Biere de mars is an obscure subcategory of biere de garde, which itself is an obscure category of rustic, medium-bodied malty farmhouse ales originally brewed to nourish farmworkers in what used to be the Kingdom of Flanders (now parts of France and Belgium).
However, with beer fiends' never-ending quest for the next big thing, biere de mars may not be obscure much longer — particularly since American craft breweries such as New Belgium Brewing Co., Brewery Ommegang, Southampton Publick House and Jolly Pumpkin Brewery have each released their own take on the style in the past few years.
But like saisons and other farmhouse ales, bieres de mars are linked less by specific flavor attributes and more by the timing and way in which they were traditionally brewed. Bieres de mars were made in early winter, when the cellars were cool, with the best available malt and hops, according to "Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition," by Southampton Publick House brewmaster Phil Markowski. The beers' fermentation would then be slow and cool, producing a smooth, malty, almost lagerlike beer.
Today, craft brewers' takes on the style are complex and malty. They often feature brettanomyces, a strain of wild yeast that produces tart and funky flavors.
Bieres de mars, which are released in March, fit the season, said Ron Jeffries, owner and brewer of Jolly Pumpkin, in Dexter, Mich. "People drink differently in winter than they do in the summer," he said. "In the winter they tend to drink richer, more sustaining beers and lighter beers in the summer. Biere de mars bridges the gap between the two."
Brewery Ommegang Biere De Mars:
an auburn ale with sour notes of hay, orange and green apples.
Jolly Pumpkin Biere De Mars:
a dry brown ale with a funky, tart nose and tart, sour notes of oak, earth and citrus.
New Belgium Lips of Faith Biere de Mars:
a reddish-brown ale with a funky nose and notes of lemon and orange peel, barn and toffee.