For a long time now, I’ve had an old bottle of Cantillon Kriek in my cellar. Not ancient, but the label says it was bottled in May 2010, and I must have bought it in June or July of the same year. That means that I have had it longer than my two children, most of the clothes I currently own, and the house I live in.
In the time that it has lived with me, I have made very little attempt to take proper care of it, and only moved it into a cellar following my last house move. Until then, it shared shelf space with kitchen junk, non-perishables, and baby ephemera. Call it an accidental cellaring programme.
I may not have taken great care of it, but if you hold onto something for that long, you do develop some sentimental attachment to it. Eventually, though, you have to let go, and to see what effects by accidental cellaring had wrought on this kriek, I decide to drink it side by side with a kriek bottled in 2017.
“Preferably within ten years”
Even before pouring, I can see that the colour of the older kriek has lightened considerably when sat next to the newer vintage. The labels are much the same, only the alcohol percentage going up 1% in the newer bottle (from 5 to 6), and the use of Morello cherries in the 2010 bottle (the 2017 goes only so far as to identify “sour cherries”). A change that is relevant to this little experiment is the language used about best before dates.
The label on the 2010 kriek says that it should be drunk in the first year, and provides a best before date of December 2015. The 2017 bottle merely recommends that it should be drunk in the first year, but “preferably within ten years”. No best before date. According to Cantillon’s recommendations, the bottle I just bought would be good if I repeated this experiment in another 7 years, but not the one I have already been holding onto for the last seven years.
Maybe attitudes in the brewery to cellaring kriek – which received wisdom says does not benefit in the same way as geuze to ageing – have changed.
Cherry sherbert dip
Opening the bottles, the 2017 Kriek – the control in this ersatz experiment – pops loudly, promising frothy head. It does not deliver; a pastel-pink, moussey head does not linger long. Straight out of the bottle the aroma of the 2017 is sulphurous and a little funky, with an almondy hint that I always associate with cherries. In the glass it is a deep rose red. It tastes like cherry sherbert dip, full of fizz and mouth-puckering tang. It is all very cherry, which is the point I suppose.
As for the 2010 kriek, there is no pop when I open it, and the cork is wet. I start to worry about what is inside. The first whiff from the top of the bottle is all sulphurous and vegetal aromas. In the glass it smells a little better, if a little musty – more funk and some (but not much) fruit. It is a lot lighter than the 2017 – orange-red, verging towards a golden-tawny. A little atoll of off-white foam clings to the glass.
A kriek without cherries
I take a gulp and straight away I can taste the intervening seven years. There is certainly a bit of cardboard staleness at first, but it not oxidised beyond redemption. It is much more assertively sour than the 2010, and the ruby-red fruit flavours are much reduced. It is tart and fizzy and sticks to my teeth, gumming up my mouth and my saliva glands. I can still taste some fruit, but it is more like candied fruit from a Christmas pudding. This kriek has a real sour edge and finish to it.
Objectively, the 2010 kriek is less balanced than its 2017 equivalent – more sour and less fruity. But, that is exactly why I in the end prefer it. I am not a huge fan of cherries – too redolent of childhood marzipan traumas, and the subdued cherry together with a more aggressive sour tang is what works best for me.
A kriek for people who don’t really like cherries, then.
In the end, was it worth that seven-year gestation period? Probably not. Am I satisfied with my decision to finally drink it? Yes. Does it feel odd that I so easily got rid of something that I had for longer than my wedding ring? Probably, but best not to dwell on that.