When our tasting room opens this weekend, we will have some special bottles available for sale, and we hope you’ll be as excited about them as we are.
For a week last spring, we were lucky to be able to play host to Olivier Desbiens, the head brewer at Brasserie Thiriez in the small town of Esquelbecq, France. Founded by Daniel Thiriez in 1996, Thiriez is one of our favorite, and most inspirational, European farmhouse breweries—a consistent producer of beautiful, delicate, drinkable beers; (allegedly) the origin of Wyeast’s 3711 French Saison Yeast strain; and, possibly, the most influential brewery you’ve never heard of. We were extremely flattered that we might have something to teach them, and Olivier spent the week working with our Cellar Lead Sam Hutchens and our hundreds of barrels. At the end of the week, Sam and Olivier put together a blend of five barrels they selected, all of which originated from a single batch, a malty bière de garde inspired beer.
Bière de garde, or “beer for keeping,” is an old farmhouse brewing tradition in the north of France, close to the Belgian border. Based on the seasonality of brewing ingredients and ideal fermentation temperatures, the brewing season for farmers was relatively short. Some farmhouse beers were meant to be consumed fresh and young, but a bière de garde could be kept through the winter, either in barrels or, later, in bottles to tide drinkers over until the next spring. To help with aging, these beers were typically stronger, fuller-bodied, and maltier than the thirst-quenching saisons meant to hydrate farm workers in warmer weather. It’s a style we truly love. We are not a French brewery, though, and we make no claim that what we call our “Barrel-Aged Skagitonian Bière de Garde”, is in any way exactly like what you would find or might have previously found in Northern France. Instead, it’s our riff on the style and tradition, made using our local resources and inspiration, including a variety of specialty malts from Skagit Valley Malting, Skagit-grown raw wheat, Pacific Northwest Crystal and Loral hops, and our house culture of naturally cultivated indigenous yeast. We’re especially thrilled to have had the opportunity to assemble the final blend together with Olivier, a brewer for whom we have so much admiration, from the place where bière de garde first began.
While Olivier’s help in selecting barrels for the final blend was instrumental, we’ve consciously chosen not to use the word “collaboration” when describing it. Collaborating with other breweries can be incredibly fun, and there are many, many wonderful, talented brewers throughout the world that we love and admire and from whom we could learn a great deal. But we also want to be sure that any “collaboration” we do is a true partnership, where all parties are contributing their greatest strengths, in order to achieve something that none of the participants could have accomplished on their own. The crux of our beer-making is long-term fermentation with our house native yeast culture, and collaborating on a recipe, especially away from our brewery, doesn’t necessarily showcase what makes us unique. Working together with another brewer to select and blend barrels from our cellar is much more up our alley, and we intend to do more of this in the future, both at Garden Path and on the road. We won’t call them “collaborations,” though, unless the end product incorporates significant components from both participants or unless both were present throughout the entirety of the process. Regardless, having the opportunity to spend a week with Olivier, one of the best bière de garde brewers in the world, and to be able to incorporate his insights into this blend was truly inspirational.
Why the name? The week that Olivier visited us, our friends at Shelton Brothers Importers announced that the 2019 Shelton Brothers: The Festival—which Garden Path and Thiriez would both be attending—would take place in Buffalo, New York. Once the announcement was made, we knew immediately what the beer we were making would have to be called.
The buffalo sentence, which is typically written with seven or eight uses of the word, is the longest complete grammatical sentence in the English language that can be formed from repeating a single word (though we later discovered that there are at least two other words that can also function the same way). If you’re curious, you can read more about its origins here. After reading this article, we realized that you can keep adding buffalo infinitely and it will still make sense, so we decided to take ours to 11! Buffalo(nian) buffalo [that] Buffalo(nian) buffalo buffalo (i.e. bully) buffalo (i.e. bully) [other] Buffalo(nian) buffalo [that] Buffalo(nian) buffalo buffalo (i.e. bully).
The beer premiered at The Festival in October, was released on draft in our tasting room and select locations throughout Western Washington shortly thereafter, and is now finally available in 750ml bottles.
The label art was created by Paul Marko, an old and dear friend from Buffalo who tried the beer at The Festival and felt inspired to design an obstinacy of buffalo for us.
The base beer for Buffalo… was brewed in August of 2018, with Copeland Dark Munich and NZ151 malt, malted red wheat, and raw Yecura Rojo wheat from Skagit Valley Malting, PNW Loral and Crystal hops, and our naturally cultivated native yeast culture. It was fermented in an open foudre, conditioned for two and a half months in a closed horizontal foudre, and aged an additional seven months in oak barrels. It was blended and packaged in May of 2019 and spent several more months naturally conditioning with blackberry honey in bottles and kegs. Buffalo… has notes of spice, white pepper, and stonefruit in the nose, and a malty, lightly tart palate with a hint of marmalade. We’re very proud of this beer, and we’re so happy to finally share it with you in bottles.
We’ll announce our next, very exciting, new release tomorrow!