Choosing that next summer brew can sometimes be a touch overwhelming. Your local fillery or bottle shop can feature an array of seemingly endless styles, both old and new. It can be easy to just grab what’s familiar, like a classic IPA, or a ridiculously crushable fruity sour.
However, this summer is going to be different because you’ll be quenching your thirst with your new favourite farmhouse ale, Biere de Garde. The name is French and translates to ‘beer that has been kept’ or ‘beer that has been lagered’.
Like a lot of farmhouse styles beers, its exact origins are quite vague and largely lost to time. We know that it originates from northern France and began life as a beer brewed by farmers. Much like its better-known cousin Saison — brewed across the border in Belgium — Biere de Garde style was brewed using a large variety of ingredients and brewing methods that made use of what was available.
They were brewed during the winter or spring to minimise the unpredictable nature of yeast in warmer weather and then stored in
cellars to serve as refreshments in the warmer months.
Biere de Garde grew in popularity in production during the 19th century before plummeting into obscurity in the wake of the First World War through a mix of advancements in commercial brewing technology and a shift in consumer demand. Most brewers of the style struggled to compete against the clean lager taste of mainstream beers.
French brewery Brassiere Duyck came to the rescue in the 1950s by remaking the style with higher alcohol content and packaging it in corked champagne bottles. The reinvented style grew in popularity and created a new understanding for French brewers of what speciality beer could mean.
Other French breweries began following suit and by the 1970s Biere de Garde had transitioned from a table beer to a higher strength speciality style.
Biere de Garde is generally a much sweeter style of farmhouse ale than many of its counterparts. The malts are front-stage, with far less emphasis on the gentle spices and tartness that can be found in the likes of a Saison. You’ll also find little sign of the hops, instead, you can expect varying levels of malt complexity with moderate to low bitterness. The alcohol content is generally somewhere between 4%-7%.
I would recommend starting with Sunshine Brewing’s Blonde Biere de Garde which has been wonderfully aged in ex-chardonnay barrels. A mix of berries, gentle caramel, sweet malts, and wine barrel character lead to a satisfyingly dry, lingering finish. Next try a can of Sunshine’s Black Biere de Garde aged in ex-Pinot Noir barrels. And Urbanaut have an Imperial Biere de Garde (8.5%) in their 250ml can range.