Combining food and beer is similar to improvisational theater: the fundamental theoretical rules are very few, the script is open to any kind of experimentation and the palate, which metaphorically plays the role of the audience, is the only indisputable judge.
Once the right balance between the gustatory and olfactory intensity of the dish and beverage has been found, beers can be matched by affinity, contrast or even complementarity, which means that some of the aromatic and taste elements of the beer are used to complement or support the dish.
The concept of bridge is crucial: a common element shared by the dish and the beverage that creates a deep tie to then build a dialog. This becomes even more important when the beer contains a special ingredient that defines its aromatic and gustatory character.
Such is the case of Krieks, a Flemish word for sour cherries, a cherry variety with a distinct sour taste typically found in Brabant and Flanders, as well as in Eastern Europe and in lower Piedmont.
One of the masterpieces of Belgian tradition is Kriekenbier. It can be made starting from Lambic, spontaneously fermented beers with a strong lactic and citric acidity, accentuated by the presence of red fruit, or from Oud bruin, specialty beers characterized by the use of caramelized malts and aged in wooden barrels, with sweet and sour flavors reminiscent of traditional balsamic vinegar.
However, the creativity of craft brewers has also introduced beers where cherries, black cherries or sour cherries are added to a non-acidic base. In this case, the more moderate acidity comes exclusively from the fruit, which brings all its fragrant and fresh aromas and tastes.
Let’s start our culinary journey from regional pairings. In the homeland of Kriekenbier we can find recipes such as guinea fowl with Kriek and lapin à la Gueuze in which beer is used to cook the meat along with butter, meat broth, stewed onion, fruit (sour cherries, black cherries or plums) and, not infrequently, crumbled spiced cookies (the classic spéculoos). In these dishes beer and fruit - sometimes served also as a compote that accompanies the meat - act as a bridge, while the acidity and carbonation of the beer counterbalance the fatty and wild components of the meat and the sweetness of the onion and cookies, if used.
The sparkling carbonation and lactic note of Krieks make them perfect for an elegant and refined aperitif. They can be paired with fresh goat cheese served with pomegranate grains and lamb’s lettuce or a teaspoon of black cherry jam.
Even a canapé with poultry or pork liver pâté can be adequately balanced by the sharp character of the beer, with the seductive notes of sour cherries counterbalancing the wilder taste of the entrails.
Following the Italian Po valley’s custom of pairing sparkling and acidic red wines with traditional stuffed pasta in broth, a full bodied and alcoholic Kriek can be happily matched to tortellini, anolini or cappelletti served with a rich broth and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.
Likewise, a Kriek with a round, caramelized malty base which contrasts acidity can stand up to rich cheeses served at the end of the meal such as a well-aged Bra or Piave, Swiss Challerhocker or even a creamy Delice de Bourgogne.
When fermented in beer, cherries, black cherries and sour cherries generate a characteristic almond aroma due to the presence of an aromatic compound called benzoin. This warmer note becomes an excellent bridge to pair Krieks with several desserts. Served with a fresh cheesecake with red berries coulis or a rustic tart with black cherries accompanied by a dollop of sour cream, our beer finds an affinity in the fruity and lactic notes, while its carbonation and acidity counterbalance the sweetness and fatness of the shortcrust.
By the same principle, a fruit salad with a scoop of vanilla, almond or red fruit ice cream is also a winning combination. And even a rich, succulent and buttery dark chocolate brownie can find its ideal partner in a Kriek.