Jef Van Den Steen, what a character! The brewer of De Glazen Toren Brouwerij is also teacher, author and tester.
I met Jef Van Den Steen for the first time when I went to De Glazen Toren Brouwerij – which means ‘The Glass Tower Brewery’. Shame on me! I went there with no idea about him. Only when I tried his amazing beers I discovered his greatness in them. A Brewer for sure – one of those with capital B – but also teacher, mentor, author, guru and taster. And this is not enough. I think he is the reincarnation of the youth: his enthusiasm is enviable and his passion contagious. I had the pleasure to interview him. I was listening to his history as a grandchild with his grandfather, with open mouth and without missing a word.
His story begins like this …
Hi Jef. What a pleasure to have you here on Birramoriamoci! It is a shame that we had not the chance to meet during the last Italian festival (Beer Attraction) but here we are. Let’s start from the beginning. Oh, well, your beginning. Which path you followed down to become a brewer?
As a student at the university of Ghent, I became a beer lover. But instead of drinking as much as possible (like the most students), it was tasting and describing the taste that became my hobby. When the first Beer Magazines came in Belgium (Den Bierproever in 1984, Bier Passie Magazine in 1990) I started writing about the taste of beer and in the same period (1989 – 1992) I studied Brewing Sciences in Gent. To prove that I can, I started in 2004 Glazen Toren together with Dirk De Pauw (we studied together in Gent) and he is still my brewing collegue.
It seems that you have teaching in your blood. After a master and a teaching in maths you have become one of the most influent person to spread the beer wisdom in Belgium and over. Which Is your secret?
I don’t have secrets but I taste almost every day new beers and I read articles and books about beer as much as possible. I travel a lot (I am pensioned) and visit breweries, talk with brewers, …
Over being a brewer you are a great Belgium beer connoisseur, especially about trappistenbier. What do you think about the current worldwide situation? what has changed during the time?
The first book I wrote was about lambic beers (these beers were my first love). Trappist came later. The current situation is normal, the abbeys have less monks and these monks are elder, so there is more need for money to survive. Brewing beer is a certain way of making money for them because the name Trappist is very popular.
De Glazen Toren means ‘The Glass Tower’. Why have you choose this name? It is just a matter of location – the street is named Glazentorenweg – or what?
Indeed the name of the street. In the 19th century there was here a brothel named Glazen Toren. From there the name for the street and also the name for the brewery.
Beer cocktails. It is something that is rising in Italy too but I could never imagine about you as a beer cocktail writer and cicerone.
My interest in beer is until today ‘taste’ and making beer cocktails you can discover new tastes.
I feel like there is a big connection between De Glazen Toren and Italy. In the best of my knowledge I can legitimately say that Italy loves you and your beers. What do you think about the Italian craft beer movement?
The most of the Italian craft brewers are now in the stadium of copying foreign beer styles. But some of them are developing new beers without copying, they do experimental things that (maybe) will lead to a real Italian beer culture. I think here for example maturing beer in wooden wine kegs, adding wine or wine must, ….
Jolly question: which is your favorite hop and why?
I don’t have a favorite hop. Depending on the type of beers you brew, you choose the hop that helps you to find the taste and aroma you’re looking for.
Bonus question: which is your favorite yeast and why?
I love especcialy our Saison yeast; it eats almost all the sugar so the result is a very dry beer with a little acidity.
I am still thrilled to have been able to shake hands with Jef Van Den Steen. Believe me: you might be endlessly listening to him talking of beer.
Did you already know Jef Van Den Steen and De Glazen Toren Brouwerij? have you ever tried his beers? which is your favorite one?