Beware, The Golden Dragon
Many have seen the white bottle labeled Gulden Draak, with the squiggly tailed no legged golden dragon breathing a small line of fire. A lot of people wonder what is behind the menacing dragon, I being a part of this group until the unforgettable day when we were introduced to Jeff Van Steenberge, the 7th generation owner of Van Steenberge Brewery and the brains behind Gulden Draak.
Gulden Draak cannot be compared to any other Belgian beers. The beer pours a thick and menacing dark brown color with a creamy tan head. The hypnotizing aroma of yeast, sugar, burnt malts, spices, and dark fruits is as complex as they come. The intricate aroma continues onto the palate, where the above mentioned smells turn into a blend of irresistible flavors. Gulden Draak shows its dangerous side with almost no alcohol presence, despite being one of the highest ABV beers on the market.
Without anyone asking, Jeff acknowledged the semi high price tag of Gulden Draak (Binnys sells it for $13.99/ 750ml). Besides the fact that Jeff drinking 2 glasses of Gulden Draak and his wife drinking 1 is cheaper than a divorce lawyer, Jeff acknowledged paying a premium for only the best hops and malts found in Belgium. Couple that together with the astronomical amount of sugar used, (400 kilos for a 100 hl batch) which provides the yeast with enough food to boost the ABV to 10.5%, and it is easy to see why a premium must be paid. As Jeff continually said, Drink less, but drink better.
Lurking in Gulden Draaks shadow is Piraat, another of Jeffs other worldly creations. Like Gulden Draak, it is next to impossible to categorize Piraat or compare it to any other beers. While Piraat shares the same 10.5% ABV with Gulden Draak, the syrupy yellow colored beer could not differ more from the Gulden Draak. Piraat has a pronounced hop element (albeit nothing like a hoppy American beer), with its floral and citrusy characteristics. It is sweet and sugary, fruity, yeasty, grassy, with the mildest of hop bitterness. The easy drinking Piraat is one of the most deceiving beers we have ever had, as only a hint of alcohol can be detected.
While Gulden Draak and Piraat share a hefty portion of the spotlight, perhaps Jeffs proudest and most historical creation is Augustijn Ale. First brewed in the year 1295 by the monks of Augustijn monastery, the tradition of Augustijn Ale is now kept alive as an Abbey Ale(In short, an Abbey ale is a beer once brewed by monks but now brewed under license of an outside brewer). Jeff brews Augustijn with pride and passion, as he demonstrated by bringing us to the monastery to meet and have a beer with a monk that he is very close with. Jeff delivered a powerful and inspiring speech about how his brewing of Augustijn is more for the love of the monastery and what it represents than the beer itself, with a percentage of profit of every bottle sold going to the monastery.
Augustijn Ale is one of the tastiest beers we had in Belgium, and is sessionable despite its 8% ABV. The spicy, fruity, well carbonated Augustin Ale is not only a delicious brew, but a part of history. Van Steenberge Brewery has it all: from the intense and menacing Gulden Draak to the historic and drinkable Augustijn Ale.