It’s a little late to be tasting holiday beers, but I found the Delirium Tremens holiday beer, their Noël, in the wine department of DeLaurenti’s at Pike Place Market on Saturday and had to check it out. This holiday beer, like the Orchard Street Jingle Ale, is spiced; unlike the Jingle Ale, the Delirium Tremens has a depth of flavor and a sweet bready aftertaste from the complex yeast strains used that keeps you guessing about the flavor. Is it cinnamon? ginger? just fantastic after-flavors from the fermentation? God knows but it’s good.
There comes a moment in every young beer drinker’s life when he either discovers the great world of tastes beyond Miller Genuine Draft or forever languishes in longneck hell. For me, there were several such moments in Charlottesville—my first Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout at the late lamented Kafkafé, drinking Hefeweizen in the Court Square Tavern—but my first fruit lambic didn’t make too much of an impression. I don’t remember whether I was in school or already in Northern Virginia, but I remember my friend John Liepold raving about Lindeman’s Framboise and Kriek. I have to say that my first lambic didn’t make that much of an impression. Sweet like soda pop was my first and probably only thought.
I’ve learned a few things since then about beer. For one thing, lambic is a fascinating drink with or without fruit. A true lambic is fermented in open air tuns, and naturally occurring yeast strains in the environment contribute tremendous complexity and depth of taste. Some lambics, such as the wonderful “old red” Rodenbach of Flanders, develop a piquantly sour taste that is simultaneously challenging and refreshing. And adding real fruit to a lambic (instead of the extracts rumored to be used in many of the more outlandish beers from Lindeman, including the Cassis and Banana flavors) contributes natural sweetness and color and deepens the flavor.
Knowing all this, I was thrilled to see that one of my most recent shipments from the RealBeer Club included Brouwerij Verhaeghe’s Echte Kriek. The echte means “real,” and this is indeed the real thing, intense sour lambic flavored with big handfuls of cherries. The color is a reddish brown with no suspicious hints of gold; the mouthfeel is dry, the nose is aromatic without being cloying. The taste… sour cherries but more complex, the classic lambic “sour ale” taste hitting the palate just after the first flavor of cherries. There isn’t a lot of depth of flavor beyond the combination of sweetish cherries and sour-ish beer, but my God, what else could you want? Highly recommended.
The Northwest has a wealth of small independent breweries, and each seems to be in the holiday spirit with the production of holiday ales. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, a holiday (also known as Christmas ale, winter ale, or seasonal ale) is a one-off ale, usually dark, brewed with various spices.
I had resolved to make notes on each of the holiday ales I’ve tried this season; alas, I’ve let the Pyramid Snowcap and one other whose name escapes me by without taking notes. But Orchard Street Jingle Ale is far too good not to review. Dark and sweet almost but not quite to the point of heaviness, apparently spiced with ginger and cinnamon, complex and satisfying. If you’re in the small distribution area of this beer, you’re lucky. I’m going to try to get up to the brewpub to check this stuff out from the tap (they’re in Bellingham, so it might have to wait a while; no official web page that I can find).