Summit Unchained #14: Biere de Garde

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Twin Cities grow thick with new breweries taking turns at traditional styles of beer, and it’s far from a bad thing — it’s raising the bar for quality in a noticeable way. And the last thing we’d bemoan is too much consistently good beer.

But still we’re drawn to the oddballs, the one-offs, the shots in the dark (even those that miss the target). We love it when brewers go out on a limb, and at face value, that’s what Summit is offering with its Unchained Series. As we sip on its fourteenth entry, the bière de garde, we find the series continues its two recent trends: always satisfying and rarely exciting. Don’t get us wrong, the bière de garde is toasty, comforting, and supremely drinkable. It’s one we’d order again but it’s one we feel like we’ve ordered before.

The beer casts a nearly opaque shade of coffee brown. It comes on with Newcastle-like sweetness before coalescing around burly toffee and malt flavors and a faint bitterness. The alcohol sits on the mid-palate before slipping beneath a clean, dry finish. There’s lots of pleasant malt to enjoy in a hearty sip that screams autumn, doubtless a fine companion for something braised or stewed. The official release is next Monday at the Nook.

It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Unchained Series — a balanced, prim and proper draught. But that’s the problem: For the Unchained Series, this beer is securely on the chain. We remember the unique Kolsch and a stunning Wee Heavy. As of late, it’s trending conventionally, with two light, hoppy ales leading to this brew that strikes a familiar fall profile.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This beer is good, it’s textbook good, with a flavor profile photocopied straight from the BJCP guidelines. Look, we’re not expecting Summit to go all Sam Calagione and craft a fig-flavored, kafir-fermented, millet-based imperial sour. But how about a lambic or other fruit beer? Partner with an orchard and bottle a snakebite. Make a good shandy. Make us angry. Make a mistake.

They’re already doing firkins and small experimental batches for their Friday tap room hours, so the willingness to branch out must surely exist. And that’s good, because there are some different avenues to explore before other conventional styles get unchained. Summit has made an EPA the most successful Twin Cities beer of the last quarter century. We have to imagine that kind of brewing muscle has room to flex in a way we haven’t yet seen.

Summit Unchained #14:
Bière de Garde
ABV: 7.3%
IBU: 26
Malts: Pilsen, Special Aromatic, Biscuit, Vienna, Cara Red & De-bittered Black
Hops: Strisselspalt
Yeast: Scottish Ale


  1. Don Osborn

    I’m not sure Summit is in the business of “making a mistake.” They need to sell beer. These one offs and unique batches are calculated risks. They won’t please as many people as EPA, but they are still going to sell. I welcome and applaud the Unchained and Union series. It sounds like for what you want, you should consider looking elsewhere (taprooms of small breweries in town, brewpubs, etc).
    Don in St. Paul

  2. Summit Brewing Company

    Heavy Table,

    While we understand where your challenge is coming from, perhaps you’ve forgotten the original intention of the Unchained Series. The mission of the series is not to push the limits of what can and cannot be done with beer, but to allow our brewers to step outside of the year-round and seasonals portfolio to craft something they are proud to brew, share and drink alongside their beer-loving brothers and sisters.

    Our new Union Series is a bit more aimed at investigating new ingredients available to pro brewers and doing something innovative with them; but again – even that series (while groundbreaking in its own right for its use of uncommon and unique ingredients) is not intended to “blow your mind” with some new off-the-wall concept. It’s about creating quality beers and exploring our craft.

    Our congratulations go out to Jeff Williamson the Summit brew crew for producing yet another interesting and fine beer for the Unchained Series. It’s a perfect sipper for these chilly autumn evenings and we look forward to sharing the beer with friends, family, fans and Summiteers everywhere.

    Also see this video link for more information on the beer and Jeff’s mission in brewing it. Big of history, bit of timeliness, bit of personal enjoyment.

    Chip Walton
    Social Media Nerd
    Summit Brewing Company

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