What can I possibly say about Saison Dupont that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?
This is a beer of special magnificence. One that has inspired countless journeys into deeper explorations of the beverage, as well as an entire genre of beer styles. Chances are if you’ve ever tried a beer that says “rustic” or “farmhouse” on the label, you can likely trace its inspiration back to Saison Dupont in some shape or form.
This is also the beer that properly introduced the word “saison” to the modern drinkers’ lexicon. The term comes from the French word for “season” and refers to the romanticised notion that, historically, beers of this ilk were brewed in Belgian farmhouses during the winter and spring months for labourers to enjoy after toiling in the fields during harvest. However, the contemporary story of Saison Dupont isn’t quite as idyllic.
In reality, after WWII, the popularity of saison in its native Belgium dipped, as drinkers gradually turned towards pilsner-style beers. Over the decades that followed, many family-owned Belgian farmhouse breweries vanished into obscurity. Dupont, however, prevailed – largely thanks to the enthusiasm of famed beer writer Michael Jackson and Don Feinberg of US importer Vanberg and DeWulf.
In the late 80s, knowing that sales of his beloved Saison Dupont were waning, Jackson urged Feinberg to visit Brasserie Dupont in the village of Tourpes, near the French border. The play worked – Feinberg too fell head over heels for this beer, and in exporting it to the US, revitalised its fortunes. The rest, as they say, is history.
I was lucky enough to visit Brasserie Dupont in 2015 and meet its 4th generation owner, Olivier Dedeycker. There is a certain magic about the place – although this was dispelled somewhat when I saw them scoop the famed house yeast that gives this beer its unique character from a larger plastic bucket with a smaller one, before dumping it unceremoniously into a fermentation vessel.
Still, there’s no magic lost when tasting this beer. Almost white-wine like in character (specifically: an off-dry Riesling), it provides a gooseberry-like prickle from delicate effervescence, underpinned by a bready character that’s a signature of the aforementioned house yeast. To finish, it’s bone dry, belying it’s 6.5% ABV (almost certainly far stronger than any historic farm hands would have been drinking). This also makes it excellent with almost all food, but I particularly enjoy it with grilled fish and barbecued veggies.
Often imitated, never bettered, this is Saison Dupont. Still to this day one of the very best beers in the world.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.