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Classic Beer of the Month March 2012: Saison Dupont
Saison Dupont, 6.5%
Saison. A style of beer that is winning new fans all over the world, a real beneficiary of the ‘world beer’ phenomenon.
This historic beer style from the Wallonia part of Belgium has much in common with the bières de garde from just-over-the-border northern France.
Both, traditionally, are farmhouse beers, brewed to quench the thirst of farmhands in summer, but – because of the difficulties of controlling fermentation in warm weather – actually produced in the winter or spring.
The enforced long maturation period – and the generous hand with hops, which acted as a natural preservative – enhanced the character.
Because of the dry, dusty nature of the work the farm labourers were involved in, the beer that became known simply as saison (season) needed to be crisp and quenching.
It is possible – again for reasons of work and efficiency – that early examples were not always strong but, as the original destination of the finished product has changed, so the strength has stabilized at a reasonably high level.
The general idea of a saison now involves a beer of around 6.5%.
Much of the profile of what a saison is or should be is based on one beer in particular. Saison Dupont is the jewel in the crown of a brewery established on a farm not far from the city of Tournai. The Dupont family took control in the 1920s and – reaffirming the business’s farming roots – also run a cheese dairy on site.
Labelled at times ‘Vieille Provision’, Saison Dupont is produced from pilsner malt and seasoned with Golding hops. After primary fermentation, it is matured for a couple of weeks in tank, before bottle conditioning.
Six Weeks Must Pass
The concept of months of storage has long gone but six weeks must pass after bottling before the beer is ready for release.
Hazy golden in colour, the beer generates a rich, moussey foam when poured. Yeasty spice fills the aroma, with a juicy combination of fruits such as lemon, orange and melon wafting from the glass.
The same fruitiness marks the taste, but there’s no getting away from the sappy, herbal hoppiness that stops this being just another fruity, strong ale – especially when it continues long and deep into the robust bitter finish.
The texture is bready but the raised carbonation ensures the beer is brisk and lively on the tongue. The hungry Dupont yeast also plays its part, nibbling away at the sugars to give the beer its trademark dryness, notably in the finish.
So is Saison Dupont really the epitome of the style? It’s hard to say for sure.
It’s likely that, in the old days, there wasn’t really a pattern for saison from brew to brew, as different ingredients would have been used and consistency was never an issue, bearing in mind the beer never went on commercial sale.
It’s even less certain today, when brewers all around the world are offering their own adventurous take on the style and producing saisons that are dark in colour, saisons that feature added spices, saisons laced with fruits and other exotica.
So, sometimes you can get too hung up on style. Let the historians argue it out. Just get on and finish the glass.