In praise of Liefmans
My wife says I've got a touch of OCD. Fair enough. It's probably true. Case in point: Liefmans. Liefmans is simply the most delicious, addictive beer I've tasted since 1989, when it was my privilege and pleasure to regularly enjoy Younger's No. 3, in Canterbury, Jolly Olde.
Whereas Y3 was a dark, full, delicious, Scottish bitter -- sadly, it is no longer available, according to my research -- Liefmans is a sublime Belgian kriek (cherry) beer. Before you wrinkle your nose, as I did when our neighbor Marja offered me a taste of hers at t' Kantoor (I have never liked cherry beers), let me hasten to explain how Liefmans is different: First, as a hearty foundation, it enlists St. Louis, a robust, proper Belgian beer.
St. Louis is already more sour than sweet, and in the Liefmans brewing process, sour cherry pits -- the pits only, not the fleshy fruit -- are added to the fermenting mix. Aside from the delightful, fresh, tarty liquid result (Liefmans tastes like a 4-H-fair-prize-winning cherry pie made with half the sugar), it is also satisfying and stimulating to the mind to reflect that the humble seed, craggy and hard as a stone, contains within it not just the potential to develop into a tree that will produce the fruit, but, mysteriously, the taste essence of that fruit as well. Philosopher's Stone, cherry stone -- not just art, not just science, not just art and science ... Liefmans hearkens back to freaking alchemy.
From my first reluctant sip, I became a kind of acolyte of Liefmans, a shy, trembling supplicant. My ardor was amplified when I learned that, like the bloom on the rose, like the fleeting beauty of youth, Liefmans has an ethereal, tenuous existence: a cruelly limited quantity is brewed annually, to be served in August. When full, the three Liefmans casks in Erik the barkeeper's possession held approximately five hundred glasses. His reply to my inquiry regarding his supply's lifespan -- that it would last "four weeks, less if you drink it quickly" -- firmed up my resolve to study Liefmans very carefully and very thoroughly. Since then I've enjoyed at least one Liefmans almost every day. I stroll down the narrow brick and cobblestone streets upon completing work and writing (occasionally before completing them), take a seat at an outdoor table (weather permitting), and find my place in Anna Karenina.
Erik doesn't call it by its name anymore. Rather, he states an ever-decreasing number, an estimate of how many glasses are left in the casks ("Three hundred twenty-one" ... "Two hundred eighty-eight." This is thrilling. The tension inherent in my conflicting desires to both consume it and preserve it, an emotion hunters must feel about ducks and snipe -- to have my Liefmans and drink it, too -- is nearly as exhilarating as the experience of the drink itself. How long will it last now? Last reports are that the second cask is nearly gone. Once the final cask is pierced, the true countdown will begin. But then, do I drink more of it? Or less? What if I don't get the last glass? Or -- perhaps worse -- what if I do? I'll tell you what: it also comes in bottles.