Before Belgian beer became fashionable and long before it became unfashionable I bought a bottle of Crombe Oud Kriekenbier and put it in my cellar. My cellar was then in Hertfordshire. Since then it has accompanied me to Edinburgh, Reading and three cellars in Cornwall. The main reason I have cellared this beer for so long is that as a young beer I didn’t rate it so temptation to drink has been easy to resist. It had a rough plastic note and insufficient sourness to support the cherry notes which also seemed slightly synthetic.
According to something I have read on the internet Crombe ceased brewing in 2003. Today, in honour of the bank holiday that makes work harder and which turns where I live into Wally World I am tasting the beer. Considering it’s about 25 years old the beer is full of condition. I would estimate about 4g/litre and I’m seldom more than half a gram out. I had planned to drink this beer a couple of weeks ago so it has been upright for a month. This prep has paid off because the beer is crystal bright, brighter in fact than most cask beers which will be served in pubs this weekend.
On the nose there is none of melted plastic and synthetic cherry notes I found in the newish beer (14 years ago). Almond and rich cherry pits and a hint of blackcurrant hit your nose straight away. This is followed by a few standard esters and a full spectrum of lactic acid bacterial metabolites. What I love about beers with lactic fermentation is that the fruity-freshness of the beer is protected. In so many beers fermented by Saccharomyces the fresh fruity notes become strangled by a blanket of cloying oxidation products leaving the beer with a soil, leather, tobacco-like, cadaver juice flavour with age.
In the mouth there is a nice spasm of the parotid glands as the acids hit the tongue. This is followed by an earthy, musty bitter-sweet-sour cherry explosion. Saliva and beer mix in equal proportion as more layers of complexity are pealed away. There are more mouldy cellar notes in the middle of the palate but they are quickly scoured off by the acids. At 25 years old this beer has no right to be this fruity, sharp, tart and dry. It has all the sour pungency of a blackberry plucked fresh from the bramble. The finish is quick and clean with a hint of iron and earth but not so much that it builds. Only on the burp did I get the synthetic plastic note.
I used the sediment in the bottle to deglaze a pan of chicken livers, which with seasoning and a little butter made a superb sauce.