Proud of its use of modern technology to produce traditional beers steeped in history, Van Steenberge (pronounced: Van Steen-burger) is little known outside the Benelux. A pity, as this brewery has been producing high quality and complete ranges of top-fermented ales since 1784, although it has gone through frequent name changes up to the 1960s.
Using two types of yeast, one live and one to create each beer’s specific flavour, Van Steenberge offers character and young versions of their bottled beers – 18 months or 3 months storage respectively. The motto at this brewery is “Live a brewer, die a brewer”, and just like so many of the best Belgian breweries numerous generations have added their input to the development of today’s Van Steenberge beers.
Named after this brewery’s showcase beer, the Baptist Bar is located on-site, twenty minute’s drive to the north of Ghent in the village of Ertvelde. Unfortunately, being a village, there are no direct rail links and getting there by public transport (bus) takes about an hour. Because of this the Van Steenberge brewery tour is a little off the beaten track for tourists but a very popular destination for local foodies, work meetings and student groups; a Van Steenberge brewery tour is nearly always combined with lunch or dinner.
Taking a trip to Ertvelde has added benefits. The village is located in the heart of Meetjesland (Old Women’s Land) – apparently so named in order to put off visits from Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, known for his voracious appetite for young, pretty ladies. This area is a huge nature reserve with its own moated castle, many cycling routes and pretty villages. If you don’t manage to get to the brewery and stay close to the city centre, just look up and take a picture of the top of the Belfort tower. If you zoom in (it’s a very high tower) you’ll be able to see the gilded dragon perched on the top. This dragon is the inspiration for the name of another popular Van Steenberge brew – Gulden Draak.
Address: Lindenlaan 25, Ertvelde.
Web link: https://www.vansteenberge.com/en
There’s a range of Baptist beers, all of which have been brewed as tribute to the brewery’s founder Jan Baptist De Bruyne. These include a Belgian white and a Saison beer. Baptist blonde has a very slight bitter, malty aftertaste. This is an extremely clear beer which surprises some that it has undergone the top-fermenting process. Multiple reviewers mention a chemical scent and flavour which, when detected, makes the experience less pleasurable. This said, Baptist tends to go down well enough with the locals.
Gulden Draak Classic
The high ABV of Golden Dragon Classic is nicely hidden by Bordeaux wine yeast, making this Belgian strong ale the subject of international acclaim. The classic version is a top-fermenting, chocolate and caramel (relatively sweet) concoction which is very full bodied – almost chewable. With a long-lasting bitter aftertaste, the longer you can hold off drinking your Golden Dragon the more complex its flavour. Originally a festive beer produced just once a year, global popularity has turned Gulden Draak Classic into Van Steenberge’s top earner all year round. For a hefty 12% ABV try Gulden Draak Imperial Stout.
Augustijn Grand Cru
The Van Steenberge brewery won the right to use a centuries old Augustinian recipe and represent this local monastery’s beer-brewing history. Also available as a blonde or dark beer, Augustijn’s best-known brew is the Grand Cru, a dry, full-bodied triple and the perfect accompaniment for a fish supper. As for the pronunciation, that Flemish ‘ij’ is loosely the equivalent of our ‘ay’ – as in ‘ay for ‘orses. So ask for an Ow-gust-ain Grand Cru. This abbey beer has moderate sweetness and changes in the mouth from herbal and lemon flavours to warm, boozy spices, before moving into a long-lasting dry, bitter, obviously hoppy aftertaste.
With lots of hops and lots of malt this recipe from the Saint Bernard Abbey in Bornem near Antwerp has been replicated using Van Steenberge’s modern brewing equipment. While a Bornem beer might not be an original Ghent recipe, Van Steenberge gets this particular ale right. Soft carbonation and an oily texture in combination with nuts and spiced dried fruit makes a Bornem Dubbel a little like Christmas in a bottle. It’s particularly suited to red meat courses.
Brewed in answer to a brief asking for a product that harped back to ales enjoyed by 17th and 18th century sea dogs, Piraat (that’s right, Pirate) is based on the same successful wine yeast as Gulden Draak. Piraat offers a strong hoppy taste along with the warm sensation of alcohol. It’s an amber beer with a long bitter (but sweet) aftertaste. According to some, Piraat is the best accompaniment to a cigar. It also goes well with meat or seafood. In fact, according to reviews this ale looks like it can be paired with pretty much anything.