Biere de garde is a strong pale ale known for its versatility and beautiful range of golden and amber colors. Originating in northern France, the style has gained popularity worldwide as a highly drinkable brew that pairs well with a variety of dishes. Take out your notebooks, class: we’re about to start another beer lecture. (Seriously, though, if there’d been an AP Brewing Class, we might have actually paid attention in high school.)
History of Biere de Garde
Bière de Garde is French for “beer of keeping.” It was historically brewed by farmers in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, who would use their own grain to produce seasonal beers for drinking; they would also keep, or store, beer for consumption during the summer months when brewing was less pragmatic.
The first bieres de garde were of lower alcohol content. They were meant to be hydrating and nourishing, not inebriating. The higher alcohol iterations are a rather recent endeavor. The commercially available biere de garde was Jenlain Ambree, brewed in 1922 at the Brasserie Duyck in Jenlain. The original 3% ABV version was re-released in the 1950s at 6.5%. It was presented in a fancy, corked bottle reminiscent of champagne.
Trust students to know a good source of alcohol when they see it. French university kids began drinking Jenlain Ambree in the 1970s and it became massively popular. Can’t you just picture them brooding in their berets, chain smoking and morosely slugging beer directly from the corked bottle? Quel ennui!
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, brewers all over the world make bieres de gardes, adding their own local flavors and techniques. Oh, and Jenlain Ambree still exists, but with even more alcohol (7.5%). At this rate, it’ll actually be champagne in twenty years.
Biere de Garde vs Saison
In essence bière de garde might be thought of as the French version of a Belgian saison. After all, Nord-Pas-de-Calais runs along nearly the entire western border of Belgium. It’s no surprise that certain brewing techniques are shared between the two. Both originated as bottle-conditioned farmhouse ales. Modern versions share a high ABV and incandescence. As ales, both are traditionally brewed with top fermenting yeast.
But there are a few distinctions: bieres de garde are characterized by a pale golden to deep copper color and a malty, sweet taste. Saisons tend to be hoppier, with a fruity and even sour flavor profile. They are cloudier in color and can take on golden to deep red hues.
Brewing Bière de Garde
Bière de Garde is known for its versatility, but there are some common characteristics that define the style. The beer is typically malt-forward, with a range of colors from pale amber to deep copper. Many varieties are actually a hybrid type of beer, being top fermented first then lagered.
Brewers often take extra steps to ensure the dry finish and malty flavors characteristic of a good biere de garde. Bitterness is kept at a minimum with low quantities of late hops added. Softened water with carbonates and sulfates removed bolsters the toastiness of the malt, and sugar may be added to give a crisp, dry finish.
At Diebolt, we like to add gobs of Belgian Candi syrup to complement the malt bill in our Joyeux Noel Spiced Winter Lager, which is our seasonal biere de garde. Then we cold condition it on orange peel and cinnamon sticks. Drinking one is like a warm hug from Jason Momoa in a cashmere onesie (new bucket list item).
Biere de Garde Food Pairings
Pairing Bière de Garde with the right foods can elevate the tasting experience. Its malt-forward profile and moderate carbonation make it a versatile companion for a variety of dishes. We like it especially with:
- Strong, soft cheeses (Brie or Camembert on a crusty baguette–le yum)
- Roast chicken and potatoes
- Braised meats and stews (try making a lamb stew using a bottle of biere de garde as the braising liquid)
New Year, New Beer
As of this article, we still have SEVENTY SIX more days of “official” winter. In Colorado, it’s more like 100. With that crushing revelation, we offer you a chill place and delicious beers to help pass the time. There’s never a dull moment at our brewery on Mariposa: good beers, good company, and endless shenanigans are in store for our visitors. Stop by today to taste that Joyeux Noel goodness before it sells out.