In both French beer and French music, the farmhouse sometimes represents high style.
Most people who think of alcohol traditions in France think of winemaking. But an obscure style called the bière de garde shows that the French also are proud of their brewing heritage.
Bière de garde (translation: “beer which has been kept”) is kin to the Belgian saison, and both beers often are called “farmhouse” ales. Michael Agnew described the style in an article for Growler magazine. “The roots of the style lie in the days when brewing beer was a farmstead activity,” he writes. “Beer was brewed from the ingredients at hand for family or local consumption.” Keith Klemp uses words such as “individualistic,” “smooth,” “mellow,” and “spicy” to describe bière de garde.
The BachBeer team recently sampled an award-winning bière de garde at Sugar Creek Brewing in Charlotte, NC. Sugar Creek has earned accolades for its authentic, meticulously crafted Belgian ales. Mags and Seb visited the brewery on the night before its third anniversary.
The floral aromas of the hops and the soft spiciness of Belgian yeast enrich the subtle harmony of Sugar Creek’s Bière de Garde. But the stars of the show are the eight specialty malts, which give the brew a honey-and-caramel sweetness and a deep amber color. This opus by Sugar Creek is one of the rare beers that looks as good as it tastes.
Biére de garde pairs well with the music of César Franck. Born in Liège, which is in modern-day Belgium, Franck spent most of his life in Paris and is known today as an important French composer. Like a farmhouse beer, the famed improviser made the most of whatever was at hand.
In the latter half of his life, Franck had at hand an organ by Cavaille-Coll, the leading organ builder in France. Franck was the organist at Ste. Clotilde, and the Cavaille-Coll instrument was installed there in 1859. Soon afterwards, Franck composed his first major organ works, the Six Pièces, Op. 16-21.
One of these six pieces, the Pastorale, is especially consistent with the style of farmhouse beers. The Pastorale‘s title evokes agriculture with its reference to the world of the shepherd. In the music, as in the beer, beautiful color makes the first impression. Franck paints the melody on a delicate, nasal reed against a backdrop of rich flute tones. The tune is mellow and sweet, but notes of spice frequently appear. Franck seasons the music with piquant harmony in the accompaniment, and he adds variety with the thunderstorm that rolls through the middle of the piece. Vincent DuBois, titular organist of Notre-Dame in Paris, lovingly performs the piece in this YouTube clip below.
The BachBeer team is lucky to live so close to Sugar Creek Brewing. What good beers are at hand in your neck of the woods? What music pairs well with them? Let us know in the comments below.