Beer: Big Sky Kriek
Brewery: Big Sky Brewing Co.
Style: Fruit Beer
ABV: 10 percent
As with restaurants and hotels, there's a wealth of consumer-generated review content floating around the interwebs that pertains to beers. From video reviews to expansive rating databases, sites available at your fingertips can tell you whether that beer on the shelf is world-class or should be destroyed in the interest of public safety. It's for this reason I rarely drink bad brews -- for the most part, I trust the taste buds of internet beer nerds, and so avoid beers they've deemed unworthy of my time.
I was thrown off when checking the pedigree of Big Sky Kriek, however. Big Sky Brewing Co. out of Missoula, Montana, makes some delicious beers. Moose Drool is an available, drinkable brown ale; Ivan the Terrible is one of my favorite bourbon-aged stouts. The brewery's never let me down before, yet online reviewers almost unanimously despise this Kriek. Are they wrong in this case?
It turns out: no. No, they are not.
Big Sky's Kriek is, according to the brewery, a "unique creation that defies its own style." The beer begins life as a Belgian golden ale brewed with organic cherries from a nearby orchard. Brewers then move the concoction into French oak wine barrels, where it's aged with more cherries for a minimum of three months. One would expect a brew with these credentials to be pretty tasty, but alas; 'tis not to be.
As soon as the bottle opens, a stampede of bubbles charges to the top, almost causing the brew to overflow. The bubbles have no retention, however, and fizzle away quickly. This is reflected in the pour -- above a hazy vermilion liquid, the pinkish-tan head fizzles out within seconds.
There are certain words you don't want to see in a beer review. Vegetal is one, describing a flavor or aroma akin to cooked vegetables. Big Sky Kriek's nose has this in spades -- cooked carrots are in full force, and seaweed can also be picked up. Other fragrance contributors can be compared to sickly-sweet caramel, oak, balsamic vinegar and tart cherries left too long in the sun. Sound appetizing to you? Me neither.
Another oh-no-no word: solvent. This one describes beers that taste like paint thinner or rubbing alcohol, and the Kriek is again riddled with it. Its ten percent alcohol content -- big for any beer, and just OUTRAGEOUS for a kriek -- rules the flavor with boozy heat. Creamed corn and apple cider blend with tart cherries, oak, butter, caramel and toast. Altogether it has all the culinary allure of a Flintstones vitamin.
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It's a rare brew that so offends my taste buds I won't finish the bottle. But consider them offended. As I poured out what remained, I think I even heard the drain say, "Blech."
Food pairing suggestions:
What's your least favorite food? Get a plateful of that, then allow Big Sky Kriek to make it actually seem palatable.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.