I was recently honored with the privilege of sampling a top-secret experimental batch of beer from a fairly well-known brewery. Unfortunately, I cannot say which brewery or even the state they reside; I can, however, give a full tasting description of the style. The style was a bière de garde, a very uncommon style with me only ever having two others: Two Brothers Domaine DuPage and Brewery Ommegang Scythe and Sickle, both available at select ABCs.
Bières de garde, literally translating beers to keep, originated in the farmhouse houses of northern France centuries ago. They were brewed at the peak times for harvesting the malts and hops and were kept until the climate was too harsh for new growth. It is a rugged style with depth and complexity that takes many flavors from the terroir of the region. Ranging in color from golden to amber to light brown, it imparts a faint malt sweetness with a medium hop balance. The major characteristic is a funky, musty, cellar-like taste and aroma imbued by the very basements they where they were brewed.
This particular bière de garde was amped up with lactobacilli and pediocci anaerobic bacteria and aged on cherrywood spirals. The bacteria are lactic acid producing bacteria that thrive in a low oxygen environment and feed off the sugars in beer, giving it a sour taste. Many sour styles, including Berliner weisses, lambics, Flanders red ales and witbiers, incorporate one or both strains, which range from mildly tart to lip-puckering after the product is finished. The lactic acid sourness is one of my favorite flavors in beer. This beer came in a plain 12-ounce bottle with an unmarked gray crown. It is the third attempt at the style according to the person who gave it to me.
I am serving directly from my temperature-controlled beer fridge at 55 degrees into my Spaten Franziskaner weissbier hefeweizen glass. It pours a nice cloudy orange-brown hue with no head.
The sourness is prevalent with hints of apple cider vinegar, cherry wood and very mild candied fruits.
Good, not super sour, flashes of the wood with a lime juice bite followed by a faint apple cider vinegar finish. There is also a slight wheat beer presence and very little carbonation in the mouthfeel. A tang gets me right in the middle of my tongue with each sip and there is a little astringency from the wood.
This is definitely not like the other two bières de garde I had, but the sourness was right up my alley. I hope this beer gets to be a future limited release by the brewery so others can enjoy it. It almost reminds me of a toned down Duchesse De Bourgogne, a Flanders red ale with heavy, woody apple cider vinegar notes. All of these styles may not be for beginner beer drinkers with fledgling palates because of the atypical flavors and pertinent sourness; it is better to work your way up to it. Both the Domaine DuPage and Scythe and Sickle are very nice examples of the style. My dream would be to travel to Nord-Pas-de-Calais on the French side of Flanders and enjoy a brew made in a centuries-old barn.
Adam Shugan, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits beer consultant – Gainesville
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