Drie Fonteinen – Schaerbeekse Kriek

From the Archives – 2012
Love that Lambic

We both love Lambics, in fact while we were visiting Belgium a few of years ago we drank a huge variety of them. Aside from the fact that they were so good, we felt that we had to imbibe as there were many Lambics that we simply couldn’t buy anywhere else.  Certainly not in Texas, where the TABC run the show with their bizarre regulations which seem to favour only the giant breweries. Because of the TABC and its weird quirks, some of the more esoteric lambics (and particularly Schaerbeekse Kriek) can be difficult to find.

Lambics are beers made with spontaneous fermentation, rather than by the addition of  yeast they use yeasts occurring naturally in the air, the most common being Brettanomyces bruxellensis. They are so called Sour Beers, which can be an acquired taste, but one definitely worth acquiring! To quote Michael Jackson (The beer expert, not the inventor of Jesus Juice): “The lambic family are not everybody’s glass of beer, but no one with a keen interest in alcoholic drink would find them anything less than fascinating. In their ‘wildness’ and unpredictability, these are exciting brews. At their best, they are the meeting point between beer and wine. At their worst, they offer a taste of history” (From The Great Beers of Belgium, 1991).

I personally had my lambic epiphany with Oude Lambiek, by Geuze Stekerij De Cam. We could only find it in  ‘t Brugse Beertje in Brugge at the time, so had to go there more than once, just for one more, I promise, no really.

Lambics can be made more accessible by adding fruit, no fruit more iconic than the Belgian Kriek which is a type of cherry. One of the beers we particularly enjoyed in this vein, was an aged kriek lambic by the Drie Fonteinen Brouwerij (Three Fountains Brewery).

Oude Kriek?

The Oude Kriek leaps out at you as an excellent, very fruity lambic. Not surprisingly it gets 5 out of 5 stars in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide – Belgium, so you can imagine how pleased I was when Angela arrived back from her trip to Portland with 2 large boxes of beer, one of which contained a Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek. Or so we thought.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a rather special “Schaerbeekse Kriek” bottled on 28th April 2010. It also turns out that these particular cherries are quite rare, grown only in a small area of Belgium. In fact in 2009, Drie Fonteinen only produced 6000 bottles due to the scarcity of the cherries. The cherry is a wild variety, growing close to the brewery, but the trees are disappearing. This, plus the fact that the brewery relies on its neighbours to provide them with the cherries, results in very limited production runs.

Schaerbeekse Kriek

In general, its is becoming harder to source kriek cherries, which is why some brewers are looking further afield for them, some as far as Poland. These cherries, while excellent for Lambics, cannot bear the name “Schaerbeekse”, because they are not from Schaerbeek, however, the good news is that Brouwerij Boon, has plans to plant an orchard of these wild, tart cherries, with hopefully more breweries following suit. Perhaps soon we may see a revival of beers using this unique cherry.

Drinking and pairing notes

On the nose, the first thing that hit me is a very dry champagne note, followed by sour cherry with a nice lambic funk. The beer itself is very sour, somewhat mellowed by the almost 3 years of aging. The cherries add to the sourness, but bring with them a complexity that is magnificent. Shame we only had one bottle!

Lambic’s pair well with shellfish and with rich, dark chocolates, but they also go surprisingly well with more robust dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, try them with these Steen’s syrup braised-pork turnovers.

St. John Bread & Wine, London

One of our favourite restaurants here in Houston is Feast. One of the two chef/owners at Feast is James Silk who worked for many years at St. John’s in London, and is a proponent of “Nose to Tail Eating” championed by Fergus Henderson the owner of St. John’s. The food at Feast is superb, and is clearly influenced by St. John’s, so finding myself in London, I had to take the opportunity and pay a visit.

St. John’s was sadly booked solid, however St. John – Bread and Wine, their sister restaurant, was not. Bakery and Wine Merchant by day, Restaurant by night, St. John’s B &W is in Spitalfields, just around the corner from the somewhat creepy looking All Saint’s Church, which fans of Alan Moore’s “From Hell” will certainly be familiar with. Spitalfields - All Saints CHurch

We arrived at about 8, just in time to see a suckling pig being brought out to serve a large group, there to celebrate a birthday. Suckling pig can be ordered with one weeks notice, and looked delicious. The aroma wafting over as the pig was carved up started the drool-juices flowing.

I started off with Ham, Turnip Leaves and Dandelion, a delicious salad. Our starters had taken quite a while to arrive, but given the ample supply of excellent bread from the bakery this wasn’t really an issue. The length of time it took for our main courses to arrive was however.

We had ordered two Speckled Face Mutton and Black Cabbage dishes, and one Brill, with garlic and brown butter. After almost an hour of waiting, the two lamb dishes arrived, looking fantastic – pink and succulent. Markus and I waited poltely before diving in for Suresh’s fish dish to arrive. I wish we hadn’t! After about a minute the waiter came and whisked away our plates! Apparently they had made a mistake and had served them to the wrong table.

This might have been forgivable if it hadn’t taken another 30 minutes for our own lamb and fish to arrive. Our annoyance was compounded by the fact that the lamb was cold! I realise that lamb served in this way is best served warm, not hot, however ours was most definitely at room temperature. The waiter offered to take it back and warm it up, but we were understandably reticent to part with it after such a long wait.

I have to say that it really was superb, despite being cold. I’m sure if it had been warm it would have been even better.

The manager was most apologetic about the incredibly slow service – although we did have to wait a little while for her to get to us, as she was busy apologising for the same thing to a couple sitting behind us! She comped us the lamb main courses which was a nice gesture. Sadly, given how late it was we didn’t really have time to sample the puddings, something for which St. John’s are well known for.

All in all, while the food was really top-notch, the evening was soured by the very poor service, and had the food not been so good I would definitely have second thoughts about returning. As it is, I’d give them another go.

St. John Bread & Wine – 94-96 Commercial St. London E1 6LZ