Rummaging through our cellar this week, we were looking for something that said “spring.” After all, Passover’s here and Easter Sunday’s upon us, and there aren’t many better host/hostess gifts than a nicely aged beer. So we were psyched to stumble upon a kriek napping in the back of our cabinets.
It’s a Samuel Adams American Kriek, part of the first batch of the Samuel Adams label’s Barrel Room Collection. The bottle-conditioned beer was aged in oak barrels with tart Balaton cherries, a Hungarian variety now grown in Michigan.
Our particular bottle was marked with “3220,” the Julian calendar date that corresponds to Nov. 18, 2010. At about a year and a half old, this 7%-ABV kriek wasn’t going to last much longer.
And in retrospect, we probably let it go a little too long. Granted, it’s one of the most beautiful-looking pours we’ve seen in ages: The beer’s a hazy, jewel-toned red-orange with a blush head that exceeds fluffy. And it tastes quite delightful, but it doesn’t taste like beer anymore. And that’s half the point of kriek, right?
What we tasted: A soft, thin, barely bubbly mouthfeel carries juicy, sweet-tart cherry essence effortlessly down the throat. Some floral, dry oak notes make the drink palatable and keep the sweetness and sourness in check. Seriously, it’s a really, really nice drink. But if you couldn’t see it in your glass, you wouldn’t know it’s beer.
What aging (probably) did to the beer: Aging mellowed out what were once sharper fruit and oak notes; today, they’re dry and quite cohesive, but originally the cherry would have asserted itself more strongly. The alcohol’s been tamed, too; at 7%, the beer wasn’t a great cellar candidate to begin with. But this beer stopped fermenting long ago, and now, the alcohol flavor’s virtually zilch.
It’s all a little puzzling, because lambics are, by design, meant for aging. Not having cellared one before, we don’t know how one ought to taste. Another wrench is the fact that we don’t know how long this one aged before it was bottled. And since this one was American-born, can we really evaluate its aging potential as we would a Belgian original? Insert virtual shoulder-shrug here.
Anyone else ever aged krieks? Any rules/tips you can share? Please tell us!