Known as a living beer because of the active yeast in the bottle, St Stefanus takes on an increasingly complex flavour profile as it matures.
The beer is stored for three months before being released from the brewery's cellar in Ghent but, while it is ready for immediate consumption, the makers of the Belgian blonde beer are encouraging landlords to experiment with ageing the beer for up to 18 months.
Though the idea of doing anything to beer other than drink it straight away is something of a foreign entity to a significant proportion of those in the on-trade, the Belgian brewer believes that the concept may increase in popularity as beer continues to move towards a culture more in keeping with wine.
Jef Versele, master brewer at St Stefanus and seventh generation of the Van Steenberge brewing family, said: “St Stefanus is unique. It can be aged just like wine, allowing you to discover a range of taste experiences.
"My personal preference is the beer at six months. I encourage everyone to cellar some St Stefanus in a bar or restaurant. It’s easier than you think.”
To keep the beer in its best condition, publicans are encouraged to store bottles away from sunlight and ideally in a dark room. It is vital that the temperature is kept between 8 and 16 degrees to allow the yeast to create the changing flavour profile.
The perfect pour for St Stefanus is achieved by holding the glass at an angle of 45 degrees and pouring the beer from a height. This allows the CO2 build-up to escape, which makes for a smoother drink.
In addition, it can be served either clear or cloudy, depending on how much flavour is desired from the refermentation of yeast in the bottle.
For a clear serve, leave one finger’s width of beer in the bottle, while a cloudy serve is achieved by pausing after two-thirds of the beer has been poured – swirl the bottle to mix with the yeast at the bottom of the bottle and continue to pour.
The flavour profile of St Stefanus beer changes as the beer reaches various age milestones, including six, nine, 12 and 18 months in the cellar. This means that as it matures, it can accompany a range of different foods.
When St Stefanus is three to six months old the light, fruity flavours combine well with oysters, chicken, herby salads and seasonal fruit desserts.
At nine to 12 months, the beer is a good accompaniment to barbecued meats, pork dishes and stews, while the development of aromatic spicy flavours in the 15 to 18 month aged beer makes it a better match for roast meats, steak, lamb and chocolate.