Brewery: Brouwerij Van Steengerge
Why the gilded dragon is on the bottle is easy. It is a tribute to the famed dragon that has been sitting atop the belfry of Ghent for over six centuries. The brewery that makes Gulden Draak is located just outside of Ghent. The belfry or bell tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the tallest of three towers overlooking the medieval city of Ghent. How the dragon ended up at the top of the belfry and subsequently on a bottle of beer is a far murkier matter.
Here’s the story as it was told to me by a history buff bartender in nearby Kortrijk and later corroborated by the brewery’s marketing team: During the Norwegian Crusade, the gilded dragon adorned the bow of Sigurd Magnusson’s ship. Magnusson was the King of Norway from 1103 to 1130 and in 1107 became the first European king to personally fight in a crusade. The dragon watched and surely intimidated many along the way as Magnusson and his men battled Muslims in the name of Christianity along the Iberian coast, Balearic Islands, and Palestine on the way to Jerusalem and later Constantinople. Magnusson by now had probably had enough of the “salt life” as he decided to trade his ships and many treasures to Emperor Alexios for horses and provisions for his land-based return to Norway. In case you were wondering, it took Magnusson three years to make it back home.
The dragon stayed in Constantinople until the city was captured, looted, and destroyed during the Fourth Crusade led by Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, in 1204. During the aftermath, the dragon ended up in Flanders atop St. Donatian’s Cathedral in the city of Bruges. That is until 1382 when the people of Ghent rebelled against Louis II of Flanders by attacking Bruges. The army of Ghent wisely hit Bruges immediately after a big holiday; many of Bruges’ soldiers went straight from the tavern to the battlefield. It didn’t go well for Bruges that day. The victorious army returned to Ghent with, among other spoils, a gilded dragon. Up the tower it went where it has been sitting ever since.
While breweries outside of Belgium love to serve their beer on draft, Belgian breweries prefer you buy their beer by the bottle. And if you’ve tasted a Belgian ale on tap, you’ve undoubtedly tasted the difference. Whether you caught the difference or not is between you, your taste buds, and your knowledge of what said ale tastes like out of the bottle. You see, Belgian ales like Gulden Draak go through a second fermentation that only happens in the bottle. Some call it bottle conditioning but it’s essentially the same thing. After the beer has completed the entire brewing process, the brewer will add yeast and sugar during bottling. Then the sealed bottles go off to mature in a “warm room”. For how long and at what temperature is different from brewery to brewery but the goal is the same, to tease out even more flavor and aroma from the beer. There’s even a beneficial side effect. During bottle fermentation the yeast consume any oxygen that is in the sealed bottle, thus allowing the beer to keep even longer. This means that when this ale takes the trip from a brewery in Belgium to your refrigerator and eventually your chalice, it tastes exactly as the brewer intended.
The Gulden Draak has an inviting, copper color with a sweet aroma of malts, fig, spice, and bread. This beer is smooth as can be with a medium-bodied mouth feel and a surprisingly crisp finish.
Cigar Pairing: Rocky Patel Special Edition
We chose the Rocky Patel Special Edition for this pairing and it delivers. The cigar’s earth and pepper base are smoothed out by the beer’s malty sweetness, and the more delicate notes of banana and spice in the beer step up to the forefront in a delicious manner.