We spent day six with the Van Steenberge brewery. As usual, this brewery has been in the same family for generations and produces some top notch Belgian ales including favorites such as Piraat, Gulden Draak, and Augustijn.
The brewery itself is very large and sprawls around several acres and has its own water source. They have been on this same property since 1784. Van Steenberge pioneered conditioning beers (carbonating naturally) in kegs and has a lot of space dedicated to conditioning rooms which hold bottles and kegs at slightly higher temperatures to allow the yeast to reactivate and carbonate the beers. Currently Van Steenburge produces about 65,000 barrels a year, of which 75% is exported. This is done on an impressive 100 hectoliter brewhouse that turns out six batches a day.
What impressed me most at the Van Steenberge brewery was their yeast management program. They use seven different yeasts and only use yeast for three generations. They use two different yeasts for bottle conditioning, one for flavor and one to remove oxygen. Yeast management is crucial when so many of your beers tip the scales at over 10% abv.
The standout beer for us from Van Steenberge was the Piraat Privateer, an intensely hopped up variation on the classic Piraat. This is currently only available in the Van Steenberge mixed six pack, but I think we managed to talk them into bottling this up in 750’s. Keep an eye out on the Beer Buzz and the Binny’s Blog for more info on this going forward. Speaking of which, it looks like we will see a whiskey barrel aged Gulden Draak in time for the holidays. This will be very limited, so check back with us later for more information.
Our final full day in Belgium was in the city of Brugge at the Halve Maan brewery. Halve Maan started as the Henri Maes brewery and is currently run by the 6th generation of the Maes family. Bruges Zot, a zesty blonde ale, is Halve Maan’s most famous beer and can be found everywhere in the city of Brugge. The brewhouse at Halve Maan is unique.
It was installed in the 60’s and was very modern for its time. It has a SQUARE brew kettle/mash tun that looks more like a time machine than a brewhouse. The brewery is also a museum, and the tour through this part is extensive and goes all the way to the rooftop of the brewery with a stunning view of the city around. Brugge is a wonderful city to visit and I highly recommend a stop at De Halve Maan.
Our time in Belgium has been predictably fantastic, with the exception that our trip is ending and poor Nate still hasn’t seen his luggage.
Every time I go to Europe I try to appreciate the age of everything around me. Many buildings we saw are hundreds of years older than anything in the US. We visited several breweries that have been in the same spot for 200+ years and have been operated by the same family the entire time. Things like this make the beer business so rewarding. I love supporting families that have been making these special beers for so long. I can’t wait to go back!