There’s a profusion of cherry-flavored beers on the market, but most are anything but sweet. Our picks among the best.
By ALAN J. WAX
Life is just a bowl of cherries, or should I say, a glass of cherry beer.
With cherry season now at its peak in North America, it’s as good a time as any to be tasting cherry beers. And, there’s a slew of them out there as brewers increasingly turn to this red stone fruit, known botanically as pruneus avium (sweet cherry) or prunus cerasus (sour cherry), to add another dimension to their beers. So popular are cherry beers that as I write this Kriekfest, a celebration of cherry beers and ciders, is underway in Oregon.
To be sure, cherry beers have been around for ages. Belgian brewers have produced krieks—lambics flavored with tart cherries – for centuries. And there are Flanders red-brown ales, such as Rodenbach Cuvee Alexander, made since the early 19th Century. (Rodenbach reintroduced Alexander this year as a limited edition beer after production ended in 1998.)
Cherry beers have been craft specialties since the 1990s. Boston Beer Co. introduced Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat Beer (not a personal favorite and I’ve not had it recently) and New Glarus in Wisconsin introduced its Belgian Red, which soon won the brewery accolades, awards and cult status.
More recently, brewers have been producing a profusion of cherry-flavored sours beers, their own spins on kriek, as well as goses, stouts, wheat ales and more.
I’ve spent the last few weeks sampling as many cherry beers — Belgian, British and American — as I could find. Some were exceptional, others horrible disappointments. Some were reminiscent of cough medicine. Others were redolent of cherry aromas and flavors. And in some cherry notes were barely detectable (Why add cherries if no one can’t taste them?).
Not surprisingly, Belgian krieks rated highest on my list, but even among these there was great diversity from brewer to brewer.
Here are tasting notes from my effort:
Oude Kriek (Vielle). Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Belgium. Deep red with a petty-in-pink head. Meld of cherries and oak notes all lovely balance. *****
St. Louis Gueze Fond Tradition. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Brick red with a huge ripe cherry palate. Perfect tartness. Not a shy beer. ******
Nancy. Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. Golden hue. Brett, earth nose. Extremely tart, faint cherry notes, but lip smacking all the same. Balanced. *****
Imperial Biscotti Break Natale Pretty Please With A Cherry on Top. Evil Twin Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC. Deep brown with a mocha head, an alcoholic nose. Chocolate, sweet malty and caramel notes on the palate with a wine-like quality. Quite likable despite the hidden cherries. **** ¾
Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium. Bright Crimson. Oaky Brett nose. Oak then cherries then Brett notes on the palate. Dry! ****½
Kirsch Gose. Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA. Salmon hue. Salty, bready, cherries. A delightful surprise. Slight tart finish. ****½
Spontan Cherry Frederikdal. Mikkeller, Denmark. Deep Reddish purple w/small pink head. Tart cherry aroma. Concentrated cherry palate offset by dry oaky notes. Lip smacking finish. ****½
Kriek. Brouwerij Boon, Belgium. Cranberry hue. Cherry nose. Carbonated cherry juice. Easy quaff w/dry finish. ****¼
St. Louis Kriek. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Light red. Medicinal nose that gives way to wonderful bright tart Cherry candy flavors. Easy drinking. ****¼
Kentucky Old Fashioned Barrel Ale. Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Lexington, KY Deep gold w/bright white head. Honey whiskey aroma. Lotsa wood but the fruit notes are no show. Round mouthfeel. ****¼
Smuttlabs Cherry Short Weiss. Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH. Cloudy gold. Sharp nose. Cherry palate. Soft tart finish. ****
Cerise Sour Blond. Almanac Beer Company. San Francisco, CA Cloudy deep gold. Seriously sour. Hint of cherries. Dry, acidic finish. ****
Expletus. Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO. Light copper. No head. Sharp sour notes. Just a hint of cherries. Just the barest suggestion of oak and not a hint of tequila. Refreshing all the same. ***¾
Organic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, England. Light red, Jolly Rancher candy nose and palate. Black Forest cake finish. ***½
Cherry Stout. Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI. Roasty nose with notes of chocolate and roasted grain. Hint of sweetness in the finish. Cherry not discernible. ***½
Kettle-Soured Dark Cherry Imperial Red (Savor Series). Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, CO. Cherry red hue. Muddied nose. Residual sweetness but hops, fruit and Brett clash. Disappointing. ***¼
Kriek Lambic. Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA Peach hue. Brett nose. Quite tart. Cherries only in the background. Overwhelmed by Brett. ***¼
Mosh Pit Tart Cherry Ale. No-Li Brewhouse, Spokane, WA. Amber. Bitter. Near impossible to pick up the fruits. ***
Kriek. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium Crimson. Candied nose. Cherry soda, wine cooler like. Juicy.***
Blood & Guts (2015). Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA. Deep brown. Chocolate, chicory nose. Brett and chocolate notes, light tart cherry near the finish. **¾