Brewed For Battle: Biere de Garde

Three beautiful biere degardes.
Three beautiful biere degardes.
Jonathan McNamara

​At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Biere de Garde

Northern France is mostly known for wine, cheese and snooty attitudes, but Pierre did make one nice contribution to the beer world: the Biere de Garde. Related to the Belgian Saison style, the Biere de Garde is a farmhouse ale traditionally brewed in early spring and kept in cold cellars for drinking when the weather got warm -- which makes sense, since its name translates to "beer for keeping."

The main difference between the Saison and the Bière de Garde is that the latter is sweeter and more malt-focused, often with a toasty, toffee-like or caramel sweetness. It can also display more prominent earthy, musty aromas that develop from time spent in the cellar.

Three main variations exist within the style: brown (brune), blond (blonde) and amber (ambrée). The darker versions will have more malt character, while the paler versions can have more hops.

Zach's Pick: Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Dexter, Michigan loves to throw wild yeast in their beers, lending a distinct tartness to their impressive line of saisons, wild ales and bieres de garde. Oro de Calabaza ("golden pumpkin") is a blonde version of the style, delivering aromas of pears, apples and bananas that carry over to the flavor, where they're met with wheat and a musty, cave-like cellar quality. A shock of sour funk hits at the swallow before a surprisingly dry finish, keeping you intrigued and coming back for more.

Jonathan's Pick: Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi Dear Father, please hear our praise. Your faithful servants at The Lost Abbey have seen fit to gift us with a brew truly worthy of your splendor.Gift of the Magi Ale. It is deliciously spicy and subtly sour. Oh Lord! Lost Abbey has included in said brew a yeast strain known as Brettanomyces. And though we can not pronounce the name of this yeast, we do appreciate highly it's unique characteristics so reminiscent of Belgian ales. As we consume this most sacred of suds we think you once again for graciously bestowing an alcohol-by-volume percentage of 10 up it. God be praised! Amen.

Shannon's Pick: Lost Abbey Avante Garde The Lost Abby Avant Garde Ale - I wasn't very impressed with the Avant Garde Ale. I was hoping for something along the lines of an aged Saison and this didn't come close. It had a decent start with a light caramel color with a little hoppy-ness in the nose. But it tasted....boring. Bottom line it was just a boring beer. I didn't like it or dislike it because it was just blah. It didn't really have any flavor, just a sharp bitterness towards the end. Not a nice bitterness like a good IPA, more like a this-beer-is-getting-warm-and-I-don't-want-to-drink-it bitterness. This beer is totally not something worth keeping.

Jim King's happy face.
Jim King's happy face.
Jonathan McNamara

The Layman's Choice: This week's layman was Valley Fever news hound James King. What brew does senator of snark prefer?

"The Avant Garde smelled like it would have more flavor than it does. I could smell a lot of cool shit, but I couldn't taste it. The Gift of the Magi tastes a little flat and feels creamy, like frothy piss. I really couldn't drink another sip of it. The Oro de Calabaza was my favorite. It's like a happy medium between the two -- flavorful without being too challenging. It's also crisper, more refreshing and reminds me of Genesee Cream Ale."

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