In the past I have written for The Brew Club about the delights of Belgium’s Trappist and Abbey beers, those potent brews that are either made in Trappist monasteries, or those produced by major brewers – such as Corsendonk or Leffe – that would have you believe they have Trappist origins.
Elsewhere on The Brew Club, you can find reviews of brews from the abbeys of Westmalle and Koningshoeven, and while I really should make an effort to find the remaining brews… Achel, Chimay, Westvleteren, Orval and Rochefort, today I turn my attention to ‘The Queen of Trappists’ from the Orval brewery in the Belgian province of Luxembourg – not to be confused with the nearby Grand Duchy of Luxembourg which is a separate country.
The Orval monastery can trace its roots back to the consecration of the first abbey in the year 1124, and there are records dating back to 1628 describing the monks consuming beer and wine. The monastery was destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops in 1798 as punishment for the monks having assisted Austrian troops; as I have mentioned previously, much of Europe’s bloody history has been played out on the fields of Belgium.
The monastery (and brewery) were finally resurrected in the early 20th Century, and the brewery rebuilt in 1931. The brewery, bottle and distinctive ‘chalice’ glass all date from this period, in a distinctive ‘art deco’ style, designed by the Belgian architect Henry Vaes. The brewery was later modernised in the 1950’s and while undeniably a Trappist Ale, none of the brewery’s employees are men of the cloth.
Unlike other Trappist breweries, Orval only only brews one beer for public consumption, brewed to a respectable 6.2%, no dubbels or trippels here. Something else that differentiates Orval is that they bottle condition the final beer by adding a dash of ‘wild’ yeast (Brettanomyces) this is the same wild yeast strain that ferments Lambic beers, but as the yeast isn’t truly wild in the Orval area it has to be added – it only exists in the wild in the Lambeek valley near Brussels.
For an excellent article about wild yeasts check out BillyBrew’s excellent post here.
Orval pours a cloudy russet colour, the colour of Autumn apples, with a full, foaming white head. The head disperses slowly, and leaves a healthy lacing as you drink. There’s not much of a nose, maybe brown bread and slightly sour apples.
There’s a reasonable mouth feel, and while there’s a underlying sourness – sour apples again – lurking in the background, the foreground flavour is bready.
All in all, while this was a satisfying ale, it really didn’t light any fires for me, it’s not quite as good as I remembered it, although I have recently been enjoying some very very good beers. I really wanted to score this more highly, but at the end of the day, I’m giving it just 3 stars.
Here in the UK we don’t get Autumn or Pumpkin ales, but I have a few more Trappist ales lined up for the next couple of months.
I’m looking forward to them.