At this point there are very few styles of beer that I’ve yet to try, however, this will be my first “Biere de Garde.” This is pretty much the only style of beer I’m aware of that originated in France. The majority of beer styles originally come from Belgium, Germany, and England – but of course there are exceptions. This style was originally brewed in small farmhouses during the winter or spring, before the summer temperatures messed around with the yeast. This style of beer isn’t so much named for its character, but for it’s region of origin. They can range from blond to dark brown and can be made with ale yeast or Lager yeast. These beers however, are always lagered (placed into cold storage), and stored for long periods, allowing them to age nicely and get a well rounded flavor. Their closest style companion is the Belgian “Saison” which is slowly becoming my favorite beer style, so I’m excited to try this one. I have been sitting on this bottle of Gavroche from Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre for a while now, it was a gift from some colleagues for Christmas last year – thanks friends! At 8.5% it should have held the test of time pretty well, so let’s see!
It poured out an only slightly foggy red amber color. Clearly it is unfiltered as the bottle states “Biere en Lees” right on the label, which means that it’s bottle fermented, but it is surprisingly clear considering. A frothy, but not too creamy one finger head immediately appears as I gently pour it into my newly purchased Hopfenstark Saison tulip. The head remains there, not dissipating as it sits. This is quite a beautiful looking beer, the amber color is not a common shade; it has a bit more of cherry-wood tone to it, unlike a lot of other styles that have more orange qualities.
There are some interesting aromas coming from this one. I am getting a lot of smells that I’ve become accustomed to, but in this situation, they are compiled in a way that I am not used to – quite different. I smell a lot of funky sour yeast up front, then followed by sweet caramel, likely from the malt. There is a port or rich red wine quality going on here too, hidden in the background. Ths is common in beer aged in wood casks. It certainly has that bottle fermented aroma, but I’m guessing because of a particular strand of yeast, the “spiciness” is far different than most Belgian beers I’ve had. In a way, it smells a lot like what I presume a bottle fermented English Ale would be like.
There a lot of bold flavors right off the bat. It is rather spicy, with some cinnamon, and red fruits as well. A hefty and tart and sourness then comes into play, followed by a strong alcohol presence, and finishing with a pretty extreme dryness – almost reminiscent of a tart white wine. Although the fruity sweetness does not linger, there is a wonderful richness that stays with you, much like the flavor of an aged port, or even whiskey. I’m glad I held onto this one for a while, and although I’m extremely new to the aging of beer process, it seems pretty clear to me that it did this one some good. I’m now anxious to drink a fresh one to see if there is a difference, of if these qualities were from the wood aging process. A great beer at a great price, you can pick these up in Montreal, pretty much anywhere that sells craft beers.
Style: Biere De Garde
Brewery: Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre
Available in Quebec: Yes
Beeradvocate Rating: 85 (Good)