In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of saison-style beers available in the U.S. While our American craft brewers do a fantastic job with their takes on the style, it is generally accepted that the Belgian saison to which all others are measured is the Saison Dupont from Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. This makes sense, as the popularity of the saison style in the U.S. can be traced directly to Brasserie Dupont.
Brasserie (French for “brewery”) Dupont is located in Tourpes, Belgium, in the center of the West-Hainaut province. Originally, a farm was built there in 1759 and was owned for a time by the Benedictine abbey of Gembloux. The abbey sold the farm after 1783, and as a result of its prior connection to the abbey, the farm was commonly referred to as “Moinette” (“Moine” is French for “monk”). In 1844, the Rimaux-De-Ridder farm-brewery was established, and brewing commenced shortly thereafter.
The first beer to be brewed by Rimaux-De-Ridder was a saison beer. It is believed that the saison, a top fermenting beer, originally earned its name due to the fact that the beer was brewed in the winter to be enjoyed the following summer by workers (“season workers”) in the fields. As described by Olivier Dedeycker of Brasserie Dupont, a saison should be a “really refreshing beer with a low alcohol content, a high attenuation (no residual sugars) and a significant bitterness.” Acidity, sourness and cloudiness can vary from one batch to another and from one farm to another, but they consistently have low alcohol, dryness and bitterness to ensure that, traditionally, the farm workers could continue to work after drinking it.
The modern history of the Brasserie Dupont begins in 1920, when Louis Dupont, an agricultural engineer, was considering leaving Belgium because he wanted to own and operate his own farm in Canada. His father, Alfred Dupont, convinced Louis to stay in Belgium by purchasing the “petite ferme avec brasserie” (French for “small farm with a brewery”) Rimaux-De-Ridder for Louis. Since 1844, Rimaux-De-Ridder had become famous for its saison and its Bière de Miel, a honey beer.
From 1920 to 1950, Louis Dupont brewed a saison and a table beer on a very limited production, with distribution within only a few kilometers of the brewery. In 1945, Louis’ nephew, Sylva Rosier, joined Louis and began brewing bottom fermented beers in addition to the saison. At that time, sales of the saison were declining, so the addition of the new beers helped the brewery survive. Sylva also tried to produce different alternatives, including the Spéciale Belge, the Monk’s Stout, and some ales. In 1950, the Brasserie Dupont was officially founded, and in 1955, Sylva created the Moinette, a Belgian strong pale ale, which provided the increase in sales they needed.
In 1962, Sylva Rosier’s son, Marc, joined the brewery and took over the brewing operation. In 1964, Sylva inherited the brewery from his uncle Louis, and he worked with Marc until 1982. Olivier began brewing at Dupont in 1990 and worked with his uncle Marc. Although Olivier officially began brewing in 1990, he had worked at the brewery during holidays beginning when he was ten years old, “washing vessels, floors, repairing wood crates, helping on the bottling line, then step by step helping to mash, filtrate..” and onward. Marc retired in 2002, and Olivier took over the management of the family business. Brasserie Dupont is currently owned by ten Dupont family members.
Prior to brewing at Dupont, Olivier studied at the University Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, for five years in the food chemistry engineering program and two years for brewing engineering. After his studies, he began working at the University for a research program, but left in 1990 to join the family brewery. When Olivier joined the Dupont brewing operation, he took charge of production. He also built a small internal laboratory in order to assume quality control. Under his guidance, the brewery has almost quadrupled its output—from less than 5,000 hectoliters (roughly 4260 barrels) in 1990 to 19,000 hectoliters (16,000 barrels) today—and exports to the United States, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, The Netherlands and England, but still holds firm to Brewery Dupont’s philosophy: tradition and quality.
While the brewery’s copper boiling kettles date from the 1920s when Louis Dupont began the operation, Dupont has upgraded with modern equipment as well. In the 1980s and 1990s, modernization efforts included an upgraded bottling line, the introduction of plastic crates and pallets, and installing heat (and new buildings) for the second bottle fermentation phase. They installed a new bottling line in 2008 and renovated the brewing room in 2009. During the past two years, “We‘ve been busy renovating the entire site, adding a new cellar for fermentation and maturation, a new building for refermentation and storage, and new devices for energy.”
When asked how Dupont maintains its traditions while also modernizing, Olivier explained, “We invest in additional material in order to increase the production. For example, last year we bought new fermentation vessels and new maturation tanks. We built new heated rooms as well. Doing this, we’re now able to double the production. The idea is not to change the recipe, or the time it takes to brew, but to have all the material and space needed to produce more
While brewing has been the main focus of Brasserie Dupont, the “petite” farm is still in operation and produces several artisanal cheeses that are made specifically to pair with their beers. Three versions of the cheeses are pressed and matured with beer; one cheese has Saison Dupont added to it before putting it in the form; and another cheese, “Carre a la Moinette”, is a soft cheese similar to Herve or Maroille. In addition, from 1994 to 2010 a bakery was operated on site, which used the spent grains from the brewing operation to make breads in a traditional manner in wood and gas-powered ovens.
From 1965 to 2011, Dupont’s best selling beer in Belgium was the Moinette Blonde. In the 1980s, Dupont’s American importer, Vanberg & DeWulf, popularized the Saison Dupont. In fact, famed beer writer Michael Jackson convinced Vanberg & DeWulf that the Saison Dupont must be imported into the U.S. According to Wendy Littlefield, co-founder of Vanberg & DeWulf, “For the first 10 years there was perplexity. Saison Dupont did not meet the standard expectations of Belgian beer—too dry and austere. But we believed in it and what was once the most endangered style in Belgium is now the most imitated style in the US.
Wendy is passionate about Brasserie Dupont’s products: “Microbrewers the world over aspire to emulate all that they stand for. Modesty, excellence, consistency, tradition and terroir are at the heart of their beers. People in the states are crazy about farmstead beers…If one imagines what a sustainable and self-sufficient future might look like, one could do worse than to study Brasserie Dupont. It has been an utter delight to bring their beers to the US market.”
As a result of Wendy’s passion, the Saison Dupont is now Dupont’s best selling beer. But they make more than just the Saison Dupont— a point of pride for Brasserie Dupont is their pioneering efforts to brew organic beers in Belgium. In 1990, Marc Rosier was approached by his malt supplier who suggested that he should brew a beer with organic malts from Germany, France and England. Marc agreed and brewed Belgium’s first 100% certified organic beer, the Moinette Bio (Foret). Now Dupont brews six beers that carry the Belgian certified organic label, “Biogarantie®: Moinette Bio (Foret), Saison Dupont Bio, Biolégère (Avril), Bière de Miel, Blanche du Hainaut bio (Foret Blanche), Bio Fruits, and Triomf. Luckily, four of those are available in the U.S.—Avril (saison table beer), Bière de Miel (honey beer), Foret (bottle conditioned saison ale), and Foret Blanche (saison wheat).
Dupont is no stranger to accolades for its brews. Many, many well-known beer connoisseurs have touted their products. Famed beer writer Michael Jackson wrote about Brasserie Dupont in The Great Beers of Belgium and noted that someone once told him “A brewer with the Dupont yeast is touched by God.” Sam Calagione of Dogfish counts Saison Dupont as his favorite imported beer. Garrett Oliver simply gushed over the pairing possibilities with Saison Dupont in his The Brewmaster’s Table—“A miracle with food…it’s hard to find anything that Saison Dupont doesn’t match.”
With a tradition of brewing since 1844, it is not surprising that Brasserie Dupont has set the standard for the traditional saison. While our American styles are excellent in their own right, the history of the Brasserie Dupont and its “godly” yeast adds a little something special to the Saison Dupont. And thanks to the efforts of Olivier to modernize the brewery, but maintain the traditional brewing methods, it is now possible for more Americans to experience “godliness” in their local pub.