For this edition of Style Section, I wanted to take the opportunity to focus on a specific beer: Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux. There are a couple of reasons for this: for one, it’s one of my five favorite beers ever, regardless of style. As well, it’s been the subject of some minor debate within the beer community for the past couple of years, due to the difficulty of classifying it. Hopefully this’ll clear it up a bit.
The beer’s origins, somewhat ironically, are steeped less in mystery than they are in tradition and good will. The Dupont brewery is a small producer of farmhouse ales in the tiny town of Tourpes-Leuze, Belgium, and every product they release (with the exception of a house pilsner that rarely leaves the adjoining taproom and cafe) is some form of saison. Some years back, they began to make Avec les Bons Voeux, their strongest beer to date at 9.5% abv, with the sole intention of giving it away to their favorite, most loyal customers. As it typically happens, word of the beer’s unique character and quality began to spread, and Dupont decided to release the beer to the public.
For most of its life, ALBV was branded a saison, and with good reason: fermented with the same classic mish-mash of finicky strains that comprises the Dupont house yeast, the beer is bright golden and light-bodied in spite of its considerable strength. It’s a huge beer, flavor-wise, and recalls pear drops, honey, floral hops, and a slight herbal tinge.
Whether because of its strength, a certain opaqueness to its brewing process and ingredients, or outright confusion, this beer is sometimes now labeled as a Belgian tripel. And to be fair, it exhibits many characteristics of that style: it’s right in the sweet spot for strength, has a honey-like sweetness and flowery hops, and finishes fairly dry for such a big beer. But a classic tripel lacks the markedly phenolic character and spicy esters that the Dupont yeast throws off during fermentation and, no matter how well-attenuated it is, won’t finish as dry as any Dupont beer.
So, it’s a saison. But what’s most important, and what any aficionado should really focus on, is the quality. And in that regard, it’s worth noting that, when RateBeer.com classified Avec les Bons Voeux as a saison, it was the top-rated saison in the world; when it was reclassified as a tripel, it became the top-rated tripel in the world.