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I’ll have a beer with a cherry on top

CherriesThere’s a profusion of cherry-flavored beers on the market, but most are anything but sweet.  Our picks among the best.


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:

beer-_25654_sm_0ad84b2561aada098d5176eb2162f1Oude Kriek (Vielle)Brouwerij Oud Beersel, Belgium. Deep red with a petty-in-pink head. Meld of cherries and oak notes all lovely balance. *****


beer-8341_373b5_smSt. Louis Gueze Fond Tradition. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Brick red with a huge ripe cherry palate. Perfect tartness. Not a shy beer. ******


beer-679637_c1cc1_smNancyAllagash Brewing Co., Portland, ME. Golden hue. Brett, earth nose. Extremely tart, faint cherry notes, but lip smacking all the same. Balanced. *****


beer-_467139_sm_7826d62272252e65d1b1573741ad39Imperial 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


beer-KriekCuveeRene_39549Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium. Bright Crimson. Oaky Brett nose. Oak then cherries then Brett notes on the palate. Dry! ****½


beer-972795_68cce_smKirsch Gose. Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA. Salmon hue. Salty, bready, cherries. A delightful surprise. Slight tart finish. ****½


beer-_331435_sm_77bcfb3c2bd619473d1587edbb5beeSpontan Cherry FrederikdalMikkeller, Denmark. Deep Reddish purple w/small pink head. Tart cherry aroma. Concentrated cherry palate offset by dry oaky notes. Lip smacking finish. ****½


beer-KriekBoon_2565Kriek. Brouwerij Boon, Belgium. Cranberry hue. Cherry nose. Carbonated cherry juice. Easy quaff w/dry finish. ****¼



beer-941039_8b820_smSt. Louis Kriek. Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck, Belgium. Light red. Medicinal nose that gives way to wonderful bright tart Cherry candy flavors. Easy drinking. ****¼


beer-1056584_60f2e_smKentucky 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


beer-1201496_53365_smSmuttlabs Cherry Short Weiss.  Smuttynose Brewing Co., Hampton, NH. Cloudy gold. Sharp nose. Cherry palate. Soft tart finish. ****


beer-754491_62b87_smCerise Sour BlondAlmanac Beer Company. San Francisco, CA Cloudy deep gold. Seriously sour. Hint of cherries. Dry, acidic finish. ****


beer-1452658_a78cb_smExpletus. 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


821699LOrganic Cherry Ale. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery, England. Light red, Jolly Rancher candy nose and palate. Black Forest cake finish. ***½


beer-CherryStout_4138Cherry 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


beer-1549430_e6569_smKettle-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


beer-652375_124fa_smKriek Lambic. Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA Peach hue. Brett nose. Quite tart. Cherries only in the background. Overwhelmed by Brett. ***¼


beer-902019_89398_smMosh Pit Tart Cherry Ale. No-Li Brewhouse, Spokane, WA. Amber. Bitter. Near impossible to pick up the fruits. ***


beer-3095_c11c3_smKriek. Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium Crimson. Candied nose. Cherry soda, wine cooler like. Juicy.***


beer-728652_96ab2_smBlood & Guts (2015).  Free Will Brewing Co., Perkasie, PA. Deep brown. Chocolate, chicory nose. Brett and chocolate notes, light tart cherry near the finish. **¾








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The best beers I had in 2015

25 all-star brews includes sours, barrel-aged beers and more from U.S. and Belgium

By Alan J. Wax

What a year it’s been!

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of what’s gone down my gullet—or the sink drain. To be sure, I sampled and rated hundreds of beers. Many of them were excellent, a great many more bordered on excellence and some less so. There also were a few drain pours.

These were beers I’d sampled at home, at breweries, brew pubs, bars, restaurants and beer festivals. Mea culpa. I failed to take notes on many of the beers sampled at the Great American Beer Festival and at local fests due to the tasting experience, except for a few true standouts.

To my surprise, so many of my top picks for this year were American craft brews, including a couple produced by a brewery owned by AB-InBev (Chicago’s Goose Island and several from breweries in South Florida, where I have a second home and where new breweries seem to open almost monthly and several from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. A few Belgian brews also stood out.

Sour beers, of which we’re seeing more and more, are well represented.

RodebbacgOf the hundreds of beers tasted over the past 12 months, I rated only 25 at five stars on Untappd.com (You can follow me there under corkscapsandtaps). A handful of brewers made the list more than once, Here are my picks (listed alphabetically):

2011 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No 95) by Belgium’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. Murky brown with a nose that suggests leather oak. On the palate there was a fruit bowl of flavors including dried prunes, raspberries, grapes and cherry along with hints of Brett. Simply amazing stuff.

Barrel-aged Project (Blonde Ale): No. 6 Porto by Belgium’s Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal. This deep copper colored brew is part of importer B United International’s ambitious barrel aging project. The nose suggested Port wine nose and its incredibly complex palate weaves notes of bread, honey, plum and oak. It finishes quite tart.

Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Rye (2014) by Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago. Hard to find, but worth the effort to search it out for its silky smoothness and intense vanilla and spice character.

Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo by Boulevard Brewing in collaboration with Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. A deep copper, traditional English strong ale with a tan head and a nose of roasty grain. Notes of cocoa and toffee and some hints of black pepper accompany its chewy, but silky, texture.

Common Good, a deep brown, American wild ale by Fullsteam Brewing of Durham, North Carolina, It’s brewed with locally sources agricultural products including a corn mash, apples, rye and barley. Just luscious with notes of corns, apples, nutty malt and bready yeast.

Dark Truth Stout, also by Boulevard Brewing. Ebony colored, this double stout is thick and richly flavored with notes of chocolate, caramel and spices.

Halia (2015), also by Goose Island.  A hazy golden brew that erupts with its Brett nose and lots of sharp, lacto tartness and finishes with notes of juicy peaches.

Imperial Stout (2014) by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Ebony hued with a vanilla nose the notes of whisky from barrel aging are well integrated. A chewy, oily brew, it offers notes of dark molasses and finishes bitter.

Last-Snow-Tap-StickerLast Snow (2015), also by Funky Buddha Brewery. An imperial coconut-coffee porter that shows off an incredible mélange of chocolate and coconut notes and more.

More Moro, a blood orange IPA from Funky Buddha Brewery, is deep gold and offers a huge citrus nose. Juicy orange/citrus flavors cut through hop bitterness. It finishes up spicy dry and orangey. Both delicious and drinkable.

Rye Saison by Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver, Colorado This reddish brown ale is malty sweet. With notes of yeast, spices snd black pepper. It’s rich and velvety.

Once Upon A Time 1955 Double Brown Ale by the soon to be or, perhaps, now-shuttered quirky Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, of Somerville, Massachusetts. Colored deep mahogany with a dense, foamy head this beer as the Brit’s like to say is quite “moreish,” meaning when you finish one, you’ll want another. Its nose proffers rich notes of malt and cocoa nose. It’s smooth on the palate with notes of bread and caramel malt notes and a pleasant roasty finish. An homage to the beers of Merry Old England.

Parade of Souls Belgian Imperial Stout by Barrel Of Monks Brewing, Boca Raton, Florida. A rich, ebony-hued brew with a nose of chocolate liquor with notes of dried fruits and chocolate and a finish that won’t quit.

Porter by Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A mouth-filling brew with an opaque deep brown hue and a mocha-colored head, it has a nose of concentrated chocolate with hints of licorice. There’s more chocolate along with roasted grain and sultana raisins on the palate and a finish of bittersweet chocolate.

St. Bretta (Gold Nugget Mandarin) by Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. A cloudy light orange-hued Brett brew with a short head. There’s tart orange on the nose. Ditto for the palate. It finishes dry. It’s lip-smacking delicious.

Saaz Matters by Funky Buddha Brewery, Oakland Park, Florida. There’s an immediate hit to the nose and palate of Saaz hops in this golden brew that danced all over my tongue. Could easy pass for a Czech Pilsner with its balance malt and crispness. Well done.

Timmerman's oude gueuze

Timmerman’s oude gueuze

Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter by J. Wakefield Brewing, of Miami. This was an incredibly rich and delicious sweet stout redolent of creamy vanilla notes and chocolate.

Timmermans Oude Gueuze by Brewery John Martin & Brewery Timmermans of Belgium. A hazy gold brew with a lactic nose, this was a big time pucker, a beer to savor with tart lemony and dry notes that went on forever. This is what a sour beer should be.

Trébuchet Golden Farmhouse Ale by Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie of Agora Hills, California.  This  golden brew wowed me at GABF with its tart nose and an intense, dry tart hit on the palate accompanied by a tasty Brett character.


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My top imported brews of 2012

When was the last time you has a British beer?  Or a German or a Czech? Have Belgian brews eluded you?

With few exceptions you’ll be lucky to find one or two imports on tap at a good beer bar, likely Heineken or St. Pauli, or if your luck is good, a high-octane Belgian, or a Bavarian hefeweizen.  British beers have become harder to find—at least on tap (Bass, the once ubiquitous English import is now brewed in Syracuse, N.Y.) And what of Czech beers? Even the once widely available Pilsner Urquell, now a product of the SAB Miller group, is often MIA.

It seems that imported beers have lost appeal as beer aficionados have gravitated to the more diverse, more extreme brews being produced by American craft brewers.

What a shame! Beer drinkers today are missing out on some of craft’s finest examples. In fact, in the earliest days of the craft beer movement— the early 1990s— beer aficionados turned to the great beers of Europe to quench both their palates and thirst for beer knowledge.

To be sure, this is not an indictment of the purveyors of beer of America. They are focused on satisfying the broader market of beer drinkers, intoxicated by the heady brews crafted by small brewers closer to home. No, this explains why I’ve chosen to highlight my favorite imports from 2013 and expose more drinkers to these fine beers.

British beers dominate my list, largely because I made a point of sampling a number of them in conjunction with the 2012 Olympics in London. A handful of Belgians and one German brew — unique one— also made the list.  That’s not to say I didn’t try  other imports. I’ve sampled numerous Belgians; some Italians; some cross-border brews, among them Mikkeller, and a few Belgo-American collaborations. Many of the Belgians I imbibed seemed pale imitations of the classics that American microbrewers today want to emulate. And the German brews seem to have been relegated to the restaurants serving wursts and sauerbraten.  To be sure bottled versions of many imports are available, but outside of beer specialists you’ll have trouble finding them.

Now, in alphabetical order, my top 10, actually 11, list:

Bitter twisted Harviestoun Brewery Bitter & Twisted. Scotland. English-style blonde ale. 4.2% abv. Scotch brews generally are characterized by their low use of hops. Not this orange-hued beer, which explodes in the nasal passages with a big, citrus hoppiness. But there’s a crisp, mouthful of fruity malt to balance all that bitterness. It finishes with lip-smacking pleasure.

Boon Kriek. Belgium. Brouwerij Boon. Lambic with cherries. 4% abv. With its almost mahogany hue, funky aroma and  tart cherry flavors, this low alcohol brew surpasses many other krieks, both Belgian and domestic, which so often are reminiscent of cough syrup or cherry candies.

Chimay tapChimay Blanche (Cinq Cents) Draft. Bières de Chimay (Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont). Belgium. Tripel. 8% abv. Had this on tap on a hot summer day. Deep golden color, albeit hazy, with a dense white head and beautiful yeasty and fruity notes. Despite its relatively high alcohol, the beautifully balanced brew refreshed with its crisp, dry finish. A classic example of the style.

Freigeist Brettokolong. Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle. Germany. Kölsch. 4.8% abv. A good example of innovation in German brewing from a decade-old micro. This is a limited release, draft version of an unfiltered kölsch fermented with brettanomyces. Its called Ottekolong in bottle.Hazy gold hue with a funky nose that incorporates notes of lemon juice, hay and tart apples. On the palate, fruity and dry with a hint of spice. Quite refreshing.

Fullers ESBFuller’s ESB. Fuller, Smith & Turner. England. Extra special bitter. 5.9% abv. In the early days of the craft movement, this was the stellar example a an English strong bitter and was widely available. It remains a classic, though hard to find on draft.  Golden/copper hue, firm head, malty/biscuity nose with a crisp palate that is punctuated with notes of fruit and caramel all in perfect balance.

Manchester Star Ale. JW Lees & Co. England. Porter. 7.3% abv. A strong, hoppy porter based on an 1884 recipe revived in 2002 that’s reminiscent of an Oloroso sherry. Dark brown and opaque with a cocoa-hued head and a great lace, this brew had a huge malty nose and on the plate notes of molasses, chocolate and raisins with hints of alcohol and a bittersweet finish.

RodenbachRodenbach Classic. Palm Breweries. Belgium. Flanders Red Ale. 5.2% abv. A blend of largely young ale with aged product. First had this when the brewery was family owned, it remains a classic example of the Flanders Red style now under the ownership of Palm (1998). Despite Palm’s decision to discontinue production of the Rodenbach Cuvee Alexandre, a more flavorful version aged in oak with cherries, the original Rodenbach remains true with its red-brown color, complex sweet and sour fruity (think vinegar) and mild oak notes.  Quite drinkable.

Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout. Samuel Smith Brewery (Tadcaster). England. Oatmeal stout. 5% abv. I’ve been a fan of this brew for almost two decades. It’s still quite enjoyable today. Ebony brown in color with aromas of roasted grain, chocolate and raisins with an oily chocolaty palate and an outstanding bittersweet finish.

Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale. Samuel Smith Brewer (Tadcaster). English pale ale. 5% abv. Let’s hear it for longevity. This copper-hued brew is an enjoyable classic brew with its firm tan head, malty nose and a smooth mouthful of malt, fruit and toffee balanced with a touch of resin.

whiteshield_pageWorthington’s White Shield. Molson Coors. England. English IPA, 5.6% abv. This bottle-conditioned English brewing heirloom, oddly enough, is from Coors’ UK operation. Deep copper hued with a dense off-white head, it melds sweet toffee notes and bitter hops.

 Zymacore Thornbridge Raven Black IPA. Thornbridge Brewery. England. 6.6% abv. A British microbrew imported in limited quantities by B United International, which then aged the beer in its U.S. warehouse in barrels formerly used for both wine and whisky. An incredibly complex brew with it has a deep, black body and a thin beige head. The aroma is super sweet with notes of whiskey, wood, dark fruit and chocolate. Flavors are intense: dark sweet chocolate with only the barest hints of resin but also oak, bourbon, and a hint of sweet wine.




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