am informed that what I received was the slightly more sour version for North America – Stonch and Knut discuss the various grades of this beer over here. The beer pours a fine tan cream foam with heavy lacing over cloudy deep caramel ale. The ale is sweet, fruity and tart – not unlike a tarty apply tart. In the mouth, it is brisk, vinegared, juicy stuff. Plenty of fruit like raisin, cherry, passion fruit and apple but under a sub-astringent tangy acidity. In the finish there is pink grapefruit, hard wood, cherry, vanilla and biscuit and some refreshing lightening up on the acid. I like it like I like rhubarb pie or strong blue cheese, both of which might go with it. Smacky more than puckery.

Knut visited Panil last spring and told us about it at this post. The BAers tell me about what is going on here and all five like it. I like this BA reviewer’s observation “stewed apple amongst mixed coarse Indian spices in ghee” because it is sort of that, too. All in all it is both an approachable Flanders Red and a complex one. It is a lovely thing so I am happy to report that the Sour Beer Studies has started off promisingly. For a first class, that is enough.

Sour Beer Studies: Duchesse De Bourgogne, Verhaeghe, BE

Why did I pick another Flemish Red so early on in these Sour Beer Studies? I think I am still wary of those dry lambics in the stash and Stonch has spoken so highly of the style that I thought what the heck.

First thing to note is that is this a beer that was kept on the wood as well so could be a cross over post to the About Oaked Beer series, too…so I will. Then, interesting to note that Michael Jackson claims the Verhaege family (no latter “h” in my 2000 edition of his Great Beer Guide) has been brewing in Vichte since the 1500s and that this beer is brewed in oak vessels dating from the 1880s. The brewery’s website is in Flemish but I once worked in Holland and like to pretend I can hack my way though. Well, I can’t really (though I know Smaak: zoet-zurig, fruitig means “Taste: sweet-sour, fruity”) but there are plenty of photos on their history page including those big oak vessels. 4% of BAers do not like it but they really do not like the style which makes it difficult even if it is honest.

The beer pours deep chestnut with a quickly resolving tan head. On the pop of the 750 ml cork top there was a whiff of candy floss that dissipated leaving the aroma of sweet cherry candy and balsamic vinegar. A soft and still sourish ale in the mouth but by far the most approachable I can remember trying. Plenty of fruit and sweetness like a Polish cherry wine but under layers of soft water and a hardwood veneer of a more dignified sort than your average rec room panelling. Somewhat like sweet Cinzano, too, with herbal notes of rosemary and thyme. Far less sour than the Panil Barriquée that I tried a few weeks ago. A slight dryness right at the end in the middle of the tongue. I want to braise fennel root and lamb chops in it.

Funny to find myself thinking it but this beer could do with a wee boost of sourness. Maybe I am getting the hang of this stuff after all.

Sour Beer Studies: Oudbeitje Lambic, Hanssens, Belgium

Oddly, a 750 ml label on a 375 ml bottle. The brewer tells us that this is a strawberry lambic, with the fruit sitting in the beer from one summer to the next spring. The importer gives a proportion of 1 kg of strawberries to every 4 litres. BAers warn that this is extremely sour but upon opening there is a waft of sweet strawberry jam. It’s on the cork. The glass has a hint of it in amongst strong musty barnyardy smells. Within a minutes, the jammy scent is gone.

Very still medium straw ale under a fine white rim. In the mouth, there is musty hardwood, like a little bit of baseball bat, with a slightly bilious swelling that quickly recedes leaving sharp acid but also with a nod-ette to milkiness to the yeast and a dry strawberry note, like the white ones that got picked too early. A moderately gentle vinegar finish with some dry fruit. Taking small sips, you start to get into the beer, finding some of the flavours reorganizing and coming forward to be noted, believing the quote of Garrett Oliver’s that notes sharp cheddar cheese might have a point.

What to take from this beer? Maybe it is that dry lambics are perhaps sipping beers, the acid to be respected like the strength of a single malt whisky. Maybe it is to get past the acid and explore the other relatively muted scents and flavours. Whatever it is, Oudebeitje was not as harsh as past experience with dry lambics.

Which Is The Mildest Cantillon?

Attentive readers will know I have not enjoyed Cantillon’s sour beers but that I do love Finger Lake Beverages in Ithaca, NY. Well, I am down here again and will load up tomorrow for the spring’s tastings and noticed yesterday that FLB has a good range of these sour things in stock.

Which – if any – are a little more approachable?

Do We Love The Beer Or Brewer?

Lew has written another segment of his unfolding manifesto on his relationship to craft beer and the craft beer industry and triggered a long discussion. I take this as his key point:

I have to tell you, this kind of “let’s treat craft beer with kid gloves” stuff has been bugging me for years. It’s one of the main reasons I started this blog and my website. I don’t have a lot of patience with people who blast beers from positions of ignorance — “This IPA sucks! I hate hoppy beers!” — but when a beer is not good — poorly packaged, poorly formulated, or just plain insipid — I don’t want to be told by some brewer that it wouldn’t be nice to say so, or that if I felt I had to say so, I should say so nicely.

Hey, we’ve all heard it from mothers and grandmothers (and editors): if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. Well, how am I going to talk about light beer, then? Seriously, if a critic can’t say negative things, he’s gagged. And if I can’t say those negative things in an entertaining, creative way…what the hell am I getting paid for?

He is right but in being right also begs the question of the importance of his rightness. Don’t get me wrong. I like Lew lots. I even make a point of paying for his books and not hitting him up for review copies largely because he was an early adopter or at least supporter of my blogging about beer, what, for the best part of four years now. All I mean is like any voice with audience you have to remember that the subject matter itself is the important thing. Last month I thought out a bit of my mini-manifesto around being a fan. But while I am a fan of the great brewer I am really a fan of the brew more than anything. And I am really only a fan of what the brew does for me…not Lew… not the brewer… and not you out there (however nice you all are – and you are.) As a result, I am quite content not to get Cantillon and other Belgian sour beers, quite content to describe Rodenbach Grand Cru thusly…

That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vinous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this.

…or to say of another of its general ilk: “I cannot hate it. Yet I am sure it hates me.”

If someone does not agree with me I do not understand how that changes the experience I have when those thing-like-fluids are in my mouth. For me, it is only about the fluid just as a pub is only about the actual experience you have or I have – not the hype or the good time a pal’s sister’s friend had 15 months ago. That may mean you have to take yourself seriously, too, and pay attention to what is in the glass and not rely on others anymore, even me, than you would rely on advertising or if the brewer is friendly, starting out or your cousin.

There. Another bit of the manifesto.

Belgium: Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru, Cantillon

cantbrouGold amber ale under large frothier lazy rim and foam that quickly fades then leaves town. The smell is beyond brett. The unripe Annapolis Valley Gravenstein green apple of my Nova Scotian youth gone mad with aspirations of manure pile. Quite plainly watery at the outset then acid and more acid…then one note of poo. Not refreshing to slightly sub-Cromwellian stridency. Annoying. Then at the end a hint of apple cider. Foul. I wonder if this is an example of mass reputation piercing the veil of reality – mob craftism.

I cannot hate it. Yet I am sure it hates me.

Assorted Low Country Fruit Beers


What better way to see in Canada Day weekend than sampling Belgian and northern French fruit beers. There is no rhyme or reason to the selection other than they are from within a couple of hundred kilometres of each other. Should this breaks rules it is because no one sent me the pamphlet with the rules.

Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic: On the nose there is fresh cow poo or another barnyard note, vinegar and unsweetened under-ripe gravenstein apple. Cloudy naturalized cloudy pink with white rim and foam. Stomach souringly strong acid, cheesey tang, dry pin cherry in the mouth. Vineous if your wine has gone off. Hard to say likeable but one is told this is a classic. MADD could use this as their centerpiece of a temperance campaign if they could get it to the teens soon enough. 97% of BAers say very nice things. Nicer things. Here is the brewery’s website and what it says about this beer.

La Choulette Framboise: beer the colour of wild strawberry jam, blush and straw, with white foam and rim. A note of the La Choulette’s tell tale potato peel under true if dry raspberry from the vine…if they grew on vines. Some sub-astringent drying hop and warming as would be expected at 7%. Less sour than the kriek above but still there, on the dry side. BAers who love dry fruit beer are all over this one. Here, too, is the brewery’s website.

Darbyste: From Brasserie de Blaugies. Cloudy caramel ale under white foam. Quite a tangy fig aroma. Still dry but not nearly so dry as the desiccating fluids above. Acidic, juicy, lightly astingent, green fruit and round richness. But dry though without vineousness. Some light butter biscuitiness. 5.8%. Not offensive, not a wowser. BAers say this. Here, again, is the brewery’s home page.

Lindeman Pomme Lambic: compared to the above, this is fluid Altoid. Green apple sweet and that is about it. Rich and quite accurate apple and not at all unpleasant but that is about it. BAers frown with 14% saying no. After the above three, however, it is something of a welcome break from all that austerity. Here is something approximating the brewery’s website.

More as I pour if the guests stick around as I open more of these sour things.…OK, so I am not the guy to tell you why you should try some of these stark traditional ales. But man these are dry and acidic. I need a Rolaid and I am sure glad I picked up some saisons to try so I can get my love back for the brewers of this region.