Brouwerij Van Steenberge - Monk’s Cafe
- ABV: 5.5%
- Bottle Size: 330-ml
- Serving Temperature: 45-50° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Snifter
Originally called Bios Vlaams Bourgogne, this brew was renamed in honor of Monk’s Café, a famous Belgian beer bar and restaurant in Philadelphia which is easily one of the best places in America to kick back and enjoy a Belgian ale, or two. The beer is an Oud Bruin (“old brown”), a traditional style of sour ale that’s similar in many ways to the related Flemish Red Ale popularized by Rodenbach.
At the risk of sounding overtly snobby, we really must underscore the need to use a glass for this brew, and to allow it a bit of time to come up from fridge temps. The brown and red ales of Flanders are arguably the most wine-like of all beers, hence the branding you’ll sometimes see of “Bourgogne” or the “Burgundy of Belgium,” etc. Monk’s Café pours a mahogany reddish-brown color capped by a robust head of lasting foam. On the nose, look for impressions of sour cherries and berry fruits, raisins and dried figs, deep caramel, hints of balsamic, and a little mustiness. For those unfamiliar with sour ales, note that it may take a couple sips for your palate to adjust to the acidity, but Monk’s Café is really quite mild in the sourness department, coming across decidedly tart but not overwhelming, and offering a compelling sweet-sour interplay. Look for the tart and dried fruit aroma notes to play out in the flavor too, with a nice caramelized core balanced by touches of earth, hints of oak tannin, mildly spicy phenols, and, of course, that tart acidity which largely takes the role of balancing the beer’s sweetness without much hop bitterness. For pairing options, we'd steer towards roasted meats with a fruit angle, such as balsamic roasted chicken with a cherry and wine pan sauce. Bacon and barbecued meats are other good calls, as are aged Gouda, double- or triple-crème Brie, and Gorgonzola cheeses. Cheers!
From the wellspring of great brewing that is Belgium comes the Van Steenberge family brewery. Founded in 1784 by Jean-Baptist De Bruin next to his farm, the brewery has remained in the family ever since. Despite his marriage to wife Angelina Schelfaut, the couple remained childless – never ideal for those with visions of keeping the family brewery going. Fortunately, Angelina’s nephew, Jozef Schelfaut, had learned the art of brewing, and upon Angelina’s death at the age of 92, she entrusted Jozef with running the family brewery.
The benefit of being a farm-based brewery is that, in theory, you can produce just about every ingredient necessary for the brewing process. But it’s no small feat to do so. These days, nearly all brewers order their grains already malted and already kilned, and their hops already plucked or even pressed into pellet form. But this was not the route that Jozef Schelfaut took. In order to provide for the production of the necessary ingredients, he set up his own two-hectare hops field and also constructed a malt house and accompanying oasthouse (the name for a traditional hops drying building). Jozef Schelfaut: builder, brewer, maltster, harvester of hops, and shrewd businessman, able to get his beers featured near and far, helping secure the success of his family brewery.
Jozef’s daughter, Margriet, wed Paul Van Steenberge, a chemical engineer who became a professor of microbiology at the Sint-Lievens brewery school in Ghent and at the Agriculture Faculty of the University of Ghent. When Jozef Schelfaut died in 1922, Paul Van Steenberge had gained enough knowledge to take over the family business, and eventually became the mayor of Ertvelde. Being busy on the mayoral front, it was largely thanks to his wife Margriet that the brewery stayed alive, particularly as Paul moved from mayor to senator. Paul’s son, Jozef, studied law but still ended up in the brewery, taking over the business after his father's death in 1962. Today, Paul Van Steenberge (II), son of Jozef and grandson of Paul Van Steenberge (I), heads the brewery. He entered the family business in 1978, and in 1985 took over the management from his father.
Today, the brewery produces some very highly acclaimed beers, most quite difficult to find; however, you may have come across their famed Piraat, which is a well-hopped brew somewhere between a Tripel and a Belgian IPA, and their classic Gulden Draak beers. It's our pleasure this month to bring you their delicious Monk's Cafe. For more info, visit them at www.vansteenberge.com.
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