Traveling across the world has provided me the opportunity to sample varieties from breweries that don’t normally turn up in my home country of the United States. As I’m currently on a trip across Europe I’ve had the chance to try out a few of these Stateside rarities in their natural environments or at least very close to their homes. That is to say, in this particular instance, sitting outside on a sunny day in France at the appropriately named Café Leffe.
The selection of beers ran the gamut from the typical Leffe Blonde and Brune (brown ale) to Ruby and the very strong 9, with – you guessed it – 9.0% ABV. I chose the 7.5% ABV Leffe Royal, which is an offering that I haven’t come across in the states. Even though Leffe is brewed by a subsidiary of the Anheuser-Busch conglomerate, not every brand from their stable turns up on the taps in America, so when the opportunity presents itself to try out something new and unique to a region I will jump at it.
I will say that I had a Blonde just before the Royale at a different café, and if you’re familiar with it, you know the orange and clove spice that’s so present and, frankly, sometimes overwhelming, in that particular Belgian blonde ale. The same flavors are present in the Royale, but they are a little more subdued. The hue is a bit darker, almost on the bronze side. Not as deep as the brown, and not as caramel heavy, but with hints of that same toasted malt flavor that I love so much in brown ales.
The Royale is a nice fit between the Blonde and the Brune. The spiciness is toned down a bit and the ABV is cranked up from 6.0 to 7.5%. It’s definitely one that I can see creeping up on you if you aren’t careful, especially with its drinkability. The one thing that I do see suffering from the subtlety of the toned down flavor is the loss of some of that ultra bright nose Leffe Blonde has. The Royale, while nailing it on flavor balance, has a far more subdued aroma. Now, again, this could be because I was comparing it back to back with a Blonde. The differences are there, and while they aren’t as “whack-you-in-the-face” as the difference between a double IPA and a Bud Light, they are enough to notice that the nose is somewhat lacking. But, nose-lacking aside, the taste will draw you in and keep you there. The aforementioned cloves and orange are there, along with some earthier flavors, all tied together with a sweetness that isn’t so intense that it’s a turn off, but rather something that pulls you back in. It tastes full in the mouth without overpowering you with alcohol. Be warned though, this is a sneakily strong one.
In any case, this is a beautiful beer, and when served properly in a Leffe chalice with about an inch of creamy white head on a warm near-spring afternoon in the Grand Place of Lille, France…well it just adds up to being nearly perfect. Served with a plate of mixed cured meats, it’s heavenly.
Come to think of it, I may just have to take a walk back there and get me another.