St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

The LCBO Dupont Brewery Feature

Probably the most interesting thing about the currently available LCBO brewery feature is the fact that many of the beers from Brasserie Dupont are not as easily quantifiable as past featured breweries.

If you look, for instance, at one of the first brewery features from Tree Brewing in British Columbia, many of the styles that were on offer were relatively accessible. They had a dopplebock, a hefeweizen, a double IPA and a raspberry porter. There’s not much to be said against any of these beers, pleasing as they were. They are relatively accessible styles and fairly easily explained. Dopplebock is covered annually during lent. Hefeweizen is quite popular as a summer staple. You might need a double IPA explained to you if you’re new on the scene and have never read a blog.

The brewery feature from Shipyard featured big American bruisers. The Norrebro Brygghus and Nogne features had some less easily explained standouts (I’m thinking specifically of the Nogne Underlig Jul, which is a sort of Christmas Ale by way of Scandinavia and contains some interesting spice additions).

The brewery feature program has been a success, but I think that this is partly because the offerings are not particularly daunting. That goes more or less out the window with Brasserie Dupont, especially since the average beer drinker will need it explained to them exactly why the brewery, which specializes in Saison, a style that is really only beginning to have representation on Ontario shelves, is held in such high regard.

From what I’ve seen of the Brasserie Dupont lineup, the beers don’t really seem bothered to confine themselves to particular sets of guidelines. This is one of the real strengths of Belgian ales. The brewers don’t really care to restrict themselves, being far more interested in just making something that they like. Look at BJCP sections 16 and 18 which define Belgian Ales. There’s so much variation within each of the subcategories that the categorization can only ever really be a loose approximation. It’s an attempt to categorize knowledge systemically through imposition. It’s useful as an intellectual tool, but probably not reflective of reality, which has a bias against rigid categorization.

That said, the Dupont beers wind a bit farther afield than some, probably because of the house yeast character. The Saison yeast ferments hot and creates a lot of ester and a certain amount of authentic Wallonian funk. Average ale yeasts will ferment optimally between about 58 and 74 degrees. Dupont Saison yeast is up in the range of 80-95 for best results. I remember the first attempt Great Lakes made at fermenting with Saison yeast, buying into the romance of the thing about brewing in March for a summer beer. The ambient temperature in the brewery wouldn’t let it work at the high temperature, even with space heaters pointed at it. (Eventually they got it and those beers are doing extremely well.)

The result is a pretty phenolic experience. It doesn’t have the “horse blanket” thing that Brettanomyces does. There is a suggestion of damp, fermenting hay. I think Saison is a good deal closer to Sheep Pen than Horse Blanket. There’s a suggestion of damp spring drying out for summer if that makes any sense; of the dust rising from earth that is giving up the last of its moisture in the sun. These things can all be experienced on a hot late may day at Riverdale Farm.

The Monk’s Stout is the least alcoholic of these offerings at 5.2% alcohol and I think that it’s probably closest to being a dry stout, and the yeast character comes across relatively mildly, leaving an impression of roast character. It’s not the most approachable of the Dupont beers currently available in Ontario by a long chalk, but it’s an interesting variation on what would be a traditional style if made by another brewery.

The Cervesia seems to me to be a sweeter version of Dupont’s Saison, retaining much of the carbonation and character of the original. The additional sugar seems to bring out slightly more floral character and it leans towards the territory of Strong Blonde Ale or even a Tripel (but without the additional graininess.

The Moinette Brune (for which my tasting notes mysteriously include the phrase “oooh, I went”) is an extremely interesting representation of the difference that a brewer’s house yeast can make in a relatively standard style. It pours more red than brown, with a fairly vibrant head. There’s the fig, brown malt flavour and a small amount of chocolate that you would typically experience in a Belgian brown ale, but the yeast dries it out slightly and seems to make those robust flavours more subtle. Because of that there’s an initial surge of the flavour that you expect which then fades gradually to the finish.

That said, I think that the most interesting beer in this release is the Biere de Miel, which is apparently an organic product. The brewery at Hainaut has apparently always had apiaries nearby, so it makes sense that it should be used in their beer as it was prior to the takeover of the brewery by the Dupont family. For me, the really interesting part is that there is a pronounced spearmint character in amongst the floral highlights. I don’t know exactly where that comes from. There are hops that give off a mint character, but usually it is not this pronounced. I end up wondering whether the honey used in brewing was taken from a colony of bees that were pollenating spearmint, since there are differences in flavour between colonies reared next to clover or alfalfa or blueberries. When you add this to the hints of apricot and lemon, I begin to wonder whether this might not pair particularly well with a Mediterranean dish, either from Spain or possibly Greece. I really can’t recommend the Biere de Miel highly enough, especially given that Dupont has done what would be basically unthinkable in Canada: They’ve made a honey beer a highlight of their repertoire.

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