I tend to steer clear of Leffe beer in Belgium – it tastes inferior to the likes of Orval or Tripel Karmeliet, and I always tend to fear the market influence of large brewers like InBev, the owners of the Leffe brand. But a friend I’m staying with had a bottle in their fridge, and hence a little investigation began while drinking it.

IMG_8388First of all, where is the actual “Abbaye de Leffe” mentioned on the bottle of Leffe beer? The answer, it turns out, is in Dinant in Wallonia (map). But if you read the label on the back of the Leffe bottle carefully (click the photo here to enlarge it), you see it says “Brassée pour” i.e. brewed for the Abbaye de Leffe, not brewed at Leffe. According to Wikipedia, Leffe is actually brewed at the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven, 90km from Leffe, and in Flanders. The brewery looks like this – hardly an abbey!

IMG_8389Look at little further and you discover the logo “Bière Belge d’abbaye reconnue” – so what does this mean? This is a sign from the Belgian Brewers’ association, documented in French here. There are three aspects to this certification – that there is a link (lien) with an abbey that exists or no longer exists, that royalties are paid to that abbey or the institution that succeeds it, and the abbey has control over the way the beer is marketed.

This all strikes me as ludicrously tenuous, not least if the brewery paid adequate dues to the abbey to mean the abbey was in no financial position to impose its will with regard to the way the beer is marketed. Also the 1240 on the label of the bottle indicates when beer was first brewed in Leffe, but the brewery there was destroyed in 1794, and brewing only resumed in 1902.

So the lesson from all of this is to check the label very carefully, otherwise you may well be falling into the trap of thinking you’re drinking some traditional brew from an abbey when you’re actually consuming some mass-brewed beer from a major multinational brewery. That’ll leave a more bitter taste than Leffe’s slightly sweet maltyness ever will.

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  1. bartje

    While I agree Leffe is $h*t, far too much sugar in it, not even trappists are brewing the same beers they were in the Middle Ages. Westmalle is the first of them who reinvented their beer tradition with a dark beer in the 19th century, triple wasn’t around until the 30ies of the 20th century. So beer tradition, yes, traditional beer, not so much. But at least trappists are still brewed in the abbey, with monks at the helm of the brewery. The only other abbey beers brewed by monks other than trappists are to my knowledge Val-Dieu and Averbode, the latter since only a couple of months.
    Leffe, Grimbergen and many others are industrial beers, made by industrial breweries, big or small. They can be good, like Karmeliet (by brewery Bosteels in Buggenhout), with original recipes, like Sint-Bernardus, or they can be for people more used to drinking lemonade, like Leffe, but they are all to some measure selling a fake story.

  2. Tadhg

    …but surely the question is “Does it taste good” – in the case of Leffe the answer is no. Personally I prefer the industrial Belgian stuff to most of the supposedly better Abbey beers….

    see @dsquareddigest on the merits of Budweiser


  3. Alper

    In Berlin I like to tell people that drinking Belgian beer is a reactionary act what with the vast amount of interesting new craft beers available everywhere.

  4. acerne

    Dude. Don’t be such a hairsplitter about it and simply enjoy a fine cup of Leffe. The taste is great, it’s one of the best beers out there. And by the way, the fact that its not a trappiste is a proof that it’s not made in an abbey. But who cares about that? And by the way, while you may prefer Orval or Tripple Karmeliet, did you stop and check their backgrounds? I’m not sure, but I would assume it must be similar to Leffe…
    No pun intended, not trying to start a fight. Just my honest opinion about the potion of life that I love so much. Best regards from Slovenia!

  5. Stefan Happer

    Talking about mass-brewed beer from a multinational – or maybe exactly the opposite of it – I just discovered this weekend that an Austrian friend has started a hand crafted Belgian beer business in Austria :- ) http://www.alefried.com/de/produkte