Castelain is an artisanal independent brewer of the Pas de Calais region. Ben McFarland describes its history like this: “Much like its English equivalent northern French brewing history is heavily entwined with the region’s rich industrial heritage. While the coal mining has waned, brewing goes on, and Castelain, brewing in Benifontaine since 1926, is a big brewer of the Biere de Garde. The biggest seller is this sweet, slightly bitter, and herbal blonde made four types of hops.”
Annick Castelain, the proprietor and granddaughter of the founder of the brewery, is a central operative in the revival of artisanal brewing in France. She is doing this against a backdrop where more than 90% of the beer consumed is made by industrial brewers. She is a rare woman executive in the French brewing community.
Despite different languages, the people of greater Flanders share a great deal of common heritage—cultural, geographic, and political. Among the French provinces, French Flanders is the one that possesses the longest and richest history of beer making. The first breweries here date from the time of Charlemagne. Five mills and four breweries were found at Lille which was then part of the royal domain of Annappes. As early as 967, the Abbey of Saint Bavas-les-Esquerinesat Lilles ran two breweries.
“The Flemish are earthy lovers of life; the French have great style. The Flemish French have both qualities. People will tell you that Lille (the center of French Flanders) is an industrial city, an old textile town, but it also has fine Flemish architecture, beer of a matching flavor, local gins and its own hearty style of French food. The surrounding countryside varies from a former coal field to hop gardens to the poppy strewn Flanders’ field and sand-duned beaches of wartime memory as it fans out to Dunkirk and Calais in the west.”
– Michael Jackson, All About Beer
Among the styles that evolved over time perhaps the most idiosyncratic, and enduring are the Bieres de Gardes. These are hybrid beers—being top fermented (like ales) and cool aged (like lagers). By maturing at cold temperatures for a month or more, Bieres de Gardes have a wonderfully refreshing quality that is unusual for beers with their depth of flavor. These beers were originally all made at farmhouse breweries in the winter months when work on the farm slowed. They were then stored (garder means to store) until the summer season. They were thirst quenchers for the farm hands after long hours in the fields.
“The sweetest among the Bieres de Gardes … earthy, grassy, citrussy, slightly sticky palate, with aromatic maltiness; long finish. A beer to go with food.”
“What a treat, champagne corked, smooth, delicious. A wonderful brew; a good hop balance and fruity malt flavor.”
– Fred Eckhardt, All About Beer
“Cookie like maltiness, plummy fruitiness, and slightly iron-like port wine notes.”
-Michael Jackson, All About Beer