Saison Dupont is almost universally regarded as the premier example of bitter saison in the world. It’s spicy, citrusy, dry, bitter, and ages extremely well. It’s no wonder that virtually every homebrew yeast supplier has some derivative of Dupont yeast in their library, and there is no shortage of posts online about using these strains.
The bad news is that you are just about as likely to run into a story about WLP565 or WY3724 stalling out at a high FG as you are about a successful ferment. Even the successful ferments with single strain Dupont yeast are often lacking in a particular character and may exhibit off flavors like acetaldehyde.
Enter the idea of culturing yeast from bottles of Dupont. Yvan de Baets in Farmhouse Ales indicates that there are at least 4 strains of yeast in the Dupont house culture, if not more. He also indicates that he thinks that some of them are Brettanomyces strains. If this is indeed the case, it might explain the stalling from single strains and the lack of yeast character. It would also indicate that culturing from the bottle might be the best, if not only, way to get the true yeast character of Saison Dupont.
I’ve tried to culture Dupont bottles before without getting much luck. I’m not sure if they were old bottles or if I did something wrong or what. I think most likely the bottles were too old.
An internet friend of mine who knows my penchant for saison messaged me and said that he had cultured Dupont and that he had a vial he’d like to send me. I was thrilled, to say the least. When the vial came, it looked great, and once I got it in a starter it took off like a rocket. I decided I wanted to get it in a beer ASAP so I split the batch for my American Lager. Half got Urquel Lager and the other half got hand cultured Dupont yeast.
I fermented the beer with a ramp schedule. Pitched at 64F, ramped to 92F over 7 days and held at 92F for 2 days. Final Gravity was 1.006. No stalling with this culture!
High to very high complex spicy phenols. Clove, sage, rosemary, pepper, and more savory type spices. High lemony and orange citrus esters follow. Low spicy earthy hop presence. A little earthy yeast character. No malt presence to speak of.
Pale gold with streaming carbonation bubbles. Medium density large white head with medium bubbles. Leaves fine lacing.
High citrusy orange esters with a medium orange rind type bitterness. If I didn’t know better I would question if it actually came from Orange rind or hops. The spicing is heavy, almost like spices were used. Low malt sweetness. High phenols that match the aromatic profile. Finish is dry to off dry. Bitterness lingers.
High carbonation. Prickly. Slightly creamy with a slight bite from the carbonation.
This is a good beer that misses the mark on a couple hallmarks of the style. While the beer is dry, it doesn’t have the super dry impression of a saison. Water adjustment could help that. It also doesn’t have any of the characteristic orange color or malty flavor of a saison. The hops are barely perceptible and the bitterness could be higher. The good news is the yeast did exactly what it was supposed to do, and the yeast character is incredible.
Future Saison Considerations
I get why Dupont is so complex and the beers made with single Dupont strains aren’t now. The malt profile of this beer is wrong for Saison, the hops are wrong too, and so is the water profile, but the yeast steals the show and makes this beer good. This yeast is definitely where I will be starting when crafting saison in the future.
I also love brett’ed saison, so maybe my next try at this will be a split with half getting some souring and some brett and the other half being clean and bitter. Could be really interesting to see what could be done in a split batch like that.
I’m a big believer that water is a huge part of beer flavor. And I think this is a beer that shows it. My near RO tap water mineral profile just doesn’t do this beer justice. I’ll start by adding some gypsum and calcium chloride for my next saison. The CaCl for maltiness impression and the Gypsum for crispness and to increase the perception of dryness. I feel like there is a mineral character in Saison Dupont that I’m really not getting and I’m wondering if it’s not just sulphate and chloride. Maybe bicarbonate is part of what’s missing? I’ve heard of numerous saison brewers using super hard and super alkaline water and really enjoying it in saison.
Farmhouse ales indicates a water profile like this would be appropriate for the region.
But that’s probably not what’s brewed with as it would almost certainly be boiled and decanted to deal with the crazy bicarb. I’m not sure though. Maybe a big pile of acid malt is used to bring the mash pH down into a respectable range and that’s part of what gives Dupont it’s signature tart crispness. Or perhaps is the slightly elevated sodium that comes across. I’ve never brewed a beer with that level of sodium. I think water is the most important area of saison experimentation for me right now. It has such a large flavor impact and is also not very heavily discussed in the homebrew saison world.
This is pretty simple. Add some munich or vienna malt. The moutfeel was great so there’s not really any need for wheat and the yeast is plenty spicy so no need for rye either. Unless that’s just what you want out of the beer. For BJCP style saison it’s not necessary.
For a bitter saison, it needs more hops than what I did here. This beer is admittedly weak on the hops, it was a hop bill meant to be used for slightly hoppier than normal American Lager. 18 IBU just doesn’t cut it for bitter saison. I think Triple Pearl could totally work in a classic saison. Definitely needs a bittering addition though.
Sounds like I have more work to do. So many saisons to make, so little time. Cheers!