The city of Ghent is an undiscovered gem in Belgium with a rich brewing history. Sint Stefanus is an Augustinian Order in Ghent that dates back to 1295, when the monks were first allowed into the city. The original floor plan of the monastery still exists, which confirms the brewery on site. This is the birthplace of St. Stefanus Belgian abbey beer.
Monks in most religious orders began brewing beer as a way to serve their community, offering a safe and nutritious alternative to the unclean drinking water. Known as Trappist beer, monks would use this drink to sustain themselves during the fasting of Lent and also shared it with the beggars, pilgrims and patients in the hospitals they established. Travellers were welcomed at monasteries with beer, bread and cheese in exchange for a small donation to the order.
By the year 1494, Ghent had around 100 breweries, each serving a handful of cafes. Ten of these were run by the monks from their abbeys and monasteries and for centuries the monks controlled the brewing practice. By 1645 the number of breweries had grown to 550, but as Ghent's importance waned, the number of brewers began to dwindle. There were 99 breweries in 1900 and the last brewery in the city disappeared in the 1970s. One new microbrewery opened its doors recently, but the Van Steenberge Brewery is now the city's closest original brewery.
To this day, only seven Trappist beers continue to be brewed by monks within the walls of their religious order, six of which are in Belgium. Although the brewing of our speciality beer has moved to the Van Steenberge Brewery nearby, a strong relationship exists between the monastery and the brewery. Because of this link, St. Stefanus is a Belgian abbey beer with a rich history that is now protected by both the Augustinian Order at Sint Stefanus and our family of humble, devoted brewers.
The monastery still stands today - a plain yet striking baroque cloister located in a quiet part of the city. Those who venture past the ornately carved wooden doors will discover a majesty that recalls a time of cultural, scientific and religious importance. The doors within the monastery are stained with St. Stefanus Blonde, giving them an oak-like finish while other beautifully crafted symbols and iconography decorate the walls, ceilings and floors.
The history of the Van Steenberge Brewery stretches back over six generations to a humble beginning as a traditional Belgian farm. In 1978, the Augustinian Order of monks at Sint Stefanus announced they were looking for a brewery to make and sell their speciality beers. Jozef Van Steenberge always loved high fermentation beers and admired Trappist brews - it was this passion that paved the way for the unique partnership that was to come. To this day, it's at the Van Steenberge Brewery that our beer is crafted on behalf of the monastery - overseen by Master Brewer, Jef Versele.