Biere de Garde is traditional style of beer made in the farmhouses of Northern France, in a time before temperature control and sterile breweries.
Yeast, when converting the farmer's hard-earned barley malt into a soothing tonic, can produce a host of unwelcome flavors if left to work at too warm a temperature. To make a more consistently enjoyable beverage, brewers would craft their wares in the winter months, but aimed to make a style that could be enjoyed for the rest of the year. As beer was often used as payment for farmhands, they had to be refreshing in the hot summer months. Biere de Garde, became the name for these unique, rustic ales.
Held together as a category by their common place of origin rather than strict flavor profiles like many other styles, Bieres de Garde are most similar to the Belgian farmhouse style of Saison. They have similar fruity and cellar aromas, but Bieres de Garde have less hop character and are typically more malt-driven. Bieres de Garde traditionally come in three main styles, with their colors and flavors based upon the darkness of the malts added: blond (blonde), amber (ambrée), and brown (brune). The darker in color a beer is, the more the malt character dominates over any hoppy flavors. Biere de Gardes can be made with an ale, lager, or wild yeast, but they are generally all lagered (aged) for a number of months before being served, even though they are made year-round and not just in winter anymore. This aging should give the beer a well-integrated harmony and cellar character of varying prominence, depending on how rustic an operation is. This may include a tart or sour character typical of Saisons, and sometimes wood or cork flavors.
An inherent aspect of being made in small farmhouses for local consumption is the huge range of flavors available within the category- each brewery made a unique product, often developing a house style that could be recognized through their range of offerings. For instance, Leelanau Brewing Company's Good Harbor Golden is a blond-colored Biere de Garde aged in a large oak vessel for close to two months, imbuing it with a complexity that could not be achieved without such a time-consuming process. The beer has aromas of peaches, apricot, canned pineapple, and a faint herbaceousness. Malt-driven on the palate and carrying the same fruits as the nose, it starts out round and opulent yet finishes tart and dry. The single 1200 liter barrel is also used to age their Whaleback White, a Belgian Wit style ale made with coriander and orange peel, and Petoskey Pale, a Belgian "Grand Cru" Pale Ale with a deep piney hop character reminiscent of the Michigan woods. A common flavor is quite evident through these three beers, helping to form a distinct house style that differentiates them from the other beers that Ron Jeffries crafts at his Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in rural Dexter, Michigan. Ron also produces another world-class Biere de Garde for the Jolly Pumpkin Brand, known as Oro de Calabaza. The fact that he can produce two different blonds in one brewery that have distinctly different flavors is a testament to his artisan approach to the craft of brewing traditional bieres de garde.