This is the first time Lost Abbey has appeared on Original Gravity... though LA is a sister brewery to Port Brewing, which has been featured before. Their beers are brewed at Port's facility in San Marcos, though the aesthetic is wildly different. With Lost Abbey, one should be prepared for a lot of biblical references, some allusions to Belgian brewing (hence the abbey in the name) and, of course, some puns for good measure. That leads us to the beer on order tonight -- Avant Garde, the third bière de garde to grace this blog, brewed by none other than Lost Abbey. I've heard good things about this malty, mellow farmhouse ale and I'm glad to be able to enjoy my 750 mL bottle in its entirety due to having the day off tomorrow thanks to a certain blizzard!
After a rather difficult uncorking job, I managed to get this stubborn beer open, and was greeted with some Brett-like yeasty funk even before I poured; excellent! The rustic yeast definitely seems to be making its mark on this brew even before it exits the bottle as the pop of the cork was powerful but didn't cause any overflow. The color is a golden yellow with a lot of particulate opacity and strong, active carbonation. The most outstanding part of this pour is probably the intense, chunky lacing that sticks around permanently even as the beer loses carbonation power. On the nose, this beer is full of fruity esters, Brett yeast, honeyed malts, hay and horse blanket, lemon zest, kiwi and some spicier hop notes; very nice! Refreshing and unique ... it's been a while since I've reviewed a farmhouse/rustic style ale and I'm glad it's becoming almost-the-season to really engage them. The warming 7 percent alcohol is hard to miss in the back of the tongue as a nice, sweet, even maltiness holds down the proceedings. Lacing is still crazy even after half a glass; this is a beautiful beer. Sweet, playful pale malts are definitely a big flavor here, though I get the feeling the metric ton of remaining yeast is also a huge factor in the dry and slightly-wild palate. This is definitely not a "wild" beer though the scent contains a bit of Brett funk; the palate is malty and tense with the very strict flavors of honey, caramel and breadiness melting into very lightly-earthy hops in the finish. Alcohol is not hidden too well and the beer drinks nicely but not in a very furtive way; the deep, malty palate is quite forward with how strong it is. This is almost like a "Winter Warmer" saison. The slight herbal notes of mint, thyme and basil are noted here and there on the tongue as the malts dissipate; overall, this beer seems to demand to be sipped and enjoyed for its complexity and deftness of flavor.
I definitely enjoy the way this drinks like a wheat-based, medium-bodied ale without having any malted wheat added during the brewing process; in fact, the recipe for this beer is quite simple. Two-row barley, honey malt and their own toasted malt (made in their pizza ovens), along with several German and Czech hop varieties combine with a lager yeast hybrid-fermented at higher temperatures. Avant Garde is definitely a style piece no matter how much the brewery thinks it's brewed "to no particular style." Though not made in a farmhouse, it's so heavily inspired by that style of nebulous ale/lagers that it deserves to be placed and imbibed among them. This is very much worth the price tag ($10 for 750 mL/25.4 ounces) and a quite interesting beer. Unfortunately, my experience with Saisons and bières de garde is rather lacking, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed this bottle. This is fantastically well-balanced; it could easily be biased towards the realm of sour beer, but it stays tempered with a malty simplicity and stoic character that is lacking in many European styled beers. It's absolutely worth a shot (if you can find it on the East Coast) and could get you into this rustic, simple-yet-complex style of beer. Not many American brewers give bières de garde a shot, so take the chance to enjoy a bottle of this if you can. Cheers!
The official breakdown:
- Style: Bière de garde
- ABV: 7%
- Appearance: Golden-yellow with a deep orange color when not held to light. Intense lacing and fantastic head retention. Very low clarity
- Scent: Rustic; lemongrass, hay, fresh-picked berries, honey, caramel malt, estery fruitiness, funky Brett-esque yeast, apricot, kiwi; very fruity and earthy
- Taste: Much maltier/sweeter than the nose, with very basic pale malts backed up against yeast-assisted honey malt. Fresh-cut kiwi and citric notes
- Mouthfeel: Carbonation seems active by appearance but the beer itself is very smooth and rather even-tempered; spritzy carb only notable in middle
- Drinkability: Alcohol is not hidden well but feels fine for the style and for the beer itself; great drinkability and smoothness despite heavy middle carbonation