Hello Sour Beer Friends!
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan and attend the American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Conference. We arrived in the very pleasant downtown area late Wednesday morning after a ten hour drive. A short nap later and we were ready to reward ourselves with an evening of brewpub and bar hopping! After checking out the local brews at a variety of spots within walking distance of our hotel we headed over to HopCat for a great dinner and some excellent sour beer. The restaurant was packed and, although we did have to wait a bit for a table, the bartenders were attentive. We were able to try a good draft beers before settling down to a table for a very nice meal and a round of Drie Fonteinen Oude Krieks. The bottle list at HopCat was well populated with both American and imported craft beer choices including a 2011 vintage of Armand Debelder’s Oude Kriek. We were pleasantly surprised to find that when the bottles were delivered to the table, the restaurant was actually serving a 2009 vintage!
For those readers unfamiliar with the iconic lambic brewery & blendery, the Debelder family has been blending gueuze and other lambics under the Drie Fonteinen name since Armand’s father Gaston acquired the former cafe in 1953. In 1998, Armand purchased a brew system and began adding his own lambic wort to the blends (which also included lambic produced by Boon, Girardin, and Lindemans). Sadly, on May 16th 2009, a mere two months after the bottling of the Oude Kriek we enjoyed, a faulty thermostat caused thousands of bottles of gueuze and other lambics to explode or be otherwise damaged by extreme heat. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the resulting financial difficulties required Armand to sell the brewing equipment and attempt to sustain the business solely as a blendery once again. Despite the difficulties, the Drie Fonteinen brand has remained strong these past years due to the superior quality imparted into each blend by Armand. To the delight of the brewer in myself, Armand was able to purchase a new brewery in March of 2013 and has resumed the production of his own lambic to include in his blended products. In fact, the Armand 4 Season gueuzes (which we will be tasting and reviewing with the start of each new season this year) were a special product created to help fund the purchase of Drie Fonteinen’s new brewing system.
Upon opening our bottles, we poured the deep crimson colored kriek into 3 tulip glasses and were greeted with a thin layer of white head that disappeared quickly. A strong and pleasant aroma of sour cherries and dark fruit could be smelled across our entire table. These 5 year old krieks also had a mild vinegar aroma which was somewhat more intense than in other Drie Fonteinen krieks we have tasted. There was a nice layer of leather and musty Brettanomyces funk present as well but cherries dominated the overall aroma. In addition to the black cherries that add a sweet smell to many cherry beers, these examples smelled strongly of almonds and cherry pit as well.
When tasting these 2009 Oude Krieks, we found them to have a slightly milder souring than more recent examples. The sour profile was a very pleasant blend of about two thirds malic acid from the tart cherries themselves and about one third lactic acid from the lambic base. Unlike the aroma, there was no distinctly notable level of vinegar in the taste of this kriek. The cherry flavors were still strongly present in this aged lambic as cherry candy with a distinct amount of fruit sweetness. Flavors of dehydrated dark fruits like those found in fruit cake were present as well as a high level of almond and vanilla from the cherry pits. Light wine-like oak notes were present along with a light level of sherry like oxidation that did not detract from the overall balance.
The Brettanomyces characteristics in the aroma carry through in the taste as a moderate dose of horseblanket and leather with lower levels of musty hay. The body was medium with a bit more mouthfeel and sweetness than we have tasted in more recent examples. The carbonation was low to medium, which may have contributed to the perception of sweetness in this vintage.
Fruit lambics by Drie Fonteinen have, in my experience, always been exceptional examples of the style and these 2009 Oude Krieks were no exception. I always try to keep a few bottles of Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek stocked in my cellar. Compared overall to newer examples which have more jammy & pie-like fruit flavors, these 2009 bottles were heavier on the almond cherry-pit components of the flavor profile. In this way, these Oude Krieks reminded us of Drie Fonteinen’s Intense Red Oude Kriek, which also has a very prominent almond flavor. The typical fresh fruit juice flavors were a little more muted in these examples, which would be expected to occur naturally with their age. Despite aging these bottles for 5 years, these Oude Krieks retained Armand’s characteristic house flavors and were wonderful to drink.
For those of you traveling to Grand Rapids be sure to check out HopCat for awesome food and an excellent beer selection! For those of you who have the opportunity to try an Oude Kriek or any lambic from Drie Fonteinen, don’t pass up the chance to drink a world class sour beer!