Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saison Dupont vs. THE "CLONE"

(I apologize for the crappy photo. Clarissa has her camera with her in Barcelona and all I have is my 4 year old Nokia cell phone!)

It's a beautiful sunny spring day, and I just finished working a 3-day streak. Spent Sunday washing kegs for Alameda, Monday hand-bottling 8 cases of Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA with a counter pressure filler, and Tuesday helping bottle 250 or so cases of Cascade Brewing's "The Vine", a blond sour ale aged on white grapes in wine barrels.

Today I have nothing important to do. So far I've spent it buying plants for the garden, looking at free stuff on Craigslist, and playing with the cat outside. The garden supply store was right next to Belmont Station so I decided to stop in a buy and bottle of Dupont, and finally get this side by side tasting out of the way.

Before I get in to this, I can say clearly that this is NOT CLONED! That's obvious just from memory. But how do these 2 beers measure up side by side? What are the differences and how could I get my beer closer to the real thing? Is there any chance that my beer is even 90% as good (even if different) from the benchmark hoppy saison that made me fall in love with the style? Well, let's see.

Here is my "clone" recipe for reference, which I will call "566" after the yeast I used, since it's not really a clone:

Dupont: A very light gold with just a hint of red, fairly clear. Great head on the pour, great lacing, recedes to a 1/4 inch foam stand.
566: A light straw color, with decent clarity, just a bit lighter than Dupont. Great head on the pour, decent lacing, foam recedes to 1/4 inch frothy and even.

Dupont: Very potent funky, somewhat light skunked beery aroma literally jumping out of the glass. Bubblegum, vanilla, light clove, and spice are all there. Some light boozyness adds complexity. Wow, the aroma of this beer almost knocks my beer off the table, I might have to step away to get a good whiff of mine!
566: Light grainy aroma, pepper phenols, and grassy hops. some alcohol for complexity and a much mellower ester profile. Very, very light "funk", nothing near Dupont.

Dupont: Some light grainy sweetness up front, with some bubblegum esters, spice from phenols combined with hops, and a long, lingering bitterness and fairly mellow hop flavor. The bitterness really sticks around. Actually it almost makes that little punching-bag shaped thing in the back of my throat hurt! Moderate alcohol in finish with some warming character, but clean, not solventy.
566: Fairly clean, pils malt character that along with the hops, comes off as very grassy. Light funky flavor, some clove and a lot of pepper phenols. A dry, fairly grainy finish. Nice hoppy flavor, but not as bitter and with more hop flavor than Dupont. Clean with a slightly tart finish and moderate warming alcohols, not solventy.

Dupont: Very dry but full-bodied from what I call "mouth expanding" levels of carbonation, where the carbonation literally expands the beer as it hits your tongue. Somewhat creamy in texture, or maybe silky is a better word. Slight tartness at finish with a very present bitter hoppy bite that lingers around the palate.
566: Very dry, very close to the carbonation level of Dupont, I'd say I got that dead-on. Not as silky-textured as Dupont, I'd say a little more thin, even though I believe they are right around the same F.G. Dry finish, slightly more tart than Dupont with a light grainy astringency.

Dupont: Still one of my favorite beers ever, but maybe it's not my single favorite anymore. It may be a short-lived crush but right now De Ranke XX Bitter has this beer beat for my favorite beer in the world. What really sells me on this beer is the complexity of the aroma, and how well it sets you up for and plays through the flavor too. The bitterness is bold, almost sending you into a "snake eating it's own tail" loop of quenching your thirst just to receive another bitter punch to wash away. The aroma is more "beery" than I remember, a flavor I somewhat liken to a stale pilsner. I'm fairly certain this is from a light-skunked green bottle, and it's the only flaw I can find in the beer, although it is more and more obvious as it warms up.
566: Recipe-wise I would only make minor tweaks, but where this beer really falls flat is in the yeast and aroma department. It's not a bad beer at all, but it's not a clone. I would be happy to drink this or even pay for it, but I'm not going to be pining for it and remembering the flavor months down the line. The grainy, grassy aroma is a little insipid and needs some help from a better yeast strain, or if it was just to be a good saison and not a clone of Dupont, maybe I could use some spices to get a better aromatic complexity. I think it is 81% as good as Dupont so I'll give it a "B-". Thats forgiving the light-skunked character of the Dupont. Dammit, why don't they just switch to brown bottles already!?

Changes / Suggestions for future clone attempts:
1) Change the yeast to either the classic saison strain, 3724 from Wyeast (not Whitelabs 565, which is infamous for under-attenuation), or pitch with the re-cultured dregs of a Dupont bottle. I would only use the dregs if I tested it for bacteria or used it after the majority of fermentation was complete, because who knows what's in there, really. Everything after this is minor tweaks.
2) Change the base malt to a European pilsner, or better yet, Dingeman's pilsner. I just can't justify buying pilsner by the pound though. I usually use Weyermann by the bag so that's probably what I'd go with and drop the Belgian pale malt completely. 100% Pils.
3) Increase the boil time to 2 hours to get more color.
4) Increase the bittering hop addition by 5 IBU's and decrease the flavor hop addition by a half-ounce.

I hope you enjoyed this side by side and if you are looking to clone Dupont, this should point you in the right direction! Just don't forget to ferment very, very warm. I'm buzzed. Time to get these plants in some dirt!


Paul! said...

Dupont is one of my "je ne sais quoi"
beers. Im glad to see you tackling it.
That sour brown I brought over the other day is one of the best beers ive made in my opinion, not because it was spot on style or quality wise but because it captured that elusive "earthy funkyness" of fantome/ de dolle beers. I think Dupont is like that, that earthy quality is hard to nail down.
the skunked quality might be a signature taste. I don't think Ive ever had a bottle without it. And let me know if you start dry hopping with corks?

Ray G said...

great effin' post Sean! gonna see if I can get a sack of Dingeman pils and give this a go myself.

Seanywonton said...

I think the earthy aroma is somewhat related to the cork and the fact that the beer is conditioned on it's side.

That could be a good idea for the future, corking at least part of a batch and conditioning it on it's side to see if it makes a difference. The Blaugies beers also have that "musty cellar" quality.

Paul, yeah, that sour brown was very tasty. But not as tasty as the lacto/brett saison you made with lemon peel!

The Drakes said...

I brewed a clone of Dupont last summer. This year I brewed it for a friends wedding (despite the transportation no-no in OR) and I used the french Saison yeast instead of the Belgian. I was very happy with it. It fermented down to 1.000 Ive never had that happen before!

Seanywonton said...

Sounds like the French saison yeast for sure. It can get your beers too dry if you are not careful! Personally I like to aim for about 1.006-1.007 F.G. on saisons, not much drier than that. And I definitely would be a bit disappointed if it finished over 1.008, unless it was a strong one.

Joe Klinck said...

Both the WL 565 and Wyeast 3724 are the Dupont strain. While it is notorious for stalling at around 1.030ish. You can easily prevent this by starting the fermentation in the 60's and slowly raising it over the course of a week to 80F. This will give the yeast that extra kick they need to keep going.