I’m literally brewing this beer as I write this. It’s not the most common style in the world, but it certainly has its devotees and supporters: bière de Mars, or (literally), “March Beer.” If you want this one ready to drink in March, now’s the time (again—literally) to brew it! This is a “comeback” style that you won’t find everywhere, but those who love it (to paraphrase Alexander Keith’s brewery—Halifax, Nova Scotia), love it a lot. Time to brew your own.
Think of bière de Mars as a fresher, drier, slightly lighter version of bière de garde. We want a grainy and rustic flavor profile, but without the fully rounded edges and richer flavors of the sometimes-stronger and sometimes-aged bière de garde. It’s a bit like what Kellerbier is to Pilsner, in that it’s meant to be a younger rendition of the same general style, which yields certain expectations. This beer doesn’t need to be crystal clear; it can exhibit some sour/funky aromatics; and it allows some creativity in the hopping and spicing (though, as you’ll see, there will be no actual spicing of this beer!). Some examples of this Franco-Belgian beer feature exotic and elaborate souring and fruit flavors, but to be frank, they’re a bit over-the-top and often take longer to develop than I’d like.
Some might deride this recipe as being a bit too quick-and-dirty, but I’ve had success with it not only for this beer, but for its cousin, bière de garde, and in the more-rustic version of my Kölsch.
The grist starts with 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of Pilsner—which, frequent readers will note, is odd for my recipes, especially when I’m trying to avoid sweetness. I usually detect a light, sweet honey note in Pils malt. All I can say is that, in this recipe, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the hops bitterness, or maybe it’s the dash of black malt we’ll be adding, but it doesn’t seem too sweet. In any case, you’re adding to that big charge of Pils a heaping pound (1.1 pounds/499 g or so) of Munich malt. Half a pound (227 g) each of Caravienne, wheat malt, and British Crystal 45, and the aforementioned dash—2 ounces/57 g should do it—of Black Patent should bring you to a gravity of just about 1.060.
Hopping is simple, though deceptively so, since we’re going to get some serious mileage out of it. We want, in this beer, about 25 IBUs, some earthy notes, some citrusy notes, and some spice. Where you get yours is totally up to you; I get mine from 1 ounce (28 g) of Columbus added at 20 minutes. Bingo. It yields 26 IBUs, a New/Old World flavor burst, and all for 1 ounce of dirt-cheap hops. I bought that pound of Columbus for $5.55 so that 1 ounce will cost me a whopping 35 cents—and give me exactly the hops character I’m looking for!
And for yeast, you’ll hear a lot of wild ideas, but this isn’t really a wild beer: it’s just misunderstood. I go with my old standby, Wyeast 1007, for a relatively clean fermentation. The “wild” will come in but in just a moment.
Mash at your standard temperature and boil as usual. The craziness comes in after we start fermenting.
I like to start this beer cool, at about 60°F (16°C); remember, traditionally, this beer would be fermenting before the weather really starts to warm up, and in many ways is more a lager than an ale. Some versions ferment fully and then Brett is added at bottling for some earthy flavors and slight tartness…and because they like saying, “Brett-conditioned in the bottle.”
I do add some bugs here, but I do it the old-fashioned way: I stick my hand into the nearest pile of wheat malt and throw a handful (2−3 ounces/57−85 g) into the fermentor. There’s Lacto on them there grains, and some other microbiota (I’m sure), and what tends to happen is that the beer develops a slight lactic tartness. What this adds is a lemony zing and puckering to the beer—along with a touch of earthy funk, from God knows what—that feels and tastes very authentic. I’ve never had this get out of control and ruin a batch, and in fact, it’s usually very subtle.
Ramp up your temperatures to about 66−67°F (19°C) over a period of a few days and give this one plenty of time to work (3 weeks should do it). Then just bottle as usual.
With the bugs we added, there is a slight chance of ongoing fermentation in the bottle of long-chain sugars. One way to counteract that bottle-bomb risk is to aim relatively low on carbonation with your priming sugar: 2 volumes. That way, if you build up some extra pressure, you’re still in the “normal” range for the style, which can actually be quite spritzy. But drink them quickly, just in case!
This won’t be a style for everyone, and it’ll be hard to know whether you’ve done it right. If it seems too bland, consider upping the hops contribution and/or cutting in something more overtly herbal. You can also, of course, add some spice: lemon peel and lemon verbena are popular. But I think you’ll find that this version will suit your palate very well. It’s a wonderful spring style, and if you can work it into your brewing calendar alongside that Maibock, you’ll have a great continental one-two punch for your Easter, spring break, and/or May Day festivities.