With the declining population of Schaerbeek cherries in Brussels, Belgian Lambic brewers like Cantillon are teaming up with local farmers to bring back the traditional Kriek. Through coordinated orchard farming and hard work, they may be able to revive the beloved beer, bringing new life to an old tradition. Through their collaboration, they are doing their part to ensure the ancient beer remains a part of Brussels' history.
For centuries, the traditional sour beer called Kriek has been an iconic symbol of Belgian craft beer. Made with ripe cherries, it was a beloved favorite of locals and foreigners alike. However, Kriek almost vanished when the demand dropped and due to changes in weather patterns that caused shortages of its main ingredient: the Schaerbeek cherry.
As Belgians brewers moved away from Kriek, some stayed true to the traditional style and continued to produce the aged fruit beer. In recent years, the demand for Kriek began to rise and this sparked a renewed interest in Schaerbeek cherries. In response, breweries in the country have partnered with local farmers to revive the growth of the fruit and restore Kriek’s place in the beer world.
Kriek is named after the Schaerbeek cherries that are mainly grown in the region of Brussels. It is part of the “lambic” beer family, brewed with wild yeasts and bacterias, and its production often involves blending some younger beer with older, more sour batches. Kriek is made using cherries, usually in the form of cherries macerates—whole ripe cherries that are crushed and steeped in young lambic. This mixture is then transferred to barrels, where it undergoes multiple aging and fermentation processes. Lambic makers may also add additional spices, fruit or sugars to give their Kriek a unique flavor.
Kriek has a long history in Belgium, dating back to the 1500s when cherries were added to close the top of open barrels. To revive those old flavors, traditional lambic beers are still brewed with Schaerbeek cherries. This makes Kriek one of the few Belgian styles that still use a native ingredient.
In the early 2000s, production of the Schaerbeek cherries began to decline due to a number of factors: climate change, a decrease in demand, and the introduction of disease-resistant cherry varieties. This put traditional Belgian brewers, who relied heavily on cherries for their beers, in a difficult position. They needed to develop new ways of preserving flavor while also finding ways to ensure a steady supply of unrotted cherries.
As demand for Kriek started to increase, lambic makers decided to take action. Cantillon, a traditional lambic brewery located in Brussels, was one of the first to recognize the need to save the Schaerbeek cherries. In 2007, they founded the Cantillon Institute, a research center dedicated to preserving the traditional lambic style.
The institute focuses on finding ways to revitalize Schaerbeek cherry trees and make them more resilient to climate change. They also collaborate with local farmers and producers to help increase the production of the cherries.
As part of their efforts, Cantillon and other lambic makers partnered with local cherry producers and farmers to create a stable supply of Schaerbeek cherries. This allowed the breweries to produce enough Kriek to meet the growing demand while also keeping the traditional flavor. It also revived the local cherry-growing industry and helped support small-scale farmers.
Cantillon’s efforts have helped preserve Kriek’s traditional flavor while also ensuring that the Schaerbeek cherries remain in production. The brewery has also worked with local organizations and businesses to support the local cherry-growing industry and build a sustainable supply chain.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Cantillon and other Belgian brewers, Kriek and the Schaerbeek cherry may have a bright future. In addition to restoring the traditional flavor, the partnership between the breweries and farmers is helping the revive the cherry-growing industry, contributing to the local economy and preserving traditional jobs.
With patience and hard work, the traditional Kriek may no longer be a thing of the past as Belgian brewers partner with farmers to revive growth of the Schaerbeek cherry in Brussels.