SCHOTEN - Our BeerTourism Editor-in-Chief Erik Verdonck has been unselfishly travelling thousands of kilometres across the Belgian beer landscape in order to capture what's happening in the beer and taste capital of the world.
Starting this week he will be giving our readers regular updates (Erik's Highlights), of where his journeys take him as well as the the people he meets along his never ending Belgian beer trail.
It is the peak of summer and once again the week has flown by. My week started with a fine glass of genuine old kriek topped with a lovely layer of purple-pink froth. “The colour comes from the fruit,” brewer Frank Boon tells me. I recognise the colour of our home-made jam. Not everyone is used to these vivid colourings and some even suspect the brewer of adding colour to his beer.
And the taste, the taste... slighly sour and totally delicious. I discover that the term ‘Schaarbeekse krieken’ refers to the market in this town, part of Brussels, rather than to a specific variety of kriek.
These 'krieken', or Morello cherries, now mainly come from Eastern Europe. Oude kriek is made by steeping 300g of cherries in 1 litre of the base beer, oude lambiek. The kriek will then continue to ferment in the bottle.
The lambiek is stored in oak barrels and the brewery has a storage area with over 100 foeders, or barrels, stored lying down. Each has an average capacity of 8,000 litres.
Over the years, these foeders were purchased from brewers and wine makers throughout Europe. Mature oak is the only type of wood used as young oak contains too much tannin to be suitable for beer. The oak allows just enough oxygen to penetrate the barrel for the development of the wild yeasts.
Each 'foeder', filled to the brim, has its own character and thus contributes to the taste in its own specific way. Properly brewed kriek is ready to drink six months after bottling and can be kept for 20 years or more. “The wild yeasts contribute to aging in the bottle,” Frank Boon assures.
The press has very recently reported a clash between cash and heritage. Multinational company Lhoist works the limestone quarries near the abbey of Rochefort, Notre-Dame de St-Rémy. This abbey brews a Trappist ale using the hard water from the Tridaine spring.
Quarrying is now putting the existence of the spring in danger say the monks. If the company gets its way, the monks will have to go further afield to source the water for their Trappist beer as their original well may run dry as a result of the quarrying.
The current situation is that both the abbey and the town of Rochefort have free access to the water from the spring. Lhoist will pump up new water to safeguard the water supplies of both the town and the abbey.
However, this would affect the taste of the water and therefore, that of the Trappist beer.
If the source were to run dry, this would affect the entire ecosystem in the vicinity. In the meantime, the monks are not sitting still.
They have started an online petition and your support is very much appreciated by the monks and beerlovers worldwide.
Whilst one abbey beer is endangered, another abbey has announced plans to enter the brewing market. The Norbertine Abbey of Averbode has joined forces with the Huyghe brewery, known for its Delirium Tremens or ‘the Pink Elephant beer’ as it is more commonly known.
The new Averbode abbey beer, set for launch next year, pays homage to the abbey’s rich history. In common with most Belgian religoius houses, Averbode has been a brewing centre for centuries. Averbode will become Belgium’s 27th recognised abbey beer. Huyghe is about to install a microbrewery on the abbey site and plans for a degustation room are also underfoot.
I look forward to seeing their blond and dark beers filling my glass.