Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t – but various takes on the classic Bière de Garde style are popping up all over the country. And even though some of you might have come across this term on occasion, we’re betting that many of you (like many of us at the American Craft Beer compound) aren’t really sure what a Bière de Garde really is. Not to worry – we’ve done some research and we think we’ve got it now…so get ready to become an instant expert.
Welcome to “What the hell is a Bière de Garde?”
So if you’re thinking phonetically, you’re off to a good start. ‘Bière’ means beer in some language other than English (no surprise there). Oh, you want specifics? In that case, bière is French for beer. ‘Garde’ is a little less obvious, but it basically means ‘for keeping’ (or ‘for guarding’ in a sense). So in essence, a Bière de Garde is brewed with the intention of keeping it stored for a period of time until it matures, usually a few months at least.
The style originated from the border region between Belgium and France, a region that has bred a number of ambiguous beer styles that American craft brewers have taken to experimenting with from time to time. Bière de Grade took root on the French side of the border and became more full-flavored than its cousin the Saison. BJCP.org summarizes the differences between the two: “A Bière de Garde is rounder, richer, sweeter, malt-focused, often has a “cellar” character, and lacks the spicing and tartness of a Saison.”
Overall, the Bière de Garde tends to showcase malt flavors more than hops, and can range from blonde to brown in color. A modern example that would be true to the history of the style would only be brewed in the early spring and would be cellared for several months before being served in the high heat of summer.
Bière de Gardes We Like and You Might Want to Try:
New Belgium / Brewery VivantBière de Garde – Fort Collins, CO
Schlafly Bière de Grade – St. Louis, MO
Ommegang Scythe & Sickle – Cooperstown, NY
The ambiguity of Franco-Belgian beer styles has probably driven more than a few German brewers effectively over the edge. Sure it creates styles that are hard to define, difficult to judge, and yields a number of commercial products using the term; however, they please in order to suit their own needs. But for American craft brewers who are using the style as inspiration, we say trudge on into the murky waters of stylistic dubiousness. Throw caution to the wind, toss whatever you want into the brew kettle, and just brew the best damn beer you can and we’ll cover you.
For more in our ongoing “What the Hell Is?” series, check out: