This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be involved in the San Francisco regional judging for Sam Adam's Longshot competition, my second year involved in this. After judging was completed on Saturday night a large group of us headed over to the Toronado for some of the world's finest offerings. I won't detail all the great beers we had while there, but it should be noted we pretty much closed the place down. There is one beer, however, that must be mentioned as it was a WOW moment in my beer drinking life, the Hansens Oude Kriek.
Many beer drinkers are largely unfamiliar with this beer style, which has a rich and celebrated history in Belgium. Essentially we're looking at a Lambic that has been aged on whole sour cherries for a long time. I've been told before that good Kriek's have a subtle almond character, and until I tried this I had no idea what my sources were talking about. The BJCP has this to say about the history of the style.
Spontaneously fermented sour ales from the area in and around Brussels (the Senne Valley) stem from a farmhouse brewing tradition several centuries old. Their numbers are constantly dwindling and some are untraditionally sweetening their products (post-fermentation) with sugar or sweet fruit to make them more palatable to a wider audience. Fruit was traditionally added to lambic or gueuze, either by the blender or publican, to increase the variety of beers available in local cafes.The numbers are dwindling for a couple of reasons, but primarily due to modern development of the region's orchards which housed the micro-flora required to make a good lambic. Regardless of the numbers, this beer is simply a beautiful representation of this style - it is sharp/tart, full of cherry flavor, but not at all cloyingly sweet, with a wondefully clean finish. I've tried several fruited lambics, but nothing like this - as close to stylistic perfection as I've seen.
There are a couple of things regarding this beer to remember. First, it is a hard find. I can't see where it is available online, so you'll have to use your beer finding sources to the best of your ability. Second, this beer has a broader appeal that you might think. We shared the sample with some die hard hop heads, and they were impressed - even without the faintest trace of hops. Finally, food pairing - no need. This beer needs no help, but if you insist I'd look to a well-made spring salad with a vinegarette (thinking raspberry). If you're in the bay area, find it at Toronado and email us to let us know what you thought.
Score: 4.8/5 (and only because I won't give a 5 out of principle)
Their Site: http://www.proximedia.com/web/hanssens.html