Notre-Dame de Leffe is a Norbertine abbey near the town of Dinant in the Namur region of Belgium. Beer was first brewed here in 1152 but they ceased the practice around the time of the French Revolution. In the 1950’s, to raise funds for maintenance, the abbot allowed a local brewer to make their beer. They now licence the Stella Artois and Hoegaarden breweries (part of the giant Interbrew group) to make a range of beers.
Leffe is the brand leader among Belgian abbey beers and is best served in its own stylish glass – with a logo which has the image of an abbey and is in the style of a stained glass window – the chalice shape glass not only enhances the appearance of the beer, it helps retain the aromas of malt, spices and alcohol.
Although Leffe is better known for its popular and widely available blonde beer, which is quite pleasant, in my opinion the brune is a far superior brew. It has the same alcohol content as Leffe Blonde but it’s more bitter although the bitterness is balanced by the brown sugar sweetness of the roasted barley.
Leffe Brune is brewed with roasted malts, which provide the deep brown colour and unique taste. It’s also sometimes called Leffe Dark.
It pours to a dark, autumnal brown, almost black colour like a stout but, on holding the glass to the light, a warm, red ruby tone shines through. The massive, thick and foamy, rocky head is a light brown/tan colour which lasts forever and leaves a very nice lace effect. On the nose it’s slightly spicy with hints of fruit…pears and bananas. There’s some vanilla and a big caramel roast malt and chocolate aroma with a little earthy, peaty note which is well balanced by some floral hops.
Full bodied, with a smooth, velvety mouthfeel, it’s mildly sweet and slightly fruity with hints of apples, pears and bananas. The flavour emphasizes the stout parallel – lots of rich, warm chocolate malt flavours, quite bitter (the bitterness of dark chocolate) but not very hoppy. There’s a gentle spiciness and a slightly tart bitterness. Lots of mild, sweet malt flavours, and a suggestion of nuttiness, hazelnuts perhaps. It slides down beautifully and coats the palate leaving a warm, fuzzy sensation. The finish lingers with lots of dark chocolate and roast malt flavours. Quite tart and fruity, as it warms in the goblet, it becomes even more silky smooth and satisfying.
At 6.5% ABV, This is a smooth and strong, rich and dark, complex beer. This is how beer should be. There ARE better beers from Belgium but, considering this is from a large multi-national, it doesn’t seem to have lost many of the qualities of a craft brew. It won’t compare to a trappist beer such as Westmalle or Chimay, but it’s fairly easy to come by and is certainly better than most offerings.
Would I drink it again? – I already have!