You can’t beat a good Belgian beer for flavor, although many people have never tried one because they tend to be on the expensive side (Stella Artois doesn't really count).
If the $10 price tag has prevented you from enjoying the bliss of a Chimay triple, Leffe is a great introduction to the world of Belgian beers that won't break the bank. The best Belgians are made by Trappist monks. In the 1800s, they started brewing beer to support their monasteries. Today there are 10 Trappist monasteries worldwide (including one in the U.S.) that continue to brew to support their charity work.
Leffe is a superb beer, but it's not a Trappist. The monks at Leffe Abbey brewed this beer on and off as early as 1152. However, in the early 1950s, a historic agreement was made with Amhauser-Bush and Leffe is now made at the Stella Artois brewery just east of Brussels, while the Leffe monks continue to receive royalties.
Monks have been brewing beer in the Belgian countryside since before it was a country. In the 1100s, monks brewed beer as a sanitary option to drinking polluted well water. By the 1800s, the now famous Trappist monks (think Chimay, Westmalle, and Achel) were brewing to support their monastic lifestyles. These monks were largely refugees from the French Revolution.
Leffe is an abbey beer. Abbey beers are not as regulated as Trappist beers (only 10 breweries are licensed to produce Trappist brews). The term "abbey beer" can be used for beers brewed in the Trappist style, beers brewed by monks of another order, or it can simply be a marketing scheme from an international brewing conglomerate. These “commercial” abbey beers first appeared in Belgium after World War I.
Although Leffe produces both a brown and a blonde ale, here I’m reviewing just the brown, with hopes for the blonde in the future. Unfortunately, this beer isn’t as widespread as other brews I’m reviewing. While it’s common enough, you won’t find it at Trader Joe’s, or even many Kroger’s brand grocery stores.
Leffe provides an affordable introduction into the world of Belgian abbey beers. For this review, I first sampled the beer in a standard white wine glass. It was good, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be better in a goblet. I don’t have a goblet. I’m ashamed to say that the closest thing I could find was a plastic margarita glass. Despite the probable toxicity of this budget option, I decided to give it a try. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Belgian breweries know their stuff. I’ve been skeptical in the past when I’ve ordered a Belgian and it’s come out in a thick glass goblet. With wine, you want a fine rimless crystal to experience the fullest flavor. I thought it would be the same with beer. But Belgian beer often insists on arriving in a thick goblet. I didn’t understand this until I experimented and realized the difference between my wine glass and margarita plastic... er, glass. The goblet style really opened up the flavor profile of this beer.
Nose: Coriander, sweet caramel, spices
Taste: A go-to Belgian for the budget minded. Rich spices, sweet caramel, carbonation. Caramelized sugar remains on the palate long after the last sip. Color is rich, deeper than most brown ales, yet distinctly brown against the blackness of a stout. The Trappist’s mastered beer making, and this abbey brown retains much of the same flavor characteristics at a fraction of the price.
Pairs with: French onion soup, fennel dishes, pizza, red meat.
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