The city of Ghent is an undiscovered gem in Belgium with a rich brewing history. Saint 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 Saint Stefanus and our family of humble, devoted brewers.