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Classic Beer of the Month May 2018: St Stefanus Blonde

St Stefanus Blonde, 7%

In 2012, a beer called St Stefanus Blonde was launched onto the world stage by SABMiller.

St Stefanus BlondeNoting the success of Leffe Blonde and the spiralling interest in Belgian ales, the company wanted a piece of the action and worked with the Van Steenberge brewery near Ghent to make this happen.

SABMiller has since been swallowed by AB InBev but St Stefanus is still widely available and offers a good introduction to the wonders of the Belgian monastic style of brewing.

It might seem a little odd to feature an ale that’s only been around for six years as one of Inside Beer’s ‘classic beers’ but the truth is that St Stefanus is not new.

Van Steenberge has been brewing the beer under licence from a local Augustinian monastery since 1978, and marketing it locally under the name of Augustijn Blonde.

That is still the name under which it is sold in Belgium, although – to be accurate – the beer there is a little stronger (7.5% ABV) than the 7% St Stefanus sold elsewhere in the world.

Jerumanus Yeast

St Stefanus Blonde is a heady, golden brew constructed from pale, pilsner and Munich malts, with candy sugar boosting the amount of fermentable material, and Saaz and Hallertau hops seasoning the brew in the copper.

The yeast employed initially is the same as Van Steenberge uses for another abbey beer, Bornem Tripel.

After primary fermentation, the beer undergoes four weeks of cold conditioning and then is racked into kegs for draught dispense. About 90% of the carbonation in the finished draught beer is natural.

The beer is also bottle conditioned. The yeast added at this stage is rare. Called the Jerumanus yeast, after a Latvian refugee scientist who provided it to the brewery on behalf of the monks, it has similar properties to Brettanomyces and expresses itself slowly over time. This means that the older the bottle, the more intriguing the flavours.

Even young bottles, however, have been matured at the brewery for at least three months for the flavours to ripen.

The brewery recommends serving the beer cloudy, shaking the yeast into the glass, to ensure the most complex result. The yeast also makes the beer notably creamier on the palate. Personally, I prefer it without the sediment.

Pears, bubblegum, melon and spicy, bready yeast are the hallmarks of the aroma, leading to more pear and melon, plus a little pineapple, in the taste, along with some mild herbal bitterness from the hops.

There’s a hint of perfumed alcohol, too, and lots of natural carbonation to fill the mouth with bubbles. The warming, bready finish dries quickly, with bitter herbs elbowing aside any lingering sweetness and tropical fruit.

Van Steenberge, a seventh-generation, former farmers’ brewery, is well known for strong ales such as Gulden Draak and Piraat. There is even a stronger version – 9% – of St Stefanus, dry hopped with Saaz and aged for nine months. Labelled Grand Cru, it has a woody, sherbet-like fruit taste, with a dry finish.

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