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Classic Beer of the Month April 2015: Liefmans Kriek Brut

Liefmans Kriek Brut, 6%

The history of Liefmans is chequered and confusing.

Liefmans Kriek BrutFounded in 1679, the brewery became one of the leading lights of the Belgian town of Oudenaarde, near Ghent, specialising in the region's oud bruin beers. These are beers that are aged for months to acquire a sharp acidity and pleasant sourness and are generally blended with younger beer before going on sale.

Liefmans was a star performer, creating not just a simple oud bruin but a complex, luscious, five-star version called Goudenband. But the business ran into the buffers. It changed hands a few times and was then taken over in the early 1990s by rival Riva, which itself then collapsed, leaving Liefmans facing an uncertain future.

To the rescue rode Duvel Moortgat. The ambitious Belgian giant picked up the brands and kept them in circulation, sprucing up the old Oudenaarde brewery and continuing to mature the beer there.

In the portfolio Duvel Moortgat acquired was a version of oud bruin matured with cherries. This beer is brewed just once a year, in July.

The base is constructed from both pale and darker malts. Hops are not mentioned by the brewery as they really don't figure in the character of the beer in any noticeable way. This beer is all about the acidity and the fruit.

To encourage that acidity, the beer is given a mixed fermentation in open vessels. As well as ale yeast, lactic acid-creating bacteria are pitched.

Cellaring and Blending

After fermentation, fresh morello cherries are added, with at least 13 kg of fruit for every hectolitre (just over half a barrel). The young beer is then cellared. Between eighteen months and three years later, different vintages are blended to create the finished beer, which pours ruby in colour with a slightly pink foam.

Cherries are immediately obvious in the aroma, but so is tart acidity. The nose promises a spritzy, refreshing drink and that is borne out by the taste that is mostly sweet but never cloying.

Lush cherries lead the way – perhaps the fruit is just a little too generous – in the creamy taste, but the oud bruin at the core cuts through most of the sweetness with its acidity.

Cherries linger on, as you would expect, in the drying, slightly tart finish that becomes bittersweet but remains nicely acidic.

At 6% ABV, you would expect this beer to pack a punch but that's not evident in the taste. Instead, you have a joyously fruity, deservedly award-winning drink that, I believe, will even turn the heads of drinkers who swear never to touch a fruit beer.

The beer is presented beautifully in a corked bottle, wrapped in tissue. However, just to add to the whole Liefmans confusion, its name has changed twice in recent years.

From the original and simple Liefmans Kriek, it became Liefmans Cuvée Brut when Duvel Moortgat took over. Now it's on sale as Liefmans Kriek Brut, a far better name in my opinion as this tells you that there are cherries in the beer and that, unlike many kriek-style beer, it's not overly sweet.

If the latest change ensures greater sales, then that can only be a good thing, as it's not been an easy ride for Liefmans' beers in the last couple of decades.

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