When we talk about beer and stumble upon the world “Kriek”, it is inevitable to think about the ancient Belgian tradition. Krieks are the most popular spontaneously fermented beers made with fruit. The starting base is the ancestral Lambic – brewed without yeast inoculation – brewed with the addition of large quantities of cherries, which macerate for months, activating a second fermentation.
Like all spontaneously fermented beers, Krieks too are acidic and “wild” beers whose edgy character is tamed by the use of fruit. Teo Musso from the Baladin brewery drew inspiration exactly from this ancient brewing tradition when he imagined his Mama Kriek in the mid-2000s. Although the took Kriek beers as his reference, Teo’s cherry beer would be very different from the traditional Belgian style, to the point that it reversed its conceptual approach.
While in Belgian Krieks fruit is used to sweeten a beer that is originally quite acidic, Mama Kriek does the opposite. In this case, cherries are used to give acidity and a wild touch to a beer that is brewed using a “normal” fermentation process: Wayan by Baladin.
The first part of the brewing process is exactly the same as the one followed for the Baladin Saison. The recipe is the same as Wayan, but griotte sour cherries are added during fermentation: these are a special variety of cherries, similar to black cherries and not too different from the Schaerbeek cherries traditionally used by Belgian Kriek brewers.
In addition to giving a distinctive aromatic touch, the cherries also carry a whole range of microorganisms (unorthodox yeasts and bacteria) which play a fundamental role in the later stages of brewing, adding acidity and giving a certain wild character to the beer.
As its name suggests, Mama Kriek is not just any cherry beer. Similarly to many other Baladin beers, it is a tribute that Teo Musso pays to one of his family members. The reference is, of course, to his mother, who actively participated in its brewing process for as long as she could.
It all started in 2005, when Teo decided to use the sour cherries grown on some of his family’s land to make his own cherry beer. With the help of his mother, he smashed the cherries and removed the pits from only half of them. He kept the pits in the other half to give his beer a woody note which would be very interesting, yet not too overpowering.
In order to “tame” the contribution of the fruit, he also chose to quickly boil it to reduce the metabolic impact of the microflora found on the cherries. To this purpose, Teo’s mother used a large pot that she would normally use to make jams. That very particular step in the process can still be seen on the beer label, which underlines the deeply intimate nature that Mama Kriek has for Teo.
Mama Kriek is still brewed as it was the first time. The only difference is that the sour cherries come not only from the farm’s fields, but also from selected suppliers in the municipality of Pecetto Torinese. Mama Kriek is tightly connected to nature in many respects. First of all, it is a seasonal product, coinciding with the cherry harvest (around May).
Also, it is a product where time plays a fundamental role: it takes a lot of patience, as the whole primary fermentation (which is longer than uses), bottle conditioning and maturation process takes several months. This is why Mama Kriek is only available after almost a year (and in the first six months it is virtually undrinkable).
Finally, it changes considerably according to the vintage of the cherries - a fruit that can change significantly from year to year. For instance, the heavy rains in 2017 led to pale cherries with a very gentle aroma, which gave the beer a more elegant touch than in other vintages. In other years, the cherry harvest is simply not usable, which is why Mama Kriek might not be brewed.
Mama Kriek is a unique beer. With its ruby red color and pinkish head, it has charming notes of cherry that almost fade into wine, without ever becoming too overpowering. The aromatic profile is very complex, thanks to the use of spices and grains that complement the barley malt (two ingredients of the Wayan recipe).
Mama Kriek can be used for interesting food pairings: one of Teo’s favorites is with classic Italian panna cotta, where the acidity and dryness of the beer perfectly counterbalance the creaminess and sweetness of the dessert, and the sour cherries give an intriguing aromatic touch.