It's one of the world's most famous, and has been written about so extensively that the tour was mainly the act of putting three dimensions to the two I've been working with. Yet still, it was surprising and remarkable. Brewer and part-owner Olivier
DeDeycker fired up the burner under the copper. He's had to spend tons of money maintaining this old system--the coppers date to 1920, as do all the oldest ones in Belgium, because the Germans stole the earlier ones for their war machine--which creates a convective boil and caramelizes the beer. (It would have been cheaper and way more efficient to use steam-jacketed modern equipment.)
Then we went to the fermentation room, where Dupont's famous yeast gobbles maltose in wide, square fermenters. Anyone who's worked with this yeast knows the reputation: Dupont lets it free-rise almost as hot as it wants to go, way past where any other yeast would produce gasoline. When we visited, the electronic monitor showed the fermenters in a range of stages, from the modest 22 degrees Celsius (70 degrees F) to a robust 35.3 (95 F). But fear not, at 39 (102 F), they intervene to prevent the yeasty bacchanal from getting out of hand.
Then we finished the tour and sampled beers--most of which I know so well. One nice treat was a pilsner the brewery's been making for decades--and which carried them through lean times when the saison style had effectively died out. It's femented in their square fermenters and has a lovely, rich grainy quality that itself seemed rustic. We also tried the new stout, an Irish version that was tasty but left me ready for a different saison.
Finally, over samples, Olivier mentioned other initiatives he's got on the back burner. (Actually, Dupont's about to go from a max capacity of 15,000 hectoliters to 50,000. Dupont is fortunate to have an architect in the family--as well as a graphic designer who has worked on the labels. Oliviers's wife is a microbiologist who works in the lab.) One is absolutely amazing, but I've been sworn to secrecy. A scoop I can't use! Beer geeks, though, will be wagging their tongues mightily in 2-3 years.
Anyway, a first visit that felt like a return home. Perfect.