A fairly strong, malt-accentuated, lagered artisanal beer with a range of malt flavors appropriate for the color. All are malty yet dry, with clean flavors and a smooth character.
Three main variations exist (blond, amber and brown), so color can range from golden-blonde to reddish-bronze to chestnut brown. Clarity is brilliant to fair, although haze is not unexpected in this type of often unfiltered beer. Well-formed head, generally white to off-white (varies by beer color), average persistence.
Medium to high malt flavor often with a toasty-rich, biscuity, toffee-like or light caramel-sweet character. Malt flavors and complexity tend to increase with beer color. Low to moderate esters and alcohol flavors. Medium-low hop bitterness provides some support, but the balance is always tilted toward the malt. Darker versions will have more of an initial malty-sweet impression than paler versions, but all should be malty in the palate and finish. The malt flavor lasts into the finish, which is medium-dry to dry, never cloying. Low to no hop flavor (spicy, peppery, or herbal), although paler versions can have slightly higher levels of herbal or spicy hop flavor (which can also come from the yeast). Smooth, well-lagered character, even if made with ale yeast. Aftertaste of malt (character appropriate for the color) with some dryness and light alcohol.
Prominent malty sweetness, often with a complex, light to moderate intensity toasty-bready-rich malt character. Low to moderate esters. Little to no hop aroma (may be a bit spicy, peppery, or herbal). Paler versions will still be malty but will lack richer, deeper aromatics and may have a bit more hops. Generally quite clean, although stronger versions may have a light, spicy alcohol note as it warms.
Medium to medium-light (lean) body, often with a smooth, creamy-silky character. Moderate to high carbonation. Moderate alcohol warming, but should be very smooth and never hot.
Three main variations are included in the style: the brown (brune), the blond (blonde), and the amber (ambrée). The darker versions will have more malt character, while the paler versions can have more hops (but still are malt-focused beers). A related style is Bière de Mars, which is brewed in March (Mars) for present use and will not age as well. Attenuation rates are in the 80-85% range. Some fuller-bodied examples exist, but these are somewhat rare. Age and oxidation in imports often increases fruitiness, caramel flavors, and adds corked and musty notes; these are all signs of mishandling, not characteristic elements of the style.
Name literally means "beer which has been kept or lagered." A traditional artisanal ale from Northern France brewed in early spring and kept in cold cellars for consumption in warmer weather. It is now brewed year-round.
The "cellar" character commonly described in literature is more of a feature of mishandled commercial exports than fresh, authentic products. The somewhat moldy character comes from the corks and/or oxidation in commercial versions, and is incorrectly identified as "musty" or "cellar-like." Base malts vary by beer color, but usually include pale, Vienna and Munich types. Darker versions will have richer malt complexity and sweetness from crystal-type malts. Sugar may be used to add flavor and aid in the dry finish. Lager or ale yeast fermented at cool ale temperatures, followed by long cold conditioning. Floral, herbal or spicy continental hops.
Related to the Belgian Saison style, the main difference is that the Bière de Garde is rounder, richer, malt-focused, and lacks the spicy, bitter character of a Saison.