Are You Tasting the Pith? - 24th July 05
Sniffy though I am about the continuing devaluation of the specialist beer sector, I have to concede that bringing better beer to the UK and getting people to drink it ranks second only to CAMRA's revival of the cask ale market over the last couple of decades in terms of Good News For Beer-Lovers Everywhere (is that sentnce long enough for you, Lynne Truss?). InBev are currently giving Leffe a massive push, with lots of pretty good, full-page, colour advertising kicking around at the moment. So, is it worth trying?
Leffe Blonde (6.6% abv) is the foot-in-the-door of the range - it looks like lager, and so there are no visual preconceptions for Joe Sixpack to overcome. The nose is fairly restrained - a touch of yeastiness, perhaps some hints of coriander and orange liqueur. The immediately noticeable thing about the palate is its fat, slightly sweet, slightly sticky mouthfeel - it feels physically thick on the tongue compared to many beers. The prevalence of malt tone and sweetness, and the lack of hop bite, will make it difficult for many to deal with, but I quite like it - it has sustenance as opposed to apritif properties
Leffe Brune's (6.5% abv) looks would terrify many - it pours a deep ruddy brown, with a good rocky head, and immediately gives of a bit more of a toffeeish / chocolate malt nose than its paler sibling. On the palate, it feels similar, but the smoky notes push through to a bitter finish that is achieved not with hops, but (I'm guessing here) torrefied malt - it has a pleasant espresso bitterness, set of by malty sweetness in the finish.
If Leffe Brune can get people to try darker beer, then Leffe Radieuse (8.2% abv) is the one that would make me try more adventurous things. Pouring deep, dark and ruddy, this immediately gives of a deep aroma that makes its curaçao and coriander spicing apparent. As it settles in the glass, the beer gently morphs from riotous and brash to soft and seductive. Fruit notes prevail (ripe red berries, dried fruit and orange peel), and the beer carries its strength well all the way to the finish, when there is a warming whoosh of alcohol. Well made, distinctive and different - my criteria exactly for liking a beer.
Leffe Triple (8.4% abv) should be the daddy of the range - spritzy, fairly dry and spicy, pale stone fruits, with a citrus hint in the finish - but for me, it just loses out to Radiuese.
Are these beers brewed by a huge megacorp? Yes. Do I dislike what the megacorps are doing to the busines and the culture of beer? Yes. Do I think that Leefe, in its various guises, is worth drinking? Yes, for beginners and connoisseurs alike, there is genuinely something for everyone here.
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