Verhaeghe Echte Kriek, Cantillon Vigneronne

There's something exhilarating about spending $12.50 on 17 ounces of beer. That's what I spent on Verhaeghe Echte Kriek and Cantillon Vigneronne last night at Belmont Station for Puckerfest (that's 74 cents an ounce for those of you calculating at home). Not including tip. I reminded myself that these beers are made over 5,000 miles away, in a time-intensive process in a manner that cannot be easily replicated anywhere else on the planet. Pinot noirs grown right here in our back yard sell for $30 and up, so twelve fifty actually seems like a small price to pay for all the effort.

To the beer.

Cantillon's Vigneronne is a fruit lambic made with grapes--a variant I've never tried. Perhaps that's due to the difficulty of making the beer, which the brewery describes:
In spite of its success, the Vigneronne represents less than 5% of the total production of the Cantillon brewery. In order to obtain grapes which are as mature as possible, we buy them at the end of the season. Every year, 1000 kilos of white italian grapes are delivered at the Cantillon brewery in the beginning of October.
Among the lambics, Cantillon's are the driest to my tongue. This makes them both admirable and less approachable. The sourness is intense, and there's very little residual sugar to balance the palate, so the sensation is of having the moisture sucked from your mouth; as the beer slides down your throat, there's the sensation that your puckered mouth isn't far behind. The addition of grapes, if anything, exacerbate the effect. You don't pick up much grapiness. Where I detect it is in a kind of astringency or tannic bitterness I've tasted in wines. The beer is even drier than the plain lambic. I would call it an experience of appreciation more than pleasure.

There was another beer listed which hadn't seeped into my brain, but I went for it anyway. Listed as Echte Kriek, I assumed it was from the brewery Echte, one of those many Belgians I'd never heard of. As I drank the beer, I was composing this post in my head, prepared to admit that to my tongue, it tasted a great deal like a Flanders Red, more like Rodenbach than Verhaeghe's Duchesse de Bourgogne, but not like a kriek lambic. It's okay to get beers wrong--they taste like what they taste like--and after all, we just don't have so many of these sour beers handy to learn from.

Well, turns out I was closer to the mark than I knew. The brewery's not Echte, but Verhaeghe--maker of the Duchesse. Properly speaking, it's Verhaeghe Echte Kriek, or "true kriek." The beer isn't a kriek lambic, but rather the Flanders red recipe with cherries ("kriek") added. D'oh! In the kriek I found many of the flavors present in the Duchesse--chocolatey rich, sweet, with a sour twist. The kriek was more intensely sour, less sweet, but the chocolate was there still. I will confess that the cherries were only a suggestion to me--had you handed me a glass of this beer unidentified, I would have missed it. They seem more like a flavor note, as when we say there's "plum" in a porter. Unlike the Cantillon, I both appreciated and greatly enjoyed the Echte Kriek.
Jeff Alworth2 Comments