This post comes from the amazing Seamus Murphy from the blog Trenditionist. Seamus has me drooling on this one. I have to agree along with Cantillon, St-Feuillien is on my must visit if I can ever make it to Belgium. At least we can get it here in the USA! – Vin
From the incredibly elegant medieval towns of Ghent and Bruges to the decaying and run-down cities of Charleroi and Ostend, Belgium is full of immense contrasts. Urban adventures aside, nowhere is this reflected more vividly than the country’s beer scene. You can find dreadfully boring lagers like Maes and Jupiler that taste little better than dirty water from a polluted canal.
Then again, you can find a plethora of magnificent Abbey and Trappist brews. Indeed, Belgium has more than 1,000 different beer variations, quite a feat for such a small country. When you start sampling the good stuff, like Chimay, Westmalle, Blanche de Namur and countless others, make sure you keep an eye out for St-Feuillien. It is right up there with the very best when it comes to taste.
On a recent visit to Brussels, I was so taken with St-Feuillien’s different beers – blonde, reserve, triple, etc. that I made it my mission to visit the brewery. I decided to travel there by bike with a friend. After passing through an industrial wasteland, we made a quick stop at the highly impressive Strépy-Thieu boat lift, the largest boat lift in the world. At least until a bigger one gets finished at the Three Gorges Dam in China.
We finally arrived in the village of Roeulx, home to St-Feuillien’s small brewery – unusually small for such a widely-consumed beer. Apparently, the beer is actually brewed with extremely pure water from a spring directly underneath the brewery itself. I was certainly excited but this was quickly dampened by the fact that the place seemed eerily quiet. Where was the reception? Where was the tour we booked onto?
After wandering around the courtyard and bottling plant, where hundreds of bottles stood in the open (obviously crime and thirsty drinkers are not too common in Roeulx), we ran into an old woman who directed us towards the boiling room. Sure enough, the tour was underway and we were late. Still, we quickly got up to speed. The group of approximately 20 participants was very international – Americans, Dutch, Belgians, French and us, the Irish contingent. The Americans were very taken with St-Feuillien and even through craft beer is making a comeback, the imported beer market is still dominated by lagers (including Belgian stella), devoid of character. So they were keen on trying something better.
The tour guide was very friendly and explained the infusion brewing method. Water and sugar are extracted before the hops are added, then cooled and sprinkled with yeast. This creates St. Feuillien’s great taste but the beer needs more time to mature.
This occurs in the cooling rooms located across the courtyard. The maturing brew is kept here for six weeks at 0C so decantation can take place. Then secondary fermentation occurs in another chamber at 25C. Then the beer is ready to be bottled and shipped off to customers. Or carried a few meters to the brewery’s bar, the final destination on our tour. We intended staying for just one beer but somewhat unsurprisingly, we stumbled out of that place after six.
It was a great and cosy atmosphere to sample the different St-Feuillien variations. We all sat around a long table and we happily conversed, sharing our love of beer. The helpful staff passed around a complimentary bowl of cheese as we tried the Grand Cru. This is quite a rare form of St-Feuillien, difficult to find in most Belgian pubs. This extra blond masterpiece has a light and fruity aroma, with a slight hint of bitterness.
Even after the delicious Grand Cru, I still could not resist the standard blonde. Golden in color, it was smooth with a strong malty taste. I was surprised at how well the cheese went together with the beer – it really was a winning combination. The carmelised malts and bitterness of the darker St-Feuilliens like the Brune Réserve and Cuvée de Noël were very evident, but so was the alcohol. “A connoisseur will start by gently pouring the beer while holding the glass straight without letting the neck of the bottle touch the edge of the glass”. After the sixth St-Feuillien, we found these pouring guidelines on the brewery’s website difficult to adhere to so we decided to leave (somewhat reluctantly).
The people on the tour were great. The Dutchman was the manager of a slaughterhouse. There was an American Navy SEAL on vacation with his mother. We could have stayed and chatted to those guys drinking St-Feuillien long into the night. Even though our senses got the better of us, we loaded our rucksacks with as many 750ml bottles of St. Feullien as we could carry. We grabbed some much needed traditional Belgian frites on the way back to Brussels, the perfect way to round off a very satisfying trip. For any beer fans visiting Belgium, forget places like Westvleteren – St-Feuillien is a far more comprehensive experience when it comes to the actual tour, learning about the brewing methods and actually sampling the beer on offer. Seamus Murphy writes for Trenditionist.