kriek with bottles

I love cherries and I’m also quite keen on beer, so you would think that I would have jumped at the chance to try a Belgian cherry beer on tap when offered one; yet I at first refused. Although I adore cherries — they may just be my favorite fruit — I abhor fake cherry flavoring. This is why I am unable to take cough medicine or drink cherry soda. It just tastes fake and wrong to me. So last year, while visiting the lovely city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, I had to be convinced to try the cherry beer that is a staple at most pubs in the fall. I am so glad I relented.

Kriek (pronounced like “creek”) is a fruit beer made from lambic, a sour and dry Belgian beer, which has been infused with sour cherries and their pits. According to the bartender I chatted with in Haarlem, the pits are where the real cherry flavor lies. Lambic is only brewed in Belgium. It is unique in that brewers don’t add any yeast as an ingredient. Fermentation instead occurs through exposure to yeast strains and bacteria native to the area of Pajottenland (is it me, or does that sound like a name thought up by Dr. Seuss?). The marriage of lambic with sour cherries is really a regional match made in heaven.

After sipping my friend Corbin’s kriek, I was hooked. My first response was literally “Wow!” The cherry flavor was tart and sweet, but understated and not syrupy, and the texture of the brew was perfect. Although we had just had a big meal, I drank two and a half pints. I realized this was my one and only chance to have this stuff on tap (well, until my next visit to Northern Europe, whenever that may be) and I wanted to make the most of it.

The next morning, before I flew to London, I dashed to the local liquor store and bought a few bottles of kriek to share with my husband, who was stuck at home with the kids while I gallivanted throughout Europe with my oldest friend. It was the least I could do — really. I knew he would love it, and wasn’t sure I could find the stuff at home.

But a few months after returning home, I saw it on the menu at Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. And, although it wasn’t as fresh and earthy as the lovely brew on tap in Haarlem, it was close enough to make me quite happy. Our waitress told us she had seen it at Whole Foods, so I journeyed over there a few days later and bought some, along with a bottle or two of framboise, kriek’s raspberry cousin which is equally intriguing.

The most common brand sold in the United States is Lindeman’s, which comes in both 750 ml and 8 oz bottles, and is sold at both Luka’s Taproom and Whole Foods. But if you’re interested in trying a few other varieties, The Trappist in Oakland has a number of different brands by the bottle and actually sometimes even has kriek on tap (at least their web site says they do). I tried a bottle there recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, but it was less sweet than the Lindeman’s and quite good.

Although Luka’s refers to kriek as a dessert beer, I think the designation is too limiting. Since finding that I can get it here, I’ve tried it with numerous dishes. Kriek is a fantastic accompaniment to roasted pork, spinach salad, and baked chicken. It’s also nice with a plate of cheese — the stinkier the better.

So if you come across some kriek, I highly recommend it. Better yet, if you find yourself in Belgium or The Netherlands in the fall, try a pint on tap. You won’t regret it.

Kriek 14 January,2009Denise Santoro Lincoln

  • You can often find it on tap at Monk’s Kettle in the Mission, and always availible in the bottle:

    Although you can’t get my absolute favorite out here, which is a cherry lambic made with local wisconsin cherries by New Glarus Brewing. I swear it tastes like summertime.

  • I’m a huge lambic and kriek fan. You can buy it at lots of other places in the Bay Area. Many liquor stores (particularly those with a focus on fine liquor and wine) carry it, as does Beverages and More. Lindeman’s is the only one I’ve tried–thanks for the tip about the Trappist!

  • Denise Lincoln

    Jesse and Lynae – Thanks so much for the tips on where to get kriek. I haven’t seen it at my BevMo, but will look for it. It has to be cheaper there than at Whole Foods.

  • You can also always find it available at the City Beer Store at Fulsom and 8th. But be careful going there – I always head in for one bottle, and leave with a case.

  • TikiPundit

    Living in Belgium, I quite enjoyed the lambics — in summer. Summer in Brussels was a few days in August when the sun shone and the temperature skyrocketed above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (heat-stroke weather, there). My favorite was strawberry-flavor. These really hit the spot on a hot day.

    I think the notion of putting a lime into a bottle of light-colored Mexican beer (e.g., Corona) or making a chelada with a lime in and salt on the rim has the same purpose: to cool one off on a hot day.

  • NikkiB

    Kriek Lambics can be found by the bottle at Trader Joe’s as well.

    I’m partial to the peach lambic in the summer time. Just screams for a picnic in the park.

  • Denise Lincoln

    My Trader Joe’s only carries the peach and raspberry lambics. No cherry. But maybe yours has a better selection.

  • Mark

    If you’re willing to drop a bit more cash, I highly recommend the Boon lambics (pronounced “Bone” as I understand it). Fantastic stuff.


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise’s Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

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