Abbey International: St Stefanus Blonde, Augustijn Grand Cru
You may never have heard of Brouwerij Van Steenberge, but they quietly brew an awful lot of beers. If you look on ratebeer, you’ll see that they make quite a few non-Trappist beers, to which you may have not paid that much attention: Augustijn, Gulden Draak, Piraat. It’s worth noting that they also brew the house beer for De Garre in Bruges, Tripel De Garre, and I’ve already explained how much I enjoyed drinking that particular beer in that particular cafe.
As Neil explains on Eating Isn’t Cheating, SAB Miller have entered into a distribution deal with the brewery for (at least) Augustijn Blonde, which they’ve rebranded, renamed and have put a marketing budget behind. This included taking some beer writers to Ghent for a brewery visit. Whilst I didn’t get a free trip to Belgium, I was sent two bottles of the beer to try.
St Stefanus Blonde (7%ABV) Pours very slightly cloudy with a large head, because I chucked the yeast in as I like to do that with Belgian beers. The aroma has a banana bread sweetness, a little like a wheat beer.
There’s a nice section on the label that tells you how the beer should evolve in the months after bottling, from 3 to 18 months. This is around the three month mark, as the seemingly handwritten (but perhaps not) date tells me it was bottled in October 2011, so it should be on the “fresh and fruity” end of the spectrum, rather than “complex and aromatic”.
It has a mild, bready, slightly banana taste, as the aroma advertised. Kate’s glass, without the yeast in, has a cleaner, less banana taste, but is sweet and slightly bitter with a floral hop taste. A slightly oily, moderately full mouthfeel works well, and coats your mouth well to appreciate the sweet bitterness on the swallow. In all, an easy-drinking and pleasant Belgian blonde.
Out of curiosity I also opened a bottle of Augustin Grand Cru (9% ABV), which does not yet seem to have been rebranded and which I bought myself with real money. This has a similar best before date to the St Stefanus Blonde, so I assume a similar age. It differs in a richer, more tart taste and a more noticeable grassy hop flavour.
The Grand Cru is just that little bit more interesting, but really it seems like the same beer, just a little louder. Neither matches either my rosy memories of Tripel De Garre or bests Orval, which is – to be fair – one of the best beers in the world. However it’s a nice brand which actually makes a feature of the bottle aging. If SAB Miller get few bottles of St Stefanus into the fridges of bars which would normally stock no Belgian beer (or perhaps only Leffe), I’ll probably find myself buying it in the future.