Bière de Garde is a style popular in northern France but is largely unknown here in the United States. Before you go throwing your Freedom Fries at me, let’s take a minute to examine its history, for it is one of a kindred independent spirit and can-do attitude.
While “en garde” means to be on your guard, keep yourself safe – most commonly associated with the sport of fencing – “Bière de Garde” literally means beer for keeping; cellared until it’s ready and needed. Beer yeast, being incredibly temperamental, only works if the air’s not too cold or too hot. In the days prior to commercial brewing in air-conditioned buildings, beer could only be made in certain times of the year.
Germans discovered the trick of brewing in chilly caves during the warmer summer months. Northern France, where Bière de Garde originated, is largely bereft of natural underground passages and medieval quarry tunnels. North central France is primarily farmland.
Farmers there – and in the French-speaking region of southern Belgium; Wallonia – brewed and stored their own beer in late fall/early winter. By late spring/early summer, the beer would be ready to refresh the workingman’s parched throats after a day in the fields.
Even with the lower temperatures, the beer was still subject to spoilage so farmers would rely upon the antiseptic properties that intense hopping could provide. The fact that more hops also meant an intensification of flavor was just bonus. In the meantime, those indigenous strains of Belgian yeasts added a fruity, estery, slightly funky quality to the beer that has helped define its hallmark.
They made the stuff themselves, for themselves and from their own ingredients growing on their farms. Independence and can-do attitude.
By now some of you are drowning me out with Toby Keith, not wanting to hear any more about those cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Okay, I get it. America’s distaste for all things French is still palpable even this far removed from their decision to stay out of the Gulf War eleven years ago. Fine… I’ll stick to the US of A.
Actually, Hopjacks Filling Station recently picked up a real gem of Bière de Garde style from Local Option out of Chicago. They use Chinese green tea to set their Bière de Garde apart from the pack. Admittedly, I’m lost as to the name of this one; Sweet Leif. What this has to do with either Viking explorers or former Tiger Beat heartthrobs is beyond me.
Hazy gold with a frothy head, Sweet Leif has beautiful scents of earthy-sweet green tea surrounded by white pepper, apples and clove. Hints of white wine mingle with citrus peel, sweet malt and minty hops, all of which are delivered in a very lively-carbonated, crisp package.
Guard yourself from boring beer and keep one of these close by.