Mug Shots :Beer for Bastille Day

Jun 26, 2007 at 6:17 pm

From the time just after 9/11, when it became the stated policy of every illiterate bumpkin in the American hinterlands to demean all things French without understanding any of them, I’ve resolved to buy and drink beer from France as often as possible.

    Contrary to what you may have heard, this political statement requires no sacrifice whatsoever, because no other brewing nation in Europe is as underrated as France — and we’re not speaking here of Alsace’s producers of German-tinged Euro-lager like Kronenbourg. Rather, France’s prime brewing region lies to the north of Paris, alongside Belgium.

    It is indicative of the imprecision with which beer styles are codified that aficionados tend to group the ales of Northern France into a catchall category, Bières de Garde (or “beers that have been kept”). As with the Saison style of French-speaking Belgium, these originally were individualistic farmhouse ales brewed in cooler weather, bottled and stored for later use. This period of aging rounded the edges and contributed a cellar character to ales that were little known outside the region until relatively recently.

    In general terms, today’s Bières de Garde have in common glorious layers of rich malt complexity, with hop-accented offerings tasty but less common. They can be golden, amber or brown, with the latter being particularly good alongside dinner.

    While the bulk of received wisdom pertaining to food and drink concentrates on the oenophile’s vision of the correct jug of wine for a particular loaf of bread, France’s Bières de Garde are an ideal accompaniment to the finest multi-course meal — or to a wheel of stinky cheese, rough country pate and a crusty baguette.

    Be adventurous and look for 750ml bottles — some corked and others crown-capped — of Jenlain, Trois Monts, La Choulette, St. Amand and Castelain.   

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit for more beer.