Jef Versele, our Master Brewer, is head of the Van Steenberge Brewery, located in the small Belgian town of Ertvelde, just outside the historic city of Ghent.
The brewery, established in 1784, has been in his family for generations and specialises in brewing high-fermentation beers. In addition to St. Stefanus, Jef brews Gulden Draak, Augustijn, Piraat, and many more classic Belgian beers. He is very much in demand at the brewery, and also speaks at beer tasting events across the world.
Coming from a long line of brewers, Jef is driven by passion, family history and a taste for perfectionism when it comes to Belgian beer.
In his blood
Our brewer extraordinaire has seven generations of brewing in his blood. This includes one of his biggest influencers, his grandfather. Nonetheless, despite this legacy, he did not always believe that brewing was his destiny. Studying social rights gave him a broad number of career paths and Jef admits that, at the age of 18, “I had no idea what I really wanted to do.”
After some time, his passion for the brewery did take over and he looked to his grandfather for guidance to set him on the road to becoming an expert brewer.
His first day at the brewery
On his first day at work, his grandfather told him an inspiring family story. At one time, the head of the family, Paul Van Steenberge, received an offer to sell the brewery. Paul was always an ambitious, effective entrepreneur and politician rather than a passionate brewer, and was on the verge of selling. It was Paul’s wife, Margriet, however, who saved the brewery.
When Paul announced his intentions, she pointed out to him that while he may be running the business, he had only come into it via marriage to her. She had inherited it from her parents. It belonged to her, and she had no intention of selling. “I was born a brewer’s daughter,” she said, “and I shall die a brewer’s daughter.”
“You can’t blame him,” says Paul’s great-grandson, Jef Versele, “You need a passion, a heart for this job, and it was always a sideline to politics for Paul.”
Passion and expertise
Initially, Jef and his grandfather held tasting events together to develop Jef’s palate and expertise, allowing him to discover things that would go undetected by a normal customer.
With all of his beers, Jef holds regular tastings throughout the brewing process. He only releases a batch when he believes it is ready, asserting that “quality will always find it’s way"... along with some help from skilled brewers!
Continuing the legacy
To Jef, continuing the legacy of his forefathers at the brewery is crucial. He promised his grandfather that he would never sell the business, and is determined to keep its independence.
Once he retires, Jef believes that only the most passionate person can replace him, as “the brewery will only thrive under someone who wants to be there”. He hopes that brewing will continue at the Van Steenberge brewery for many generations to come.
Learn more about Jef Versele and his family history by watching this video.