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Biere de Garde, France's best kept secret.

Avant Garde brewed by The Lost Abbey.  "Inspired Beer for Sinners and Saints Alike"
Avant Garde brewed by The Lost Abbey. "Inspired Beer for Sinners and Saints Alike"
The Lost Abbey

In case you didn't know it yet, France has their own beer style.  It's called Biere de Garde, or "beer for keeping".  Biere de Gardes have their origins in the northern part of France known as Pas-de-Calais, once part of the Kingdom of Flanders which includes parts of the Netherlands and Belgium. In this region, beer has always been the traditional drink, not wine.  Pas-de-Calais shares a border with Belgium, one of the greatest brewing countries in the world.  Biere de Gardes are considered farmhouse ales.  Farmhouse ales have evolved over the ages through trial and error, and refinement.  Today's examples of the style are both rustic and elegant.

Biere de Gardes were brewed in the winter and spring and were meant to be kept in the cold cellar for drinking throughout the summer months (thus the "beer for keeping" moniker).  Brewing beer in the winter evolved over the ages because there were less problems with wild yeasts and bacteria during the cold winter and early spring months.  These beers were brewed for the farmers and fieldhands to consume during the long hot days of summer.

Biere de Garde is very similar to Belgian Saisons.  The difference being that Biere de Gardes are richer, sweeter, and more malt focused with a cellar-like, earthy, and sometimes musty character.  This character is very difficult to imitate outside of Flanders because it comes mostly from the local wild yeasts, molds and bacteria.  Biere de Gardes also differ in that they are less tart than Saisons and will not be spiced as Saisons sometimes are. 

Biere de Gardes will have a prominent malty aroma and flavor with complex toasty character and just enough hops to balance the malt sweetness.  Fruity and spicy notes abound, with hints of anise, exotic spices, and herbal woody undertones.  There is a very wide range of color for these beers, probably wider than in just about any other beer style.  They can range from a light gold to dark brown.  In the region in which they are native, (which is only 50 miles north of the Champagne region), these beers are highly carbonated and bottled in Champagne bottles.  Not because they want to be elitists, but because the bottles were readily available and probably cheap.

Coming from France, you would expect this beer to go well with food, and it does.  Lamb and sausages go  especially well with this beer, as well as intense fragrant cheeses.  As Carolyn Smagalski, of Bella Online notes, "These marry well with the famous moules-frites, waterzoi, coq a la biere, Maroilles cheese tarts, and carbonnade flamenade" and just about anything else on the well-stocked tables in the Nord Pas-de-Calais region of France.

It is difficult to find commercial examples here in Lafayette.  You can order one of the better examples called Avant Garde from The Lost Abbey, which will ship to Louisiana.  About the only example that is readily available here is called Garde Dog by Flying Dog Brewery, it is avaiable at Marcello's Wine Market or Phillipe's Wine Cellar.  I just brewed 5 gallons this past weekend, but it won't be ready until March or April.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

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