2016 marks the fourth year of the 12 Beers of Christmas event, overseen by Steve of The Beer O' Clock Show and Hopinions fame. The concept is simple - from the 20th until the 31st December, drink a different beer each day and write about it using some form of social media.
I'm taking part this year partly as an exercise in discipline. 2016 has been a busy year for me, and I've let blogging slip a little as a result. However, for the first time in many years, I've actually got a decent Christmas break to look forward to and so no excuse not to post something every day. I've also got a bit of a backlog of beer taking up valuable cupboard space needed for the many liquid Christmas presents I'm presumably soon to receive. A number of these beers have been saved because they deserve a certain a mount of ceremony - they're not all outrageously strong or rare or expensive, but they've lasted this long because cracking them open in front of the TV didn't feel quite right somehow.
I'll begin with a Belgian delicacy.
Day One - Cantillon Kriek (Belgium, 5%)
Besides pilsner, has any beer style has had its good name so thoroughly debased as kriek? Many of the brews that misleadingly appropriate this title conjure up images of sweet shops - saccharine sweetness, together with an artificial fruit flavour of a cherry drop. The real thing, on the other hand, is acidic and dry, carrying all the nuances of the fleshy fruit itself.
Cantillon's example is, obviously, in the latter camp. It pours with a predictably pinkish hue, a substantial head fizzing energetically before evaporating almost completely. Carbonation is restrained, something like the faint tingle of a well-conditioned cask ale.
The first sip brings plenty of acidity, and this registers before the taste of the cherries. The fruit flavour builds as your palate adjusts to this tartness, but never overwhelms the base beer, and this tastes as much like a great lambic as it does cherries. The most attractive element for me is the woody, tannic quality, which I think comes from the cherry stone - it's drying, almost puckering, making you want to smack your lips. It adds depth of flavour, but also sends you back for another gulp, and for all its acidity, this is a highly drinkable, moreish beer. I could happily have opened another if I'd had one to hand. The finish suggests almonds, which in some krieks can come across as marzipan or even cherry bakewells, but here I'm reminded of the slightly bitter edge to the nut itself.
It's a class act all round, and a fine start to my festive journey.