Brasserie Dunham is making some of the best beers in North America.
During an early-morning mash-in at Cafe Benelux in Montreal, I told brewmaster Benoit Mercier that I wanted to get out into the countryside of Quebec for a couple of days, what's called the Eastern Townships, full of ice cider makers and wineries. "And Brasserie Dunham," said Benoit. "I'll tell Eloi you're coming."
Located in the small country town of Dunham, Quebec, about thirty minutes from the Vermont border, Brasserie Dunham has undergone a radical transformation. Brewmaster Eloi Deit, formerly of Quebec's famous Le Cheval Blanc, took over the struggling little brewpub as a temporary moonlighting gig. Before he knew it, he had cleaned house, ditched the recipes, and when the sun came up, he had created something truly special.
These days, Brasserie Dunham is known for a wide variety of beers, but especially their saisons and barrel aged beers. Surrounded by fruit farmers, honey producers, cideries, and wineries, Eloi's geography is not unlike Hill Farmstead, and the effect it has on his mindset as a brewer is similarly nuanced. Beautiful, fluffy, balanced beers that are bright and full of flavor.
Saison Rustique is a perfect example of Brasserie Dunham's point of view. Refermented in the bottle, Rustique's powerful effervescence livens up the orange-pith-like bitterness. Musty esters and a slightly phenolic aroma pop off the ice-berg-like head, with a spicy waft of funk. Perfect for a summer refresher, but bracing enough for a mid-winter break, this beer is dry as a bone and finishes with a brett-like quality, leaving almost no trace of itself on your palate other than some vague citrus and soft, soapy texture.
Why this beer matters
Eloit Deit, Brewmaster
I was trying a lot of American and Canadian Saisons at that time and they where not hitting the spot on a traditional Saison. For me, the target, the one to beat (or imitate) has always been Saison Dupont Vieille Provision. The dryness of this classic, the hop profile of it, and its yeasty signature always pleased me a lot. A clean, hoppy beer, without being overly astringent, with a great, complex array of aromas and flavors, a beer that you can drink as a perfect summer thirst quencher. Instead, so many North American saisons were weird, often too sweet in the finish. Making the Rustique was an answer to that I guess. So I decided to go with a classic pale beer made from pilsner malt, typical euro hop profile, mostly from German traditional hops, and English and Slovenian hops from the Golding family. Light dry-hopping to add complexity and of course, refermentation in the bottle to achieve the great carbonation a true Saison is asking for. Of course, yeast selection was key here too. The idea of the ''Saison Rustique'' for me was a call for a true to style Belgian Saison.
Where to get it
Your best bet is at the brewpub in Dunham, bottle shops around Quebec, or Vice & Versa in Montreal, which shares some ownership with the brewery so there are usually 4-5 taps devoted to Brasserie Dunham at any given time. And if you can't get the Rustique, I encourage you to venture with any of their current saisons, or the Leo's Breakfast IPA with guava — a real gem.