Name: St. Stefanus Blonde
Brewed By: Brouwerij Van Steenberge
Style: Belgian Blonde
This is a stylish little number to look at, not something that always springs to mind when looking at a Belgian beer bottle, but then St.Stefanus has had a makeover courtesy of SABMiller. This is by no means the new kid on the block, it’s a beer that was first brewed back in the 1970’s, formerly known as Augustijn Blonde, it’s roots in the historic city of Ghent, and now a part of SABMiller’s portfolio (as of 2011).
So it’s not a new beer, even the re-design has been doing the rounds for three years now, but a push on the marketing has only just seen it hit the shelves of my local Waitrose and i’m sure you’ll see it in your local branch too. It’s hard to miss, this shapely little number is one part tradition and one part sass with it’s name beautifully frosted on it’s side just above that slimline yet highly descriptive label, and then there’s that cap. I dare you to find a bottle top more fantastic.
The most stand-out part of that label is the date of cellar release. My decision to buy the beer was quick, then the decision to open it now or keep it to mature was one that led me to go back for more, buying multiple bottles that allowed for the sampling of the various qualities this beer can take on as it matures.
Careful not to damage the cap too much (they make great fridge magnets) I opened my first bottle, aged at just over 3 months. The aroma at this age is fresh, vibrant apple and bready yeast. Brewed with 3 strains of yeast the bread-like aromas and flavours dominate. Initial carbonation brings fresh apple and banana fruit highs leading into a velvet-smooth mouth feel of doughy, freshly baked bread flavours, then back into a light sweetness before ending with a zesty pepper finish. Each sip coats the mouth, is both refreshing and moreish, leading to an empty glass all too soon. This younger age hides it’s abv well.
The next bottle I open is aged to 12 months. The first noticeable difference is in the pour- the carbonation fizzing far more enthusiastically, frothing with the next difference- the aroma is now far more intense with pepper. On the palate it’s very much the same fruit-bread-fruit-pepper sequence. The fruit notes are now less fresh and zesty, instead they take on more of a dried fruit quality with the apple and banana being accompanied by chewy dates and dried apricots in a more robust, spicier version, still with that moreish finish and now beginning to hint at it’s abv.
At 18 months my third bottle is very much alive and wanting to get out. The pour is very nearly all fizz, carrying with it a new addition to the aroma profile- marshmallow sweetness now joining the bread and pepper. A new sweetness is now evident in taste too, as honey underpins the now date-driven fruit notes, the freshness of apple nowhere near as evident as before, the banana also softened. The pepper is now very heightened, a kick that plays off and balances the warming alcoholic edge in the lingering finish of what has become a more complex, more robust beer that is quite different from it’s younger self.
Each bottle, regardless of its age is a joy, the nature of the different cellar releases makes for a fun, delightful year-round beer and one that I will certainly keep going back to (I need more caps to decorate my fridge with). Now I need to find their Grand Cru…