A Bière de Garde is the name for a style of ale that is very dry, malt-forward in flavor, and may have some bitter hop character especially at the finish. The traditional example of a Bière de Garde will be smooth from aging either in stainless steel or wooden barrels.
Bière de Garde is a “farmhouse style,” meaning it historically developed from farmers using ingredients they had on their own farm or farms nearby. Because of this historical tie to inconsistent ingredients Bière de Gardes come in a range of colors from golden with a biscuity or multi-grain cracker flavor to deep amber showcasing more graham cracker and dark bread crust notes.
These farmhouse ales may also use a variety of non-barley grains including spelt, rye, wheat, and oats. These extra grains can contribute cereal flavors, or no noticeable flavors at all.
What does Bière de Garde mean?
Biere de Garde translates to “beer which has been kept” or “beer for keeping.” This refers to the tradition of lagering (or “keeping” in the cellars) beers during the brewing season to be consumed in the summer when the weather was too hot to make good beer. You can take the name one of two ways. First, that this is the designate portion of the beer keep for a later day. Or the more intense version: this is beer to be guarded from anyone trying to break into it and drink it before the warm season!!
Now, thanks to refrigeration, Bière de Garde is brewed and consumed year-round. With modern technology this farmhouse beer no longer needs to be lagered, but modern examples of the style are still aged for another reason. Aging allows the beer to achieve the smoothness and soft balance that is important to the style.
Where did the Bière de Garde style come from?
The style Bière de Garde style originated along the Belgium and France border. Specifically it was found in the French regions of Nord and Pas-de-Calais and the Belgian West Flanders region (especially Poperinge). This is because both hops and grains grow well here so it was easy for brewers to harvest their own crops to make beer.
France is still home to the style, but craft brewers around the world and particularly in the United States make modern versions.
Where can I find a Bière de Garde?
Farmhouse breweries, craft beer bottle shops, and beer bars are all good places to look for modern Bière de Gardes. Bars and bottle shops that specialize in Belgian beer are promising. France isn’t the specific origin of many beer styles so Bière de Garde is often lumped in with Belgian styles like Saison, Gueuze, and Abbey ales.
What does a Bière de Garde Taste Like?
A Bière de Garde will always taste like malt with bakery flavors ranging from fresh croissant to toasty rye bread. Secondary notes in this style are grassy or herbal hop flavors (often using Styrian Golding or Saaz type hops) and lightly fruity and peppery yeast.
Lighter colored Bière de Gardes in the pale gold to deep gold range will usually have lighter malt flavors like crackers, fresh baked pizza crust, or golden biscuits with more hop bitterness and dried herb hop flavor. Darker Bière de Gardes tend to be deep amber at their darkest and have grainy, cereal, and graham cracker flavor. In these darker examples hops are present to balance malt flavors but aren’t a focal point of the flavor profile.
The tradition of lagering Bière de Gardes in cold cellars affects the choice of yeast used to make this beer (and therefore it’s yeast-derived flavors). Brewers use Belgain or French ale yeast pitched at cooler fermentation temperatures or lager yeast pitched at elevated temperatures. The goal is to create some fruity (usually pomme fruit like apples and pears) and spicy (like white pepper or dry cardamom) yeast character while keeping these notes restrained so malt is still the focus of the flavor profile.
Bière de gardes have a remarkably dry finish, especially considering their malty flavor profile. A dry finish means there will be no cloying sweetness in your mouth. After each swallow, you’re palate will feel clean, refreshed and ready for another sip.
Just like other farmhouse ales there is a wide variety in Bière de Garde appearances. Classic presentations range from light and hazy to dark and nearly clear. The best examples will have a steady head retention and will be somewhat clear.
Processes like barrel aging or adding wild yeast and bacteria can augment the classic malt-forward flavor. These methods will produce a more “funky” Bière de Garde. If you don’t like tart, sour, or funky beers avoid Bière de Gardes that have the words “rustic,” “foeder-aged,” or “mixed fermentation” on the label.
Classic Examples of a Bière de Garde
Brasserie Duyck’s Jenlain is considered the archetype of the modern Bière de Garde. Though Duyck is a state-of-the-art brewery in France, the beers maintain some rustic flare and a complex flavor profile. Brasserie Duyck makes both blond and amber versions of the style as do many breweries that continue to make it.
Brasserie Thiriez is another French brewery producing traditional examples. They make both a blond that is substantially hoppy and an amber. This brewery sometimes makes it over to the United States for special events and festivals. (I think the brewery is well worth the trip!)
These are two classic examples but most Biere de Gardes made in France follow the modern guidelines. The amber and blond versions from Brasserie 3 Monts and Brasserie La Choulette are also quite good.
In the US check out farmhouse breweries like Wheatland Spring, Hill Farmstead, Right Proper, Scratch Brewing and more. Just remember these will be American interpretations of the style. While they are usually delicious, they may vary from the French flavor profile.
What do the BJCP say?
For all my fellow homebrewers and beer nerds, this is what the BJCP states as guidelines for this style.
IBU 18 – 28
SRM 6 – 19
OG 1.060 – 1.080 / FG 1.008 – 1.016
ABV 6% – 8.5
Worth noting: Traditional examples and those still found in the French countryside tend to be lower in alcohol between 4% and 6%. The rustic examples that were lagered before refrigeration may have been even lower, between 3% and 4%.
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