Barbara, my wife, loves to shovel snow. Light dusting? She’s out there with a broom and a light shovel, clearing things off. Couple of inches? No problem – “good core workout,” she says, while breaking out the heavier shovel with the metal blade and getting down to work. Then, one day, in the first year at our new place with the longer driveway and the plowed-in entrance on the corner (which means twice as much sidewalk to clear), she found out what happens when you get 8+ inches of wet, heavy snow. The next day, we were buying a snow blower. As intensity of a thing increases, you can hit a tipping point where incremental change to the way you’ve “done things” at lower intensities is no longer sufficient.
That’s Brown Biere de Garde for me. We can’t just step up certain aspects of the Blonde and the Amber to make this beer darker, because doing that makes it harder to get the style’s overall character right. Instead, we need to redesign the recipe to make it do what the brown BdG requires. We need a snow blower.
The guidelines tell us that as Bieres de Garde move toward the darker end of the spectrum, the malt complexity and intensity increase, and hops receded. Since we’re going full-on brown here (I know the SRM max is 19, but this pushes the envelope on that a bit), hops cease to be a major concern. They’re a noticeable and vital component in the blonde, supplemental and valuable in the amber…and hardly relevant at all in the brown, in my humble opinion.
What cannot be compromised, however, is the feel of the beer. Mouthfeel is central here, and preserving a light, “lean” body while also imparting higher-order malt complexity presents a fun recipe challenge. By style, this isn’t a dramatic change from the amber, just like a couple of inches more snow isn’t a dramatic change in the weather, but I find that this new target benefits from a very different recipe.
Munich malt is back: we start with half Munich, half Pilsner, about five pounds of each. We’re shaking up the character malts here, too. Half a pound of British Crystal 65, half a pound of Special B, and three ounces of Carafa Special III (the dehusked black malt) round out the grist. The higher-Lovibond crystals add more toffee and toast flavors (along with some ester-mimicking fruit), and the Carafa Special will adjust for color as well as add a deep, dark note without roasting up our beer. Now, to ensure that we’re light enough in body while being heavy in flavor/ABV and dark in color, we also add 1.5 pounds of straight cane sugar.
Maintain your 30 IBUs, but leave out the late hops addition entirely. I mean, you can add it, but I wouldn’t expect that you’ll derive much noticeable hops character out of it! The style guidelines don’t prohibit it, explicitly, but we really do want those malt flavors to be the star of the show here.
Finally, you can stick with the German Ale yeast (Wyeast 1007), but I’ll understand if you use a dedicated Biere de Garde strain instead. Alternatively, you might experiment with a more ester-forward yeast; the style allows for it, and they’ll be competing with more malt flavors. One note of caution, though: I’d still avoid traditional Belgian or Weizen strains. They often yield a range of spicy and fruity flavors that distract from your flavor profile. I’d stick with non-Bavarian German or British strains.
Since this recipe has a larger dose of simple sugars, it can be a little easier to keep under control in terms of body. Not only that, but even as those richer flavors increase the perception of body, I rarely hear beer judges complain about it in darker versions of Biere de Garde (though they definitely have in my paler versions that didn’t finish up as well!), assuming you don’t go too far overboard into the thick and heavy. Mash at 152F for 60 minutes, and boil as usual.
For fermentation, choose a temperature appropriate to yield a moderate amount of esterification for your chosen yeast strain. In the German Ale, this means about 67F. For any and all of them, though, continue to start low-ish (below 68F) and then ramp up, both to aid in attenuation and also to avoid the production of precursors, off-flavors, and hot alcohols that can result from showing yeast that big simple sugar buffet and just letting them rip at higher initial temperatures!
Carbonation can land anywhere from 2-2.5 volumes of CO2, based on your preference.
Biere de Garde is not only a flexible style, it’s an approachable one. I’ve had a lot of success (with all three color variations) in “selling” non-craft beer lovers on both homebrew and commercial craft beer by handing out BdG, and I try to keep some on hand. It is definitely and noticeably flavorful, packs a reasonable alcohol punch, but doesn’t go overboard on bitterness or body in a way that would turn off some drinkers (in the way that a Double IPA or Imperial Stout would). Brew this one for you, but think about it as a great beer for “them,” too!