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Abbey International: St Stefanus Blonde, Augustijn Grand Cru

January 19, 2012 13 comments

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.

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Beer In Bruges: De Garre and Tripel De Garre

August 10, 2011 25 comments

I’m writing this post coming back though the Channel Tunnel following a fantastic four days in Bruges. Kate booked the trip as my 31st birthday present and apart from her I should also thank the authors of the blog posts and twitter recommendations I read before I went, including Phil Hardy of Beersay, Jose from Beer Nerds, Rich from The Beercast, Boak & Bailey, Simon Jenkins and Mark Fletcher of Real Ale Reviews.

One of the common factors of most of those recommendations was De Garre, a small two-storey brown cafe hidden down an alleyway off a short, busy and touristy street running between the central square Markt and another, Burg.

 

When we first arrived in Bruges and went for a walk into the centre it started pelting with rain, and fortunately we chose to seek shelter in De Garre. When we went in the bar was completely full but fortunately an elderly couple shortly left and gave us our seats, the gentleman blessing Kate on the way out, probably indicating how soaked we looked.

 

There is a substantial menu of Belgian beers but it’s obvious that most people come for the exclusive house beer brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge: Tripel De Garre. It is presented in a great-looking bulb glass on a tray with a paper doily (in keeping with the local lacemaking tradition) and a small bowl of slightly rubbery but creamy cheese cubes (Gouda?), possibly intended to combat the effects of the 11.5% ABV.

A blonde Tripel at 11.5% might sound like a terrible idea, but you’d be completely wrong. The beer is at once mellow and hoppy; refreshing and pleasantly warm and boozy; an impeccably well-rounded and accessible beer.

 

As we dried off in the simple cafe with yellow tablecloths and open windows as the rain pelted down on the irregular cobbles outside, it was impossible to feel anything but happy. We were surrounded by relaxed groups and couples, chatting in various languages including locals speaking the native Dutch, most of whom were all drinking the same beer.

 

We fell in love with De Garre to such an extent that we ended up returning to it at the end of the evening on the following two nights. The second time was just as enjoyable as the first, with a number of groups of various ages happily chatting away as classical music played in the background.

 

The third occasion, on the Monday night, was still enjoyable but not quite as relaxed, as one group of 25-30 year olds in the corner were watching very loud videos on their phones before another large group of foreign students, possibly from a nearby hostel, all arrived at once and took over most of the tables. Whilst they weren’t necessarily treating De Garre with the respect and reverence I felt it deserved, they were all drinking the house beer, which at least is an indication of how easily enjoyable it is.

My only real souvenir from Bruges is a statuesque 1.5 litre magnum of the house beer purchased from the bar for €21, which has made me thankful that Eurostar doesn’t have weight restrictions. There’s a poem on the back, an “Ode Aan De Tripel Van De Garre”. Certainly if any beer other than a pint of plain can inspire poetry, it’s this one. O, Tripel van de Garre.

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