Bière de Garde, a unique beer style originating from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, has a rich history and a distinctive taste. Often referred to as “beer for keeping,” this strong pale ale was traditionally brewed in farmhouses during the winter and spring months to avoid complications with yeast caused by the summer heat. The farmhouse brewing process gave this ale its unique characteristics and distinguished it as a French beer.
This style of beer comes in three main variations: brown (brune), blonde (blonde), and amber (ambrée), each offering a different flavor profile. Bière de Garde typically has a toasted malt aroma and slight malt sweetness, differentiating it from its Belgian counterpart, Saison. The latter is known for its spiciness and tartness, while Bière de Garde is rounder, richer, and often possesses a cellar character.
In recent times, Bière de Garde has gained increased popularity not only in France but also globally, as craft breweries have begun to adopt and experiment with this style. Its unique taste and versatility make it a sought-after choice for beer enthusiasts seeking something different from the typical lagers and ales.
History of Bière de Garde
Bière de Garde was originally brewed as means to nourish and provide liquid sustenance, drawing from the available resources of the agrarian lifestyle.
The brewing process dates back to a time when beer was considered a necessity for farmers, and Bière de Garde was typically stored in cold cellars for consumption in warmer weather. The name of this style of beer embodies its purpose, signifying a lagered or stored ale that would be kept for several months before being consumed.
The French and Belgian border played a unique role in shaping the distinct brewing practices of Bière de Garde and Saison, its Belgian counterpart. While both styles come from farmhouse brewing traditions, Bière de Garde emerged on the French side of the border, and Saison settled on the Belgian side.
Historical practices surrounding Bière de Garde include:
– Brewing during winter and early spring
– Storing in cold cellars for later consumption
– Drawing from local agrarian resources
– Sharing a border-region history with Belgian Saison
In more recent times, Bière de Garde has become popular outside its region of origin and is now brewed year-round. Its unique characteristics make it a popular choice among craft beer enthusiasts who appreciate traditional, artisanal brewing techniques. One modern example is the case of The Commons Brewery in Portland, Oregon, which drew culinary inspiration from the style for a 2012 launch party in collaboration with a local cheese cave owner.
Bière de Garde beers showcase a variety of colors, ranging from pale to amber to brown. The appearance of this beer style should entice the eye, with a clear to slightly hazy liquid beneath a moderate, creamy, and lasting head.
The aroma of a Bière de Garde can vary quite a bit, depending on the specific variation. Common characteristics include malty notes of caramel, toffee, and toasted bread, complemented by fruity esters such as raisin or plum. Earthy, musty undertones evocative of a “cellar” aroma can also be present. Hop aroma is typically low to moderate, and any yeast-driven spiciness should be minimal.
The flavor profile of Bière de Garde beers should demonstrate a balanced blend of malt, fruit, and earthy elements. Malt flavors often build a foundation of caramel, toffee, or bready notes, while fruity esters contribute to the complexity. These beers lack the spiciness and tartness often associated with their Belgian Saison cousins. The finish should be relatively dry to semi-dry, allowing the beer’s flavors to shine without being overly sweet. Hop bitterness should be moderate, lending a supportive role to balance the malt-forward character.
Bière de Garde beers typically showcase a medium body, with a generous amount of carbonation that lifts the beer off the palate. Alcohol warmth might be evident in stronger examples but should never be harsh or detract from the beer’s overall enjoyment. The smooth, round texture lends a richness to the mouthfeel, further elevating the beer’s complex flavors.
Ingredients and Brewing Process
Bière de Garde relies on a selection of base and specialty malts for its distinctive flavors. Some common malts used in the recipe include:
– Belgian pilsner or pale malt (60-80% of the grain bill)
– Vienna malt
– Munich malt
– Caramel malt (for darker versions)
– Biscuit malt
– Aromatic malt
– Wheat malt
– Chocolate, or roast malt (for the darker versions)
These malts combine to give the beer its unique malty, caramel, and toffee-like flavors.
The hops used in Bière de Garde tend to be of traditional varieties. Hallertau, a German hop variety, is a popular choice for imparting balanced bitterness and mild, aromatic, herbal, and floral qualities.
Bière de Garde is brewed with either a lager yeast or a “hybrid” yeast strain. Typically, these yeasts are fermented at a temperature range of 60-70°F (15-21°C), suiting the yeast’s tolerance for relatively cool conditions.
The fermentation process for Bière de Garde begins at a lower temperature, around 60°F (15°C). After 2-3 days, the temperature is gradually increased by 1-2°F (0.5-1°C) per day, until it reaches around 70°F (21°C). This controlled temperature rise helps develop the beer’s fruity ester character while maintaining a clean fermentation profile.
The mashing process for a Bière de Garde typically involves a single infusion mash at a temperature around 152°F (67°C) for 60-70 minutes. This allows for optimal conversion of starches to fermentable sugars, giving the beer its characteristic medium body and malty sweetness.
Styles and Substyles
Bière de Garde has three main substyles: Blonde, Brown, and Ambrée. These variations offer a distinct range of flavors, colors, and aroma profiles. Each substyle is known for its unique characteristics and brewing traditions.
Blonde Bière de Garde is a lighter, gold-hued beer that often features a subtle malt sweetness with a hint of fruitiness. This substyle typically showcases:
– A light and bright appearance, ranging from straw to light gold
– Moderate to high levels of carbonation
– Aroma profiles consisting of herbal, spicy, or floral hops along with fruity esters
– Flavor balancing between a subdued malt presence and a moderate hop bitterness
The Brown Bière de Garde, also known as Brune, showcases a darker, chestnut brown color. With a focus on malt character, this substyle can have:
– A deep brown to reddish-brown color, often with ruby highlights
– Medium to high levels of carbonation
– Aromas of toasted malt, caramel, and dark fruit
– Flavors leaning towards complex, sweet malt notes and dark fruit character with a gentle hop bitterness for balance
Ambrée Bière de Garde presents an amber-toned, reddish brew that typically offers a balanced malt and hop profile. This substyle tends to have:
– A hue ranging from amber to chestnut red
– Moderate carbonation levels
– Aroma and flavor profiles featuring toasted malt, caramel, and mild fruitiness
– A harmonic interplay between malt sweetness and hop bitterness, without either overpowering the other
Each substyle of Bière de Garde offers a unique take on this traditional beer, exhibiting a wide range of flavors, colors, and aroma profiles, catering to the diverse preferences of beer lovers.
Alcohol and Bitterness Content
The alcohol content in this style typically ranges between 5.0% and 8.5% ABV, striking a balance between being strong enough to age well while still providing a refreshing drink for someone after a long day’s work.
This beer style also features low to medium hop bitterness. The International Bitterness Units (IBUs) for Bière de Garde usually occupy a range of 18-28. The balance in these beers leans towards the malt, ensuring that the malt flavors persist throughout, even as they finish with medium-dry to dry aftertastes.
To give a sense of the beer’s appearance, the Standard Reference Method (SRM) value for Bière de Garde typically falls between 6 and 19. This means that the beer can display a variety of colors, from pale amber hues to deep copper shades.
Here is a summary of the key attributes of Bière de Garde:
– ABV: 5.0-8.5%
– IBUs: 18-28
– SRM: 6-19
These characteristics contribute to the overall profile of Bière de Garde, making it a versatile and enjoyable beer style, appreciated for its flavorful malt complexity and satisfying dry finish.
Brasserie Duyck, a well-known brewery in France, is credited for pioneering the Bière de Garde style. The Jenlain Bière de Garde, one of their most popular offerings, first rose to prominence as a cult beer among French college students in the late 1970s. Today, Brasserie Duyck is the largest producer of Bière de Garde, brewing 100,000 hectoliters annually. Their beer has become the benchmark in the industry, being widely available globally.
Another notable producer of Bière de Garde is Brasserie La Choulette. They offer three distinct versions of this traditional French beer style: La Choulette (blond), La Choulette Bière des Sans Culottes (blond), and Biere Nouvelle (brown). This brewery is known for its dedication to maintaining the authenticity of the Farmhouse ale style while incorporating modern brewing practices.
Brasserie Castelain is another significant producer of Bière de Garde, offering a blond version called Castelain. This brewery has built a reputation for crafting high-quality, flavorful beers that honor the traditional brewing methods of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
Some other examples of Bière de Garde producers and their beers are:
– St. Amand (brown)
– Ch’Ti Brun (brown)
– Ch’Ti Blond (blond)
– Jenlain Bière de Printemps (blond)
– Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts (blond)
– Jade (amber)
– Brasseurs Bière de Garde (amber)
– Southampton Bière de Garde (amber)
Similar Beer Styles
While Bière de Garde is a unique style in its own right, there are other beer styles that share similarities with it. Some of these styles include farmhouse ales, saison, Belgian saison, and ales in general.
Farmhouse ales are a broader category of beers that encompass many regional variations. They are often characterized by their rustic, rural origins and diverse brewing ingredients. While Bière de Garde is specifically a French style, it can be considered a type of farmhouse ale recipe, as it shares the same historical background and brewing traditions.
Saison, another popular farmhouse ale, originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. It shares some similarities with Bière de Garde in terms of its rich and intricate flavors. However, the main difference lies in the fermentation process – saisons typically have a higher carbonation and a more yeast-driven profile.
Belgian saison, as the name suggests, is a saison originating from Belgium, and it shares many characteristics with the French saison. It tends to have a higher alcohol content and a more complex flavor palette. It also shares some similarities with Bière de Garde, as both are known for their intricate taste profiles and malt-focused flavors.
In general, ales are a type of beer that are brewed using warm fermentation, resulting in a wide variety of taste profiles and aromas. Bière de Garde, being an ale, shares some of the properties that are common to this category. Both are known for their rich, malt-driven flavors and diverse ingredient combinations.
Bière de Garde boasts a range of flavors from toasty and biscuit malt notes to caramel and toffee sweetness. These characteristics make it a versatile companion for many types of cuisine.
One of the most striking pairings for Bière de Garde is traditional French food such as cassoulet, a hearty cold-weather stew of beans, duck, ham, and mixed herbs. The complex herbal notes in the dish dance harmoniously with the beer’s flavor profile.
In addition to French cuisine, Bière de Garde pairs well with seafood, particularly shellfish like lobster. The beer’s citrus and pepper notes can enhance the natural sweetness of the lobster, while the toasty, biscuit flavors create a perfect balance with a buttery roll.
When it comes to cheese selections, Bière de Garde complements a wide array of options, including:
– Mild Cheddar
For a lighter option, Bière de Garde can also be served with salads, adding depth and complexity to the meal. The beer’s subtle hop character and toasted malt aroma contribute to an engaging and satisfying dining experience.
While Bière de Garde is traditionally brewed with top-fermenting yeasts, some brewers might experiment with alternative yeast strains to produce unique flavor profiles or adapt to different brewing conditions. It is essential to select a yeast strain that can thrive in the specific brewing environment and produce the desired characteristics for a Bière de Garde.
In addition to traditional brewing ingredients, some brewers might choose to incorporate alternative sugars into their Bière de Garde recipes. This can create slightly different flavors and potentially influence the beer’s color and body. Examples of alternative sugars that might be used include:
– Candi sugar: A Belgian sugar commonly used in brewing, contributing to a dry finish and an increase in alcohol content.
– Honey: Adds sweetness and complexity, as well as a slight floral aroma, depending on the honey’s source.
– Maple syrup: Imparts a distinct maple flavor and results in a darker colored beer.
– Molasses: Provides a rich, sweet flavor often found in darker beers, and contributes to a dark amber or brown color.
P.S. If you are interested in brewing your own beer be sure to pick up our gift to you of Big Robb’s 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. See the side of the blog or bottom if you are on your phone for details. Cheers.