While we're all taught that you can't judge a book by its cover, one shouldn't avoid scanning the local beer shelves to see what's eye-catching. One of my first beer-shopping stops always seems to be the aisle containing the 22-ounce bottles, or "bombers," with their provocative labels and unique releases. That approach recently brought me to Rendezvous, a crisp, dry beer made in the French style called Bière de Garde, made by Lakefront Brewery.
What is it? Rendezvous from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee.
Style: Bière de Garde is a style that originates in northern France. It used to be commonly made in farmhouses during the winter and spring, thereby avoiding the unpredictable summertime heat that would affect yeast in unfavorable ways. The practice also guaranteed there would be plenty of beer for thirsty farmworkers during the growing season.
The light- to medium-bodied Bière de Garde is commonly golden to deep copper, or even light brown, in color. It often has a malty aroma, sometimes with hints of light toasted qualities. It has a slightly sweet maltiness with medium hop bitterness and light fruity esters. You may even find some cellar-like musty aromas and finish, especially in bottle-conditioned versions. They are commonly strong beers that range up to 8% ABV.
Background: Lakefront first made Rendezvous in 1999 as an exclusive house beer for the Coquette Café in Milwaukee's historic Third Ward. Brewery owner Russ Klisch says the restaurant came to him for a special beer, and Biere de Garde was a style that no one else was doing at the time.
The beer is made with four types of malt, which include German and Belgian specialty grains that offer body and color. The distinctive French Ale yeast combines with Mount Hood and Saaz hops for a unique light, dry and crisp fruity flavor profile.
Rendezvous takes about two to three weeks to make, and it finishes at 7.2% ABV. It is a year-round beer that sells for around $5-$6 for single 22-ounce bottles.
The beer is part of Lakefront's stepped-up presence in offering large-bottle brews. The brewery recently started selling four-packs of 22-ounce bottles called the 88 Sampler Pack, for $18-$20 -- the name reflects the 88 ounces that you get from the combined four bombers in the carton. Currently, one of the four beers in the package is Rendezvous, while the others include Fixed Gear, Bridge Burner, and BA, an India Black Ale. This summer, the brewery will add to the series with "My Turn" beers, where the individual brewers at Lakefront take turns making a beer of their choosing for the bomber bottles.
- Aroma: Lightly floral with hints of yeastiness.
- Appearance: Hazy amber with a light reddish tint, and a medium to thick, soft, off-white to light tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied and bubbly.
- Taste: Crisp, light, yeasty flavor. There is a light maltiness up front. However, the light dry bitterness combines nicely with a yeasty-fruitiness that isn't sweet but just slightly sour.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, with an overall clean finish.
Glassware: A long-stemmed tulip wine glass is a great way to bring attention to the beer's reddish amber color, while the outward flare of the lip supports the soft and delicate off-white head.
Pairs well with: Rendezvous is not a beer well suited for extremely hot or spicy entrées; however, it is a great choice alongside many Indian and/or Mediterranean cuisines that combine veggies and seafood with flavorful sauces and rice. I like it for its crispness, which cleanses the palate between bites.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Rendezvous, as its name implies, is a beer that will bring people together. The 22-ounce bottle is just the right size for two and contributes to a meal much as a dry white wine would. It's a big beer with lots of mouthfeel, firm flavor, and warmth from its 7% ABV. Those qualities and its unique yeasty flavor put it among my favorite Wisconsin-made version of a Bière de Garde.