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Tasting the Leffe Blonde Clone

Posted by homebrewdad on 6/05/2012 at 02:04:06 PM


As a recap, the Leffe Blonde clone is a Belgian ale.  I tried the commercial version of this beer for the first time at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in Walt Disney World in early October, 2011, and found it to be a flavorful, complex, yet very drinkable beer.  I feel like it will be a great beer for helping to introduce non craft beer drinkers to what good beer can be without scaring them off by the boogeyman known as "dark beer". 

I'm taking a bit of a different approach with this blog entry; rather than make several small posts, I have collected them into one article that hopefully is worth the read.  I do organize each set of thoughts by the original date to help you get an idea of where I was coming from.

This clone recipe is *not* an exact copy of Leffe Blonde; commercial Leffe is 6.6% ABV, whereas this recipe works out to a little better than 7.9%... and the numbers on this batch for me hit 8.4% ABV.  In addition, I had to do some substituting on my hops for the batch, as those called for by the recipe were unavailable at brew time.  Since this definitely qualifies as a bigger beer, it is very possible that it will need some extended time in bottles before the flavor comes into its own.  We shall see! 

May 19th, 2012

I couldn't wait any longer, so last night (after four weeks in bottles), I cracked open the first bottle of my Leffe Blonde clone. My tasting notes follow.

Appearance - pours a rich golden color, albeit rather cloudy.  The head consists of about one finger's worth of densely packed off white foam that really persists well throughout the glass. Chill haze is evident thanks to my cooling issues with this batch on brew day... bleh.

Smell - very sweet, fruity bouquet; floral and grassy hop scents are easily noticeable.  Sweeter than I was really expecting, with a distinctive odd note that I just can't quite identify.

Taste - light, but surprisingly complex; nice grainy malt charater with serious spicy overtones - you'd almost swear that black pepper or other flavoring spices had been added to this brew. As the glass warms a bit, a little more malt sweetness becomes apparent. Some bitterness at the end of every sip, but not overwhelming. A hint of alcohol harshness is also noticeable at the end. Dryer than the aroma suggests.

Mouthfeel - More substantial than the color implies; drinkable, balanced. A bit of a carbonic bite; carbonation is definitly noticeable on the tongue, even halfway through the glass.

Overall - I'll be interested to see just how this stacks up against the original beer; my impression is that this one just feels "bigger". Right now, this is a good beer with nice potential, but I think that it needs a few weeks to fully mellow into the great beer than I think it can be.

Fermentation temperatures never got high on this batch, so I'm not really worried about fusel alcohols; the fact is that this is an 8.4% ABV beer, so I'm thinking that it is still just green and boozy. I'm hoping this is where the carbonic bite is also coming from - that the beer just needs time to mellow. If these issues calm down with some time, I could see myself keeping this beer on hand pretty much all of the time.

I am concerned that the beer is rather dry - I recall the commercial version being a bit sweet, and the recipe I used claims the same.  I only lost a few degrees of heat during my mash process, but now I am worried that the temps got too low, which would leave me with fewer remaining complex sugars (and less sweetness). 

Regardless, I plan to give it two weeks, drink another bottle, then go from there.

May 24th, 2012

So last night, I consumed the "real deal" - a commercial bottle of Leffe Blonde (for research purposes, of course).

Appearance - very slightly lighter than my brew. Extremely clear, which mine was not... ah, well. Virtually identical head appearance and retention.

Smell - holy cow, this was spot on! I had noticed how mine had a very sweet, distinctive scent to it... so does commercial Leffe.  I'm guessing that this might be a product of the yeast variety.

Taste - again, I was stunned at how close this was, all things considered. An almost identical spicy kick up front - the homebrew recipe definitely nailed that, as well as the grainy character. Biggest difference was that the "real" Leffe lacked the alcohol harshness I was detecting in my brew; hopefully, mine will mellow out. I detected a very slight fruity hint with a touch of sweetness at the finish... my own brew lacked this fruitiness and sweetness. I'm again hoping that this may become apparent with age in my version.

Mouthfeel - very similar, with a tad less bite than mine. Perhaps a touch thinner, as well.

Overall - a very drinkable beer with surprising complexity. Super kudos to Revvy from HomeBrewTalk, as his original recipe (the one I converted to a partial mash and brewed for this batch) almost perfectly replicates the commercial Leffe (and mine might still get there).

This is going to be a long week before I try another of my bottles. I have some very high hopes, though... I've seen what age can do for homebrew.

June 1st, 2012

Today marks six weeks in bottles for this Belgian ale.  Hopefully, this will have been long enough to give my beer a chance to mature and age out some of the flaws I detected in my first bottle.  I am a big proponent of letting beer sit in the fridge for at least two full days (this helps dissolve the CO2 in solution), but I am anxious to try another bottle of this beer; the current bottle has been chilling for about six hours.  I am willing to trade some bubbles for the chance to taste it now.

Appearance, aroma, and mouthfeel are unchanged (no surprise, there), except that the carbonic bite is gone.  Once again, I notice the distinctive aroma of this beer - it is defintiely spot on when compared to the commercial version.

Flavor has indeed improved by quite a bit!  That booziness I had in the first bottle is completely gone.  There is still more bitterness than I was expecting, but it has noticeably lessened from two weeks ago.  Also, more good news - I pick up on some of that fruitiness and sweetness in the finish that was missing in the first bottle.

The beer is not quite perfect, but it has improved quite a bit.  This is encouraging, and makes me think that when it has aged a bit more, this will indeed be an excellent beer.  The moral of the story, I suppose, is that bigger beers just take longer to be fully ready... not that anyone should be surprised by such a finding.

Tags for this post: Leffe, blonde, ale, clone, Belgian, beer, taste, tasting

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Thanks for a good read once again. You just made me want some Leffe blonde, so I'll have to stop at a shop on the way home to get some. :) Would love to taste some of yours, though. Maybe one day....

posted by Pekka on 6/11/2012 at 04:10:56 AM

I suspect you're right about the unique aroma coming from the yeast. Even though you said the fermentation didn't get hot, I wouldn't be surprised if the peppery notes weren't also caused by phenols from the yeast. Now I want to try my hand at this!

posted by James on 6/10/2013 at 12:00:54 PM