True story: in France, more Scotch whisky is sold in one month than Cognac is sold in a year. And while Singaporeans drink more Scotch per capita, and the U.S. imports more in terms of monetary value, by sheer volume the French are the number one buyers of Scotch (almost 180 million bottles in 2014, according to the Scotch Whisky Association).
Is it a relic of the Auld Alliance, a fetish for something other than brandy and calvados, or something else? Do the French just know a good thing when they see it? Regardless, the love of pot-distilled, sherry oak-matured malt spirit in that country has been a bellwether for some French brewers as well. The Alsatian brewery Fischer (Groupe Pêcheur in its home country) was credited by Michael Jackson with starting the trend of bières au malt à whisky, brewed with a proportion of Scottish whisky malt.
We’ll take inspiration from that to brew an amber autumn-into-winter bière de garde that speaks with a slight peat-smoked accent.
A recipe to try
Auld Alliance Peated Bière de Garde
Target OG: 1.056–58, Target IBU: 21–22
- 10 pounds Château Vienna
- 4 ounces Weyermann® CARABOHEMIAN®
- 2 ounces Simpsons Peated Malt
- 2 ounces French Strisselspalt
- Wyeast 2112 California Lager, WLP810 San Francisco Lager, or SafLager W-34/70
Key points for key pints
Lager yeast at warm-ish temps. I like to think of bière de garde as a saison seen through the lens of a Bavarian lager brewer—much cleaner, malt-forward, but not totally absent some amount of fermentation character. Like many modern producers we’ll use a lager strain for fermentation but not fuss over temp control in primary: 65–68°F is l’argent liquide.
Moderation is a virtue… Friends don’t let friends over-peat. Peated malt is a powerful flavoring in a beer, and can become palate-fatiguing. At the around one percent inclusion rate used here, it will be a complementary supporting note, blending in with the scenery and mostly behaving itself.
…unless you really like peat. For fans of the more aggressive Islay malts or those who just really like their smoked beers turned up to 11, the amount of peated malt in the grist could be doubled or even tripled, but it will quickly become the centerpiece of the finished beer, crowding out the Vienna and color malts and any fermentation character.
Hop substitutes. If French Strisselspalt hops prove hard to source, Mt. Hood or Crystal would be good alternates.
Riffs & variations:
- Omit the peated malt and replace 10–20% of the Vienna with a beechwood- or oak-smoked malt for a more pervasive but mellower smoke character.
- Goose the gravity and color with 8–12 ounces of dark candi sugar or syrup in the boil.
- Soak an ounce or two of French medium- or medium-plus toast oak cubes in sherry or port wine for a couple days, then add the cubes to secondary.
To the homebrewery
Note: These steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process. Refer to the instructions for your brew system and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.
1. Make a yeast starter prior to brew day—this is a big beer and will need lots of yeast!
2. On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approximately 165°F.
3. Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.
Mash & sparge
1. Add all grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 151–153°F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60–90 minutes. While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.
2. When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170°F for mashout.
3. Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
1. Bring the wort to a boil and have a dram of something from the Islands and/or Highlands (Campbeltown would also be acceptable). Add 1.5 ounces Strisselspalt hops when the wort begins to boil, and boil for 60 minutes.
2. Cool it!
Fermentation and beyond
1. Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate well, and pitch yeast.
2. Aim for a pitching temp of 63–65°F, and a fermentation temp of roughly 65–68°F. When fermentation activity begins to slow, allow the fermenter to warm up to approximately 70°F for a two to three day diacetyl rest. Depending on yeast and temp, this step should be completed within 14 days.
3. Rack to a secondary fermenter and crash cool for clarification. Depending on chosen yeast strain, temperature, and other factors this may take days or weeks—if needed, use a fining agent like gelatin or Biofine prior to packaging. Cork-and-cage finish Belgian-style bottles make for a beautiful presentation, but our peated bière de garde will do great on draft as well.
4. This beer will drink well at six to eight weeks, but will continue to improve and evolve for several months if stored in a dark, cool place.
Until next time: Drink it like you brewed it.