Back in January, you may have seen us tooling around Belgium, posting up at Brasserie Dupont, and working with their U.S. importer—Total Beverage Solution—for a few days. The timing wasn't random. In addition to documenting the story of Brasserie Dupont and it's fourth generation owner, Olivier Dedeycker, we were there to capture some serious beer history being made—a collaboration Saison between Olivier and Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur.
Brasserie Dupont dates back to 1950 in name, after it took over brewing operations from a farm brewery dating back to 1759. It remains a mixture of almost ancient equipment working alongside incremental modernizations, even as the process, relying on yeast propagation more than anything, is virtually unchanged. Lost Abbey, by comparison, was founded in 2006 in San Marcos, California and won "Small Brewer of the Year" at GABF just one year later. And again the year after at World Beer Cup. Its innovative Belgian and sour program continues to collect jewelry.
This isn't a collaboration as much as it is a time warp.
"He's going to flip when he smells these hops," Tomme said. He wasn't wrong.
Like a well-behaved kid awaiting Christmas, Olivier and his team fought the urge to open the boxes prior to Tomme's arrival, wanting instead to smell the American hops alongside their courier. Permission granted, Olivier cut into the boxes, sliced open the bags, and shoved his hands into the pellets. Before he could even pull the hops out, he was overwhelmed by the aroma of Mosaic, Simcoe, and Amarillo.
"This is...this is incredible," he said.
With similar childlike wonder, and a bit of anxiety at the no-frills handling, Tomme looked on in his own way at the yeast that made Dupont so famous. Collected in a large vat from the bottom of the square fermenters, the yeast for Saison Dupont is only re-cultivated once every year or two. In the meantime, it fights for its life, giving it that rustic, edgy quality so distinctive to the style. It's the yeast of Dupont, and the dryness of the finished, slightly hoppy beer, that define the style. And it's this beer that American brewers like Tomme have long worked toward—and far, far away from—in their own pursuit of Saison.
"Brewers think they have our yeast," explains Olivier. "but they do not have our yeast."
Brewers in the U.S. have long tried to cultivate the yeasty dregs from an empty bottle of Saison Dupont. Yeast labs have even commercialized their own versions of it. But according to Olivier, no one actually has the real deal. The yeast in the bottles is actually a mix of the pitch, and the re-fermentation strain used to provide natural carbonation.
"Tomme is perfect for this," Olivier reflected for a moment. "He understands our yeast. He appreciates it. I think it will be really good."
The final arrangements for the collaboration were essentially sorted on the brew deck as the water came to a boil. "We'll want to do very late additions," Tomme said. "Do you have a whirlpool?" Confused for a moment, Olivier pointed to the large copper kettle. "Whirlpool? No. We have this kettle," he responded with a sense of the obvious.
I'm so glad we were there to witness this. I hope this short film makes you feel like you were too.
Next week we'll be sharing our longer documentation of Dupont as well. Stay tuned.