We’ve looked at “white” or wheat beer already, so now let’s move on to the more widely-drunk, “standard” Belgian beers: the “blonds” – broadly speaking, lighter, more lager-like beers – and the browns, which are maltier and more like English mild or German Altbier. (And no, there don’t seem to be any redheads – unless of course you count kriek, the cherry-flavoured beer…)
Leffe’s one of the better-known Belgian breweries (it’s an abbey beer), and this is one of their two best-sellers. It’s a fairly typical lager colour, or perhaps a little darker. There’s not as much aroma to it as, for instance, Hoegaarden, though the smell’s more like white beer than lager. When cold the flavour’s mellow, almost syrupy, a little like barley wine. Let it warm a little, and it becomes much more interesting – again, vaguely reminiscent of white beer.
Brewed by Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat (the same company that produces the far better-known Duvel – see below), under licence from the Maredsous Abbey (who are Benedictines, not Trappists). The “6°” in the name refers to a traditional Belgian beer-grading system. In this case, Maredsous’s 6° equates to 6% ABV. It’s darker than Leffe Blond – more of a tawny or amber colour. Really not much aroma to speak of at all. But it makes up for that in the taste; it’s fairly close to an English bitter, with hints of smokiness and dryness. Think of the best homebrew you can imagine (and Kay and I have had some excellent ones in our time) and you’re not far off.
We weren’t sure whether this one really belonged with the blond beers at all; for starters, the label says that the main ingredient is maize! (There’s no mention of maize on the website – perhaps it’s a translation error?) The colour’s darker still than Maredsous – it really does look like a British bitter, or as if it’s had a little caramel added for colour (though there’s no mention of it on the label). There’s a faint maltiness in the aroma, which is much more pronounced when you come to drink it. Definitely an ale rather than a lager – and their website confirms that it’s top-fermented – though well on the refreshing side; like an IPA, perhaps.
Leffe’s brown beer is a rich brown colour with a hint of ruby about it. Surprisingly for something with such a strong colour, there’s very little to smell of it, at least when it’s cold. Another surprise is the sharpness; you’d really expect something much more mellow. Yet underneath the sharpness, there’s a lovely rich chocolate flavour, with plenty of maltiness. Much more memorable than the Leffe Blonde, I’d have to say.
Dave was bitten by the expat bug at the age of 13 when he went to live in Germany. Since leaving school at the age of 30 (with a doctorate in something so obscure even he can't remember what it's about) he's also lived in Bangladesh, India and Thailand, and travelled to most European countries (including several that don't exist any more, though he denies responsibility), as well as Barbados, South Korea, St Vincent, UAE, Laos, and many more.