ALTHOUGH AB INBEV has headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, the world’s largest beer portfolio doesn’t contain many actual Belgian ales. Given that country’s status as beer’s Promised Land, this mismatch invokes the irony of dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean. Yet it is also perfectly characteristic of macro beer’s commoditized attitude—ubiquitous but oblivious.
Stella Artois is Belgian, of course, but one would hardly know it for its streamlined lager profile. Hoegaarden was more distinctive once, when Pierre Celis resurrected the Witbier style in the 1960s, but today is considerably tamer than most of the successors he inspired. Thus the closest InBev’s multi-national portfolio comes to an unmistakably Belgian beer would be Leffe, the gold foil-wrapped brown bottle of blonde ale with the abbey on its label.
The appearance of the beer itself reinforces this strong early impression—a striking golden color, high effervescence, (somewhat) foamy plume of head, and rather fine lacing. Filtration leaves the beer almost clear, though, and while this makes for a lambent presentation it takes its toll from the beer’s aroma and flavor. The former has a fair amount of yeast, candied fruit, a touch of sourdough, and crisp light grains, while the latter adds in some bicarbonate water (almost brackish) and alcohol, mostly via the finish. Hops lack distinction, mostly giving a slight bitter twinge near the end without declaring their nature.
A dash of spice helps for balance, though it’s hard to find a point of reference. Coriander? Cardamom? Carbonation is fairly high and the medium-light mouthfeel initially satisfying, but overall lacking the brilliance—especially in the latter stages—that can make the style so easy to pick up that second, third, and umpteenth time. Further into the glass, too, the initial overtones of banana are supplanted by corn sweetness that weighs upon the tongue. One could do worse, as macro-brewed Belgians go, but why waste the time when it’s so easy to do so much better?
Served: 33 cl bottle best by 5/23/15)