Nick Carr on June 8, 2016 3 Comments History of Bière De Garde Terroir, the character of place imparted into some product — be it a crop, a honey, or a wine — is not used very often to describe beer. It is a word most often used in descriptions of grapes and wine. Maybe that’s why we don’t see it much in reference to beer or the ingredients used in beer, the wine folks, in their cultured eccentricities feel it too refined a word, it is French after all, for any lesser libation. Maybe… but probably not, I just like poking a little fun at the wine world and its often elevated and misguided pomposity. Many beers could easily claim terroir to their region of origin; because of a water profile, a specific hop, and/or a yeast strain. But, if ever there was a set of beers tied to the land of their origin it is the sister styles that make up the broad descriptor “Farmhouse ales,” Saison and Bière De Garde. This is especially true earlier in their history when they were very much tied to the place they were brewed. Crops, hops, and especially the yeast would have drawn a distinct line between examples of both styles and the brewing world at large. Bière de Garde was born on the French side of the France/Belgium border, while Saison took up residence on the Belgian side. Both styles draw from the traditions of brewing as part of farming life in rural Europe. The name, Bière de Garde translates to “beer of keeping” referring to the practice of brewing during a very short season in late fall/ early winter and then “keeping” or lagering the beer until spring. Brewing this way allowed farmers to take advantage of freshly harvested crops and cooler fermentation temperatures; temperatures that kept the chances of infection to a minimum. Why these two sisters parted ways and became separate beer styles is unknown. It may have been as simple as a matter of taste. Whatever the cause, the Belgians kept their libations relatively light and fresh, crisp and spicy; while the French found an affinity for something richer and sweeter. A big contributor to these differences was the yeast and fermentation influence. Belgians found no reason to look beyond their own long brewing traditions. They used Belgian yeast and fermented their saisons at a warmer temperature, which produced the spicy, crisp, and peppy characters their saisons have become known for. The French, for one reason or another, found their yeast influence, less in Belgium, and more in the altbier and kölsch traditions of Rhineland Germany. They fermented at a cooler temperature and produced a libation of soft malt and slightly sweeter character. The Bière de Garde style could have been easily lost to history. The old recipes and practices, sadly, are lost. This rustic style found little place in the rush of advancing brewing technology and societal modernization. Refrigeration made it unnecessary to brew with the seasons in mind. Then came the lager, and the French, along with the rest of Europe, lost themselves in its novelty. The old and rustic become synonymous with the unrefined and unsophisticated. The Great Wars of the early 20th century did nothing to help these already waning traditions survive, as European brewing on a whole took a major hit. Many traditions weathered these monumental tides of change simply because a few stubborn brewers just didn’t know when to give up the past. The Brasserie Duyck is credited with the revival of the Bière de Garde style in the 1950s. Established in 1922, this brewery was just another lemming following the trends of lager; but unlike many other breweries it continued to produce small amounts of a Bière de Garde. This “side project” would not gain much popularity until 1950 when the brewery began to bottle its rustic-rooted creation in used champagne bottles with a wire cork. The new packaging caught the eye — and possibly fed the inner standards of sophistication — of the students going to school in Lille, the capital of Northern France. Thus a spark was lit, a spark that warmed into a slow burning, but enduring fire; a reawakening of local French brewing culture. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Bière De Garde style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Bière De Garde should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 9 – 19 SRM Original Gravity: 1.060 – 1.080 OG Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.016 FG IBU Range: 18 – 28 ABV Range: 6.0 – 8.5% Appearance: Range from golden to copper red to deep brown; Head may range from bright white to light tan; Clarity will range from brilliant to hazy. Aroma: Sweet & rich maltiness; Minimal hoppy aromas with herbal, spicy or peppery notes; Low to moderate esters possible; Stronger versions may have slight alcohol warmth. Flavor: Malty flavors will range from medium to high, while hops will remain low in bitterness to provide balance; Noticeably smooth with low to medium esters or alcohol warmth; Medium-dry finish with malty aftertaste. Mouthfeel: Body will be medium-light to medium with creamy smoothness; Moderate alcohol warmth, but never hot; Carbonation ranges from medium to high. Serving & Storage Temperature: 48-50°F Shelf Life: 6 – 12 Months Suggested Glass: Tulip or Oversized Wine Glass Food Pairings: French foods, cassoulet, chicken or duck dishes, seafood, pavin & munster cheese, pecan pie, light fruit sorbet. The BJCP classifies the Bière De Garde beer style as a “Belgian Ale” and it can be found in their guidelines as category 24C. Other beer styles in this category include: Witbier (24A), and Belgian Pale Ale (24B). Appearance: Color can range from golden through coppery red and into a rich deep brown with three distinctly named variations covering the width of this spectrum; Blonde, Amber (ambrèe), or Brown (brune). The color of the head will range from brilliant white into an off-white or light tan depending on the color of the beer under it. Head will be well formed, with moderate persistence. It is often unfiltered, so clarity can range from brilliant to hazy. Aroma: Malt character will be rich, sweet and complex with light to moderate qualities of toast and bread. Hop aroma will be minimal if noticeable and can have slight herbal, spicy, and/or peppery tones. The pale versions will still be malty but will be missing the deep richness and complexity of darker malts and often will show more of a hop profile. Low to moderate esters may be present, but otherwise often presents as quite clean, with the possibility of stronger versions having a slight alcohol character. Mouthfeel: Medium to med-light body with a creamy smoothness across the palate and moderate alcohol presenting nice warming without going hot. Carbonation can range from medium to high. Taste: Malt flavor and intensity will likely increase with an increase in the beer’s color. It can range from medium to high, presenting as biscuity, toffee-like, toasty, or lightly caramel. Hops will be a low medium in bitterness. Balance is always toward the malt. All versions should be malty, but darker versions will carry a more intense malty-sweetness, while paler versions are likely to have a more noticeable hop flavor. Hops remain low, if recognizable, and tend toward spicy, peppery, and herbal qualities. It should have that noticeable smooth character of lagering with low to medium alcohol and ester flavors. Finish is medium-dry to dry with hints of malt carrying through without becoming overly sweet. Aftertaste will be malty with a character dictated by the beer’s color, slightly drying, and carry possible light tones of alcohol. Low to medium esters. Food Pairings: The obvious place to start with pairings is French food, and cassoulet, the cold weather French stew of beans, duck, ham, and mixed herbs makes a grand statement. French food is often very herbal and those herbal notes play like nothing else when set to the correct libational tune. Herb rubbed Lamb, chicken, or duck and herb infused sausages work wonders. The lighter variations also work well with lighter fare such as seafood and salads. When looking for cheese, go to the ripe and soft French farm cheeses; such as Pavin, Munster, and Livarot. The darker versions of this style can probably handle nutty, sweet desserts like pecan pie, while the lighter examples would be better paired with something like a citrus tarte or maybe a light fruit sorbet. Serving: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, a bière de garde should be served at around 48-50°F in a tulip or oversized wine glass. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and enjoyed within 6 to 12 months. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Winning examples of the Bière De Garde style are hard to find. They fall under a broader category “French and Belgian style Saisons” in both the GABF and World Beer Cup. Unless the brewery comes right out and says it’s a biere de garde it is very hard to tease apart what is what style without tasting them — the main difference between Biere de Garde and other saisons being one of malt-focus with less spicy/bitter qualities. I apologize if I’ve overlooked an award winning example, and I would encourage you to leave a comment down below if I have. More Popular Bière De Garde Examples To Try La Bavaisienne from Basserie Theillier (Bavay, France) Bier de Garde from Schlafly Brewing Company (Saint Louis, MO) Fuego Del Ontono (Autumn Fire) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter, MI) Biere De Norma from Hill Farmstead Brewery (Greensboro Bend, VT) 3 Monts Flanders Golden from Basserie De St. Sylvestre (St. Sylvestre Cappel, France) Domaine DuPage from Two Brothers Brewing Company (Warrenville, IL) Avant Garde from Lost Abbey Brewing Company (San Marcos, CA) Debutante from Brewer’s Art/ Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore, MD) Blond Biere de Garde from Brasserie Castelain (Bénifontaine, France) Jenlain Ambrèe from Brasserie Duyck (Jenlain, France) Reposé from Jester King Brewing Company (Austin, TX) Ovni from Flat Earth Brewing Company (Saint Paul, MN) Perdition from Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, CA) Page 24 Biere de Printemps from Brasserie St. Germain (Aix-noulette, France) Tips for Brewing a Bière De Garde Recipe The first thing you need to consider when designing a recipe is what version — Blonde, Amber, or Brown — do you intend to make. Your grain bill and hopping will change depending on the version. Click Here to Buy a Bière De Garde Brewing Kit Grain Bill: The base malt, no matter the style, will be a pale or pilsner malt at around 60 to 80 percent. You can even search out a French pale malt if you want to get the full terroir effect for your beer. I’ve never used it but there’s Franco Belges Pale Malt that just might be the ticket. Otherwise any Continental pilsner or pale malt, such as Weyermann Pilsner, will do the trick. Specialty malts often used include Vienna, Munich, Caramel (for the darker versions), biscuit, aromatic, wheat; and a tad of chocolate or roast malt can find its way into the darkest versions. Play your specialty malts and ratio with an eye toward whatever variation you’ve chosen. Also, remember that this is a farmhouse ale and it’s likely that every variety of unmalted grain could easily find its way into the brew (wheat, spelt, oats, etc.) A simple sugar, such as dextrose or honey, can enhance fermentability and create a drier example. Extract Brewing Extract brewers should look for a high quality pale malt extract made from German Pilsner malt or find a Biere de Garde kit. To enhance complexity and add color — again depending on what version you’re making — you could do a small steeping of your chosen specialty grains. But, because this beer has strong malt presence it might be a better idea to take that leap into mini-mashing. This would not only allow you to get a maltier complexity, but would allow you to use Vienna or Munich malt which needs to be mashed. Hops: Alsatian Strisselspalt hops are the favorite of many French brewers and they can be found with a little searching. Other hops you could use include noble varieties such as German Hallertauer, Czech Saaz, Tettnanger, and Spalt, all of which have the floral and lightly spicy qualities that work quite well with soft lager-character of this style. Additions are small. Bitterness is low to medium and flavor/aroma is minimal with paler versions possibly carrying a little more character. The hops should lend balance, but still be pretty underwhelming, letting the malt have the spotlight. The Mash: You’ll want to mash for fermentability to create that slightly crisp mouthfeel and finish. To this end, shoot for a saccharification temperature of between 148-150°F. A two-step mash with a first rest around 140°F wouldn’t hurt anything either. All in all, mash time should take between 60 to 75 minutes. Raise it to 168°F for mash out and sparge to boil volume with 170°F water. The Boil: A 60 minute boil is standard, but a longer boiling time may be considered to add the complex and more robust character of caramelization. A boil of up to a couple hours can work wonders, but remember this is only needed if you are making a darker (amber or brown) version of the style. One addition of bittering hops and one small addition of flavor/aroma hops is all that’s really needed. Remember, you’re looking for a bit of balance, but minimal intrusion into the malt profile. Yeast: This style is often fermented with either German lager yeasts or one of the hybrid ale yeast strains associated with Kölsch and Altbier. Both White Labs (French Ale WLP072) and Wyeast (French Saison 3711) offer yeast strains more specific to this style. Other likely candidates are Wyeast Bohemian Lager (2124) and Kölsch (2565); White Labs German Ale/Kölsch (WLP029) and French Ale (WLP072). On the dry side of things your best bet is probably a lager strain, such as Fermentis Saflager W34/70, or possibly Lallemand Danstar Belle Saison. Fermentation: As with most hybrids, you’ll be fermenting right on the edge of your yeasts comfort zone (60-70°F). If using a lager yeast it’ll be a temperature at the upper edge of the yeast’s range and if using an ale yeast it’ll be at the lower end. With these lower temperatures expect fermentation to be a little slower. The beer should be done fermenting within 3 weeks. When the yeast is finished rack it over to a secondary and lager it for anywhere from 2 to 6 months at cool (50-55°F) temperature. Package it as usual after the lagering period. At this point you can either dive in — I know 2 to 6 months is a killer wait out, or continue to condition it, especially if bottled, as long as you like. Cheers!