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…)
(blond bier/bière blonde)
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.
Maredsous 6° Blond/Blonde
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.
(bruin bier/bière brune)
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.