Long before I savored my first legal, or illegal, sip of beer, my major high school hobby was music. Nights meant attending concerts, mainly punk and indie rock, moshing madly or nodding my head with cultivated indifference. Daylight hours were devoured at record stores, flicking through CDs, bypassing well-known bands in search of the next big thing—the more esoteric, the better.
My parents could have their Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I held aloft left-of-the-dial rockers like Archers of Loaf, The Afghan Whigs and Jawbreaker, seeking their seven-inch records with fervor reserved for hunters of hard-to-find treasure.
... saisons were grade-A refreshments, Gatorade that gave the workday a little glow.
It was a pattern I followed during the early days of my beer awakening. Having seen beyond the lights, both Natural and Coors, I pounded pungent IPAs packed with dump trucks of hops, imperial stouts seasoned in bourbon barrels and barley wines strong enough to make me see double after a single bottle—the more esoteric, the better.
As with music, knowledge of unknown beers provided perceived power, one that skewed too close to snobbishness. At beer shops, I occasionally acted like the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, pooh-poohing lagers simply to sound superior. Today, I happily listen to Hank Williams and Bob Dylan, understanding the lasting brilliance of standard-bearers. Determined to not repeat my past, I pledged to explore brewing’s classics, monk-made ales and German lagers alike. Bottle by bottle, I built my foundational beer smarts and fell deeply in love.
The carbonated object of my affection was Belgium’s Saison Dupont, the yardstick by which all saisons are measured. Let’s rewind for a second: Saisons (French for "season") originated in the 19th century in southern Belgium’s agrarian Wallonia region, which is patchworked with grain farms. Back then potable drinking water was a pipe dream, so Belgian farmers brewed beer (primarily during winter, when the risk of infected batches was lower) that handled farmhands’ thirst during the hot harvest season. Dry, earthy, grassy and complex, saisons were grade-A refreshments, Gatorade that gave the workday a little glow.
Since its inception, the farmstead style has become a blank movie screen, accepting of brewers’ endlessly unique projections. Some saisons are floral featherweights, others strong and spiced with peppercorns, guava or even chocolate. You can funk a saison up with wild yeast, or make it smell like a field of spring flowers. There’s no right. There’s no wrong. But there’s only one Saison Dupont Vieille Provision.
The hazy golden saison is highly complex, snappy and effervescent, citrusy and spicy, with echoes of bubble gum and a trumpet blast of bitterness enduring long after your last sip.
Since 1844, a little farmstead-brewery in Tourpes, Belgium, has been making beers of the most wonderful sort. Today, Brasserie Dupont (it commenced brewing on the farm in 1950) marries peerless craftsmanship with stylistic dexterity. Its family of beers veers from woodruff-laced Posca Rustica to fruity and roasty Monk’s Stout, low-alcohol Avril table beer, and strong and golden Moinette Blond—the brewery’s top-performer in Belgium. Across the Atlantic, Dupont is celebrated for saisons, including the organic, herbal Forêt and Avec les Bons Vœux, a zesty, lemony and wonderfully warming Christmas brew.
However, I’m here to discuss Saison Dupont. The corked-and-caged farmhouse ale is fashioned with the brewery’s whistle-clean filtered well water and, most crucially, a hearty yeast strain that’s legendary in brewing circles. The microbes are madly ravenous, devouring most every sugar morsel so that the beer, despite its 6.5 percent ABV, is drier than California tinder. The hazy golden saison is highly complex, snappy and effervescent, citrusy and spicy, with echoes of bubble gum and a trumpet blast of bitterness enduring long after your last sip. In short, it’s the ideal desert island beer.
That’s easy to forget. With tens of thousands of beers clogging the marketplace, even legends are often overlooked for flashy new things. However, Brasserie Dupont has provided a compelling reason for a revisit, recently releasing the limited-edition Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry Hopping. For each version (this is the third), master brewer Olivier Dedeycker aromatically gooses the saison with a unique hop, this season being England’s Minstrel.
Gone is that spicy, herbal note, replaced by ripe berries and orange peel. The tweak is a total treat, building upon the saison’s structure and supplying a fresh, exhilarating edge. Cuvée Dry Hopping is a classic song, remixed into a new hit.
Whether it’s an initial introduction or you’re overdue for a return, it’s time you gave Saison Dupont a spin.