The Session #32: Eastern Beers

The SessionIt’s the first Friday of the month again and that means it’s time for beer bloggers to collectively pool their efforts and write about a common topic—that’s right, it’s another month of The Session!

This month’s topic comes to us from Girl Likes Beer, and she’s picked a geographically interesting topic: Eastern Beers.

You are probably wondering what I mean by that. So let me explain. My goal is to try at least one beer of each country that has its own brewery. So far I did try a lot of beers that are made in countries that are west from mine (which is Poland if anyone was wondering). I would like to explore the ones on the east.

So to sum up I would like you to pick your favorite beer made east form your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)? And one more thing. If you do a video or picture of the beer (not obligatory of course) try to include the flag of the country.

When I blogged the announcement I looked up the country that is directly east (by latitude) from me (here in Bend, Oregon), and determined that Canada is the first, followed by France across the Atlantic. No offense to Canadians, but France is more interesting to me for this topic—so France it is.

For me when I think of France and beer, one style comes to mind: Bière de Garde. These farmhouse-style ales from northern France hearken back to a rustic tradition when brewing was a major function of the farmhouse brewery or household. Literally meaning “beer for keeping”, they were typically brewed in winter or spring, to keep throughout the summer (when it was otherwise too hot to brew).

As a homebrewer, this rustic tradition of beer strikes a chord with me, and at the same time, I find it fascinating that the Bière de Garde is the only considered style to come from France—especially as the country has such a thriving wine culture and history, and it shares borders with Germany and Belgium, two of the world’s major brewing regions.

Jenlain AmbréeI wish I could point to more French beers that I have tried, but the only two that come immediately to mind are from Brasserie Duyck, both Bières de Garde: Jenlain Ambrée and Jenlain Noël. Both are also top-notch examples of the style, and are well worth seeking out. The Ambrée is the classic example of the Bière de Garde, complex and engaging. I wrote:

Smell: Malty sweet, overripe plum, cut grass, musty berry, sweet dough.

Taste: Sweet grains—almost cloying—almost a brandy character. Leather. Some sort of fruit… old blackberry? Root vegetables. Dry. Sour just enough to be refreshing. A nice toasted wheat bread. Very complex.

It traces its roots back to 1922, and is the flagship beer from Duyck. If you’re just starting out with French beers, you can’t go wrong starting here.

Their Christmas beer, the Jenlain Noël, is also great, with holiday spicing and an unusual characteristic:

Taste: Spicy, sweet, and—as weird as it sounds—bubblegum. Very tasty, and the spices complement the sweetness nicely. It’s more of a hop spice than culinary, and a bit earthy.

Bubblegum. This is one of those flavors that you scratch your head over, but in this beer it just works. Definitely one of the more interesting Christmas beers I’ve tried.

Most people don’t think “beer” when they think of France. I think, “why not?” I think it’s time to start exploring more of the offerings the French have to offer in the world of beer.