PIPAIX - When a brewery with a history stretching back over two hundred years (1769) starts digging around in its rich past, hidden treasures sometimes come to light. And this is exactly what happened.
Hugues Dubuisson, owner of the eponymous brewery near Doornik (Tournai) came across Surfine, a beer brand far older than Bush, the brand with which Dubuisson made its name.
The first strong Bush beer – marketed as Scaldis in the USA – dates back to 1933, whereas the Surfine brand was already popular in the region from the 1930s until the 1950s. In those days Surfine was an amber-coloured ‘spéciale belge ale’. The label has however been dormant in recent decennia.
When it re-surfaced last year, Hugues Dubuisson was instantly captivated by its original ‘vintage’ look. The brewer has now given this beer a second lease of life. However, in contrast with the original version, the modern Surfine (6.5% ABV) is a ‘Saison’ (French for ‘seasonal beer’).
This beer style is typical for Hainault, Dubuisson’s home region. “Whenever we introduce a new beer, we want it to complement our existing range”, Hugues Dubuisson explains. “Our assortment was lacking a ‘Saison’.
This type of traditional farmhouse ale used to be brewn by farm breweries to celebrate the harvest and to quench the thirst of the farmers and those working in the fields.
A ‘Saison’ was invariably hoppier and also stronger than the average beer back then. Surfine has now introduced us to more strongly hopped beers.
We are discovering more and more secrets of the hop now that we have our own hop field. From next year onwards we will use our home-grown hops to produce the Surfine”. There is more to the Surfine than hop, however. This new beer is brewed using three types of malt plus three varieties of Belgian hops. The latter underlines the importance that Dubuisson attaches to local terroir. The brewery also uses a novel approach to fermentation.
The Surfine undergoes three fermentation stages; with each stage using a different yeast. The final yeast variety used is a ‘wild’ one that ensures that the last remaining sugars are converted into carbon dioxide.
“The re-fermentation in the bottle makes for a beer with excellent storage possibilities”, Hugues assures us. “And we are looking forward to following the evolution of this beer as well”.
If we place the current bottle and elegant glass next to the original flute and bottle it becomes immediately apparent that the brewer has not veered far from the original. You’d almost swear that the new bottle is a vintage one that has withstood the test of time. Hugues is pouring the golden blonde beer very carefully to avoid a surfeit of froth.
In the nose, fruity, herbal and floral aromas are competing for attention on a backdrop of citrus and pepper. The first degustation yields a pleasant, drily bitter taste, characteristic of a saison.
Nevertheless, the Surfine shows herself to be far more complex than expected. In the finish you can taste a hint of sour, which makes this newcomer surprisingly refreshing as well as thirst-quenching.
It may well be that the success experienced by saison-type beers in the USA has inspired the brewer to launch a similar brew. Twenty years ago this beer style was all but dead in Belgium.
It has now made a resounding comeback. “The Surfine is a relatively light beer with lots of taste and character, which is exactly what we are after”, is the explanation provided by Hugues Dubuisson. “Moreover, with our new brewing hall we now have a far greater choice about what we produce and when. The decision to produce a Surfine ‘new style’ was made quite quickly. But it took us a year to fine-tune the beer. The triple fermentation posed particular challenges”.
Orval now springs to mind. This beer uses a similar process, but at Dubuisson another yeast variety is used, which results in a product that is completely different from this well-known Trappist.
The alchemy between the various ingredients has conjured up a balanced beer that will never be too bitter. The name of the beer and the serving glass ooze elegance from every pore. ‘Sur-fine’ means ‘extra fine’, a name that at the time incorporated a nod and a wink towards the celebratory drink of champagne.
Initially, the Surfine will be marketed in the brewery’s home region and also throughout Belgium in 33cl bottles. The beer will not be supplied in barrels owing to its complex re-fermentation process. If this newcomer is well received, the brewer will explore opportunities for export. All we can do is wait and see if this saison tickles the taste buds in Hainault and the surrounding regions.