Well the cherry harvest is upon us, which means one very important thing — time to tap the Devil’s Kriek! We brew our Belgian-style sour ale with cherries from Matt’s orchard once a year, then let it develop in tanks for a solid year before releasing it. As is also our new tradition, we debuted the Kriek at Belmont Station last night, along with a special reserve keg of ’09 Devil’s Kriek. It’s flowing now at our Taproom in Hood River, and will be one of the many fine beers pouring at next week’s Portland International Beerfest, aka the PIB.
To celebrate the occasion, we’ve asked our esteemed Brewmaster Matt Swihart to delve deep into his process with some “Brewers Notes” for your reading pleasure. Here goes:
2010 DEVIL’S KRIEK
8.3% alcohol by vol, 15 bitterness units
brewed June-July 2009; released July 2010
“Brewer’s Notes” by Matt Swihart
This year’s release of the Devil’s Kriek, Double Mountain’s Cherry Sour Ale, marks the third year and third version of this Belgian-Kriek style beer. We view this beer as an ongoing experiment toward perfection. This new vintage features a lot more fruit, more exposure of the fruit to the beer, and a brown ale base, as opposed to the strong-blond Belgian beer base of the first two years. It’s a deeper, darker, more intensely cherried beast of a beer.
But first, a little history:
Our first batch of Devil’s Kriek was brewed back in July of 2007. We used some intense Bing cherries and some Morello sour cherries from my orchard in Odell, with the Devil’s Kitchen as our base beer (hence the name). It had an bright pink head capping a Barbera-red body, and showed intense sourness. We only brewed 3 bbls of this beer and held on to it tightly at the Taproom, releasing small quantities for Christmas time, our Anniversary Party, and for the ’09 cherry harvest. I loved the beer, but wanted to be able to control the Brettanomyces (wild yeast) character, the sourness, and the intensity. I decided to experiment with different yeast pitching practices for the next year’s batch, to control the fermentation in a more repeatable way.
Last year’s Kriek (brewed in July ’08) came in two different versions – a big batch (18bbl) with Bings and a 3 bbl batch with the lighter and more delicate Rainier cherries, which we called Rainier Kriek. The Bing version was held on the fruit for 9 months and was kept relatively cool throughout the entire process. Both the Rainier and Devil’s Kriek were a blend of three of four different fermentations, one with a blend of our house abbey and Kӧlsch yeast, one with “Brett”, and one with lactobacillus (later discarded). The Brett character showed up at about 8 months, the cherries were removed at that time as the pits were starting to throw a decent woody character that I did not want to develop further.
The resulting beer was more akin to a Pinot Noir, showing a light brett acidity and sour character and a very pretty red color with bright translucence. It was a subtle and complex beer, and very light on the palate by comparison to the previous batch. The Rainier version sat on the cherries longer, responded to cellar temperatures more quickly, and was held warmer for 10 months. It showed more acidity and dryness than the Bing version, as the brett was allowed more time to develop.
For the 2010 version, I wanted to return to more cherry intensity from the Bings, more color, and wanted the yeasts to work in concert. I decided to use a darker brown beer for the base of the beer, to double the quantity of cherries, and to use late harvest cherries, which had much more intensity the just-ripened 2008 crop that we used for the ’09 Kriek.
2010 Devil’s Kriek
We have continued to use fresh cherries harvested from Double Mountain/Swihart Orchard in scenic Odell, just south of Hood River. As mentioned above, we doubled the amount of Bings for a whopping 1400 lbs of dark dessert cherries. It was an especially good cherry crop last year. Spring conditions were mild, with no early frost impact, and we had great weather for pollination with Hood River’s finest bees. As such, the trees set especially heavy, producing one of the best crops of cherries I have ever seen in my decade as a gentleman farmer.
Unfortunately, the market was flooded with cherries and the market for fresh crop crashed. This had a tremendous impact on the fruit bound for the Devil’s Kriek. Since the crop had no “home” for purchase, copious amounts of fruit — as much as 90% on some farms — were left on the trees unharvested. It would have cost more to pick the fruit than would have been returned in the depressed fruit market. The brewery took advantage of the unsold crop and let the fruit hang on the trees for an additional 10 days past optimum harvest. What this meant was the fruit produced more intense fruitiness, a richer and darker color and juice, and more sweetness in the finally harvested fruit. The beer picked up more tannin from the cherry skins, more color, and had more sugars available for the Brettanomyces wild yeast, to give the beer more tartness and the natural sour-beer character typical of the spontaneously fermented Lambic ales of the Lembeek region of Belgium.
Many of the Kriek style beers found in Belgium (“kriek” is the Flemish word for cherry) are started on a darker ale base, rather than the more typical paler worts used for Lambics. Rodenbach would probably be my favorite with cherries; Duchesse de Bourgogne, brewed without cherries, is one my desert-island beers. (Charlie is a big Liefmans fan.) In any event, the brown ale provides a nice sweetness and slight nuttiness to the beer, which complements the sweet cherry character and gives a little backbone to the woody/tannin character derived from the exposure of the beer to the cherry pits, which we do not remove from fermentation in our version of the beer. We achieve the brown ale color and character from dark roasted crystal malts and just a touch of the roasted barley.
This year’s beer continues the three yeast strain approach: we use our house Belgian ale variety, originally sourced from Rochefort brewery; our Kӧlsch strain; and the wild yeast Brettanomyces. The wild yeast is what gives the beer the tartness, the wine fruitiness, the slightly earthy character, and the barnyard funk.
The 2010 Devil’s Kriek was brewed in late June of 2009 and fermented alone for three weeks before racking to storage tanks with the macerated cherries. The fruit remained on the beer for the next 11 months and was allowed to cool down over winter naturally at cellar temperatures. The Brett character didn’t assert itself fully until the beer warmed up in late spring. I decided to keep the beer on the fruit until the absolutely last available moment prior to packaging, in the first week of July 2010.
We brewed next year’s batch of Devil’s Kriek on July 8th, 2010. It will be slightly less a brown beer, and will continue the three yeast strain approach of the past years. The cherry crop looks excellent up at the orchard and I am working with our farmer, Ron McNeil, to let the fruit for the brewery hang on the tree as long as possible to get the same intensity as the 2010 vintage. Hope you enjoy this year’s Kriek.