You know…at long last bieres de gardes are getting their due. Maybe it took the ascendance of Saison Dupont and the embrace of the style by American craft brewers. Maybe it was the rise of farmstead brewing in America. (we built the first farmstead brewery in the US in 2003 with Ommegang). At any rate American beer lovers are discovering the elegant, nuanced and balanced beers of Brasserie Castelain. We are loving the way that Castelain is tasting on tap at Trencherman with Michael & Patrick Sheerin’s(Jena Georges, Lutece Blackbird etc) delicious dishes in our home town of Chicago.
Castelain Grand Cru won a coveted gold in the World Beer Championships in June 2012. Here’s what the judges wrote:
“Bright amber gem color. Lovely aromas of toasted fruit custard, pastry and delicate spice with a supple fruity, yet dry, medium to full body, and long mouthwatering citrus souffle pepper, and grassy hop flourish. A delicious seamless sipper or table Old World beer.”
This coming month Castelain Grand Cru is is being featured in the Rare Beer Club. They have kindly released their tasting notes to Vanberg & Dewulf . We are delighted AND we agree.
Castelain Grand Cru
Many Bières de Garde are wonderful examples of “hybrid” beer, quite like Germany’s Kölsch. In this case, the hybrid description refers to a beer being top fermented (like an ale) yet cool-aged for an extended period (like a lager). The result is a beer with great depth of flavor, smoothed out by time and low temperatures for 6-10 weeks. Indeed, we’ll advise right upfront that this beer is impressively slaking for a beer of nearly 16 proof. A variant, known simply as Castelain, has been made by the brewery for many years and was described by famed late beer writer Michael Jackson as: “the sweetest among the Bière de Gardes. Earthy, grassy, citrusy, slightly sticky palate, with aromatic maltiness: long finish. A beer to go with food.” Grand Cru is a ramped up version of that beer—the brewery’s strongest, in fact. So let’s stop keeping and start tasting, shall we? Pours a deep, coppery straw color and wears a nice dressing of creamy, off white foam. On the nose, expect a delicately floral aroma. We found it to be lightly honeyed, with a faint note of gingerbread dough. Also distinctly nutty—we interpreted this as almonds, perhaps chestnuts (sweeter nuts). Not surprisingly then, there’s also a very prominent Marzipan note—further showcasing the nutty sweetness of the locally sourced Pas de Calais malt. As it warms, a prominent grassiness develops atop an earthy backdrop. Overall impression: smells like quite a big, rich beer. On the palate, we got a complex blend of moderate sweetness and balancing bitterness, with a minor acidity. A muted funkiness of a farmhouse lilt keeps it rustic within the larger context of balance. Look for notes of orange zest, with the nutty sweetness from the aroma breaking late and holding on into the finish. The bitterness is only moderate, yet contributes toward a very lengthy finish. Overall, this well-carbonated beer showcases a profound balance of malt and hop—truly classic old world beer. But perhaps most notable is the lager-like cleanliness—a result of the ale yeast being fermented at very low temperatures, then cool-conditioned for nearly 10 weeks. For a beer of this caliber and complexity, the refreshing nature is not only impressive, it’s downright dangerous. The label has great suggestions for pairing, and they’re spot on: roast chicken, country sausages (we tried with venison—delicious!), assertively flavored cheeses (our pick was a semi-soft goat cheese, stuffed in mushrooms).
This is a difficult to find beer. While that rarity may tempt you to horde the stuff, should you opt to “garder” your own samples of this beer; we suggest checking in on them over 3-month intervals for no more than a year, as they’ve effectively been pre-aged by the brewery for you. Our proposal is that you serve this one up with numerous meals during these late summer days—and share it with friends whenever possible—especially outdoors where its thirst quenching properties will be best revealed. But do mind that ABV—it’s stronger than it seems!
Serving Temperature: 45-50° F
Alcohol by Volume: 7.8%
Style: Blonde Bière de Garde
Suggested Glassware: Tulip or Oversized Wine Glass