Traditional Belgian beer made with added cherries (or cherry syrup in the more industrial brands), the most commonly available of the fruit lambics - beers fermented by wild airborne yeasts from the Brussels area. (Also traditional, rasberry beers are a distant second, but hunting around you can now find gimmicky beer made with almost any fruit you can think of).
The range of krieks available covers a multitude of sins, from the sublime to cherryade, from sickly sweet to so acidic that tooth enamel dissolves on contact. The beers are generally not particularly strong, at least by Belgian standards, 4-6%.
Brand comments - not an exhaustive list:
- Belle Vue: An industrial product (now made at the Stella factory in Leuven rather than the Anderlecht brewery for which it was named) from Interbrew, and hence the most widely available in Belgian bars and cafés and abroad. Sweet, nothing special. Find something else if you can. *
- Mort Subite: Widely distributed, sweet, nothing special, despite the trappings of microbrewery production (the name is that of a well-known Brussels bar, and the draught version there is a bit better). **
- Cantillon: Handcrafted by master brewers in a cobwebby attic in Anderlecht. So acidic that many places serve it with a sugar bowl on the side. (add with great care - it will probably froth up all over the table). Complex, serious drinking stuff. ****
- Hansens: Even smaller production; they have only just got around to putting labels on the bottles. Dark, complex, not sweet but not as abrupt on the palate as the Cantillon. Excellent. *****
- Liefmans: Based on a Flemish red ale rather than a Lambic; well made, lighter than the Hansens. Widely distributed outside Belgium (including UK supermarkets) and easily recognisable by its distinctive red paper wrapping around the bottle. ****, although the less readily located frambozenbier in the same line is even better.
- Souvenirs de Terroir: Supermarket premium own-brand label from the GB/Carrefour chain; surprisingly good, sweetish but not too much. Always seems to be sold out, suggesting that the supplier has trouble meeting supermarket levels of demand. ***
- Lindemans: Sweet, but well made - a high-class soft drink in a pretty bottle. **
- Timmermans: Another sweet one, better than Belle Vue at any rate. **
- St. Louis: Same again, really. **
Update 30 May 2005: One recent addition to the list is Redbach, based on the Rodenbach red ale (a fairly light, quite sharp tasting beer that I am happy to recommend as hot weather drinking) "with a hint of cherries". I'll tell you what it's like when it's got to the required temperature.