Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back to the Future: Liefmans Kriek

Liefmans Kriek (02)

Like a docent, the bartender showed me a museum piece: a glass of Liefmans Kriek poured from a keg from 2008. Better yet, he offered it to me.
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There is very little Liefmans remaining these days in the United States, and what is here is old. But 'old' can be relative. A bit of maturity can enhance the characteristic refreshing sour smack of the sour beers of Belgian Flanders.

Long renowned for its Goudenbond (brown ale), Kriek (sour cherry ale) and Frambozen (sour raspberry beer), the Liefmans brewery in Belgium had hit hard times by the early 2000s. Under its Riva ownership, production ended altogether in 2007 at both of its breweries —Oudenaarde and Dentergem.  The brewery applied for bankruptcy relief —a Belgian equivalent of Chapter 11 (that is, to continue operations while some of its debts were forgiven and others were negotiated). Its plea was rejected by the court, which ordered the brewery closed in late December 2007.

At the time, Liefmans/Riva had 50 full-time employees, and produced Frambozen, Goudenband, and Kriek under its own name, as well as Dentergems Witbier, Jan van Gent, Lucifer, Straffe Hendrik, and Vondel.

In 2008, Duvel Moortgat —maker of Duvel in Belgium and of Ommegang in the US— agreed to purchase Liefmans for 7.1 million dollars. Some beer remained in the tanks. That was bottled, but as stocks were depleted, exports to the US were halted.

Moortgat closed the Dentergem facility, and has since renovated the Oudenaarde brewery, where new production is slowly coming 'on-line.' Goudenband (re-packaged as Oud Brune) and Kriek (re-packaged as Cuvee Brut) is again being sold, but only in Europe. There is also a new, eponymous, low alcohol, unaged fruit beer. The rights to brew Lucifer were sold to Het Anker.

Cuvee Brut
Duvel-Moortgat has released no public details as to resumption of export of Liefmans to the US, but industry insiders believe its return is probable, if not imminent. If export were to re-commence, side issues would first have to be resolved, such as assignment of importers and wholesalers, and approval by the US government and states.

Fans of other sour reds —such as Rodenbach (itself just recently re-introduced to the US) and Duchesse de Bourgogne— will enjoy this 'museum' Liefmans Kriek. Deep red and cloudy, it's stunningly delicious: cherry-skin tart, with just a bit of residual sweetness, a dash of salt,  and a hint of iron in the finish.

Here's what the brewery has to say:
This Kriek is made with a completely different method from Kriek Lambic. It starts with old brown ale which is macerated with fresh whole cherries [13 kg per 100 liters] in shallow, horizontal tanks. Then it matures for about 1 year and afterwards is blended with Oud Brun and Cuvee Brut or Goudenband of different ages. 

Only a few days ago, I enjoyed a 10-ounce glass of the 2008 Kriek on draft at Rustico Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. The bartender poured it from a separate beer line kept seperate in the beer cooler. Fruit beers such as this can permanently 'flavor' (that is, taint) a standard draft beer line.

When these two 40-liter kegs are emptied, Liefmans Kriek, in the US as such, may be no more. We wait for Cuvee Brut.

  • The photo above to the right is Liefmans Goudenband (now Oud Brun) as it used to appear. Above, to the left, is as Cuvee Brut (formerly Kriek) will now appear.
  • More on Liefmans: here.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative of northern Virginia beer/wine wholesaler Select Wines, Inc., I sold the Liefmans keg to the restaurant. If and when Liefmans reappears in the US, the question of whether the company will again distribute the beer is unresolved.
  • Drinking Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). More: here.
  • The Drinking Again graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

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