de Garde Brewing Biography

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About one year ago, in April 2017, I launched SpontaneousBeer.com. The goal of the website was to establish a dynamic, digital repository for American spontaneous beer production. The concept for SpontaneousBeer.com was the culmination of my admiration for Lambic.info‘s detailed record of traditional Belgian lambic production and my love for American spontaneous beers.

Unfortunately, that endeavor was fleeting. I wrote just two entries for SpontaneousBeer.com featuring Allagash Brewing Company and Jester King Brewery, which were also summarized here and here. Not to long after publishing the entries, my efforts on SpontaneousBeer.com caught the eye of Dan Pixley and Dave Janssen at Milk The Funk, the communal authority on alternative yeast and bacteria fermentation. After a few months of email exchanges, I decided to forgo the SpontaneousBeer.com project to instead integrate my research on American spontaneous beer production into the Milk The Funk wiki.

Today I am happy to announce my first formal contribution to Milk The Funk; the de Garde Brewery biography! While the page hasn’t yet been reviewed by de Garde nor have we added photographs, it contains more than 12-months of research and approximately one month of writing! I am incredible proud of the (nearly) finished product.

I chose de Garde as my first brewery of focus for several reasons. First and foremost, de Garde produces some of the best beer I have ever had, hands down. But more than that, de Garde also is one of the world’s most innovative breweries, even recognized as the first exclusive spontaneous beer producer in the United States. And as if that wasn’t enough, founders Linsey and Trevor Rogers are world-class, passionate beer enthusiasts who are wholly committed to producing the best beer at more than reasonable prices.

de Garde Co-founder and Head Brewer Trevor Rogers

I recommend you head on over to the Milk The Funk page for a complete overview, but here are my 10 favorite facts about the brewery:

#1 – Brewery Location Selection

Before selecting a physical home for the brewery, Rogers wanted to qualify potential locations for spontaneous fermentation character. He exposed sterile wort to ambient microflora along more than 100 miles of the Oregon Coast (from Newport to Astoria), originally targeted for its consistent year-round temperature and climate. Using a grist of pilsner and wheat, Rogers brewed 15-gallon trial batches on a MoreBeer! Tippy-Dump BrewSculpture. The wort was chilled and split into food grade buckets, standardized to 1-gallon volumes for consistency. The buckets were brought to prospective locations and left uncovered overnight, emulating the function of a coolship. Once retrieved, the beer was allowed to ferment for approximately 12 months before undergoing sensory assessment to understand the unique representation of ambient microflora from that area. Rogers noticed a distinct sensory difference in spontaneously fermented trial beers in as few as 10 miles apart. This trial batch method allowed Rogers to refine his list of prospective locations and repeat batches to qualify consistency. Ultimately, Tillamook was selected for its desirable microflora character and shorter fermentation timeline.

#2 – Year Round Spontaneous Fermentation

Overall, spontaneous fermentation character is consistent year round but intra-batch variation (from barrel to barrel) varies widely.

#3 – Novel Mash Regimen

Rogers experimented with traditional turbid mash regimens but switched to a modern approach instead. He uses a typical mash procedure, featuring a higher-than-normal mash temperature, bordering on the edge of denaturing conversion enzymes, for most beers. In general, de Garde produces wort that “could be found at any brewery” with the exception of more adjuncts, such as wheat. Mash pH is adjusted on occasion, specifically for the Berliner Weisse/gose-inspired recipes since brewers intentionally avoid the enteric bacteria phase of spontaneous fermentation to shorten fermentation duration and produce less funky character.

#4 – Wort Sour Technique for Spontaneous Berliner

For the Berliner Weisse/gose-inspired beers, the coolship inoculated wort is transferred back into the kettle and held between 100-120°F (with 110°F as a target) for approximately 48-72 hours to encourage acidification from ambient lactic acid bacteria. This contributes to a relatively clean, yet still slightly funky character in the beer. After the warm temperature hold is complete, the wort is transferred to oak barrels and allowed to cool naturally.

#5 – Heaps of Fruit

De Garde commonly adds fruit to their spontaneous beers, using ratios inspired from Belgian lambic producers. Their default fruit-to-beer ratio is 2.0 lb/gal with exceptions for aggressive fruits (cranberry and currant) at 1.0 lb/gal and delicate fruits (peach) as high as 4.0 lb/gal. Brewers use a variety of fruit formats but prefer fresh or frozen. Purees are occasionally used for beers due to seasonal limitations. Rogers prefers frozen fruit for its enhanced color and flavor. He is particularly fond of wine grapes (due to his love of wine), especially grapes that express a strong sense of terroir. Beer is conditioned on fruit until the desired character is obtained, ranging from one week to three months.

#6 – The Overall Goal

Rogers’ greatest goal is to produce drinkable beer with character He craves depth of flavor, funk, and nuance – not just aggressive acidity or fruit.

#7 – Spontaneous Beer Cans

The brewery would eventually like to package beers in cans to allow for greater portability and lower cost, further emphasizing Rogers’ goal to produce the least expensive beer he can. Ideally, Rogers would like to target a $10 4-pack of 16 oz cans.

#8 – Doing It All By Hand

Bottles are gravity filled, capped individually using a pneumatic capper, hand-labeled and stamped.

#9 – Embrace Variation

Rogers recognizes there is going to be a natural blend-to-blend and bottle-to-bottle variation with spontaneous beers and that it’s not a flaw rather just part of the process. He believes you lose the greatness of spontaneous beer if you try to produce the same thing every time.

#10 – Direct to Customer

Roughly 90-95% of de Garde’s beers are sold directly out of the tasting room.

The Very Many Varieties of de Garde Beers

Want to learn even more about de Garde? Check out the sources below to dig into the primary and secondary research I used to construct the de Garde Brewery biography!

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