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20-04-2012, 14:40
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2005, it’s the fag-end of autumn and I’m racing about theFranco-Belgian border aiming to visit as many bière de garde breweries as I canin two days. Brasseries Gayant (http://www.brasseurs-gayant.com/), Duyck (http://www.jenlain.fr/), Thiriez (http://www.brasseriethiriez.com/) and St Sylvestre (http://www.brasserie-st-sylvestre.com/) are among myhaul but what I also take back is the realisation that the whole idea of bièrede garde is very ambiguous. As I wrote at the time: ‘trying to pin down themeaning of bière de garde is like having to sculpt Rodin’s Thinker withblancmange. The definition is wobbly. The beers of Northern France, because oftheir proximity to Belgium, have their fair share of spicy blancs (known aswitbiers over the border), citrusy tripel look-alikes and even fruit beers (La Choulette (http://www.lachoulette.com/)’s Framboise is a splendid example). There are also big and beefyambrées with spicy, earthy hoppy notes, as well as pale ales.’ I thought aboutthis the other night when studying a couple of bottles of Northern Frenchbeers, one of them an old favourite and the other a total newcomer.

Brasserie D’Annoeullin’s L’Angelus is an old friend, abeautiful soft beer that I always want to hug and draw close to me whenever Imeet it. It has a moodiness about its gold colour in the glass, while I amalways delighted with the fine Moussec-like character it delivers on thepalate; it’s both full and silky with a delicate thread of juicy tangerinestitching its way along the seams of the palate, but is stopped from being too overfruity with a well-applied bitter balance and a long dry finish. There is afragrant feel to this beer, a soft gentle caressing of the palate. This is abière de garde that seems to hover halfway between a wheat beer and a lightbodied triple.

And then there was Vivat Blonde from — take a deep breath — La Brasserie Historique de l’Abbaye du Cateau (http://www.brasserieducateau.fr/FTP/). This is a peppery, dry, bitterblonde with a cracker like firmness on the palate and not an easy crowd-pleasing beer, which is why I like it. Sometimes you need beers that make you work on them in the same way as certain pieces of music do (Benjamin Britten or Schoenberg for instance) and when they do work they are all the better for it; there is also a growing senseof bitterness in the finish plus a pleasing just-on-the-edge-of-the-horizonsourness on the palate that balances well with the bitterness and the barley sweetness.The Triple is rather succulent as well. So can we still talk of bière de gardethese days or in the manner of Trappist are we just talking appellations? My debitcard is on the latter.


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