Originally published in What’s Brewing June 2004
Origin: Saint Sylvestre Cappel, Nord, France
ABV: 8 per cent
Buy from Specialist shops, beer festivals
The low-lying countryside of northern France is dotted with farmhouse breweries. Much of this area was formerly Flanders: Dutch personal and place names are everywhere and the language itself persists in places. But the local beer styles are distinct from those of neighbouring Belgium.
The village of Saint Sylvestre Cappel (St Sylvester’s Chapel) between Steenvoorde and Hazebrouck boasts around 1,100 inhabitants and one of the finest breweries in the region, simply named Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre. Though ownership records date only from 1850, there was a brewery here since before the Revolution. It was sold in 1920 to the Ricour family who still own it today.
The brewery offers the characteristic local speciality, bière de garde, a strong pale ale style developed in the mid-19th century to quench the thirst of local miners and farm workers. Before modern refrigeration techniques became widely available, brewing good pale beer in summer was impossible, so these were “beers for keeping” to drink in the summer season.
Saint-Sylvestre’s flagship beer, Trois Monts, is named after the three modest hills that surround the village and once staked out the range of the brewery’s dray. This beer is now pasteurised and available all year round, but in 1985 the Ricours revived the seasonal tradition with a speciality brewed in December for release in May.
Borrowing from wine terminology, this beer is labelled “Bière nouvelle sur lie”, new beer on its lees, for the local market; export bottles bear the name Bière de Mars, March beer. The most recent harvest of pale and Munich malts, wheat and local hops are used. After its initial conditioning the beer is filtered and placed with yeast and sugar primings in thick brown 75cl bottles, their corks held in place with metal clips.
Bière nouvelle comes out an attractive ruby-tinged amber colour with a fine soft foam head. The restrained hops and malt aroma yields a little spice and creamy yeast, leading to a very full malty palate with a moussey texture and a firm nuttiness characteristic of the best bières de garde.
It’s slightly tannic on the swallow with the faintly sour signature of a stored beer, leading to a warming, nicely malty finish with more nuttiness and apple and pineapple fruit and, eventually, quite bitter hops. Overall this is a big, full-bodied and rather stern beer that takes its tradition seriously, very rewarding of a contemplative sip.
Try also: Trois Monts, Castelain Ch’ti Ambrée, Jeanne d’Arc Grain d’Orge, Vapeur Saison de Pipaix (Belgium)
Read more at ratebeer.com: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/st-sylvestre-biere-nouvelle/7326/