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It’s a Trappist!

Reading Time: 3 minutes read

(Ben) A quick Google search for Orval reveals that many people do not know how to spell, as most of the results are misspelled entries for Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. Unless, of course, there is a delicious strain of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn that I am not aware of, that is most likely a combination of kettle corn and secondary re-fermentation with brettanomyces. Meanwhile, back in graduated-high-school land, Orval is one of the most delicious Belgian pale ales on the market, and a Trappist beer, no less.

(Meagan) I rather like and respect monks. Anyone who dedicates themselves to a life of service probably deserves a fair amount of credit. But, this being a beer blog, you’ve probably already surmised that I am especially fond of Trappist monks because, of course, they brew.

Okay, well, to be quite accurate, Orval isn’t technically brewed by the monks. According to the Orval Brewery website, they’re the “shareholders and manager of the company.” So the proceeds from selling this unique concoction enable the monks to do all their praying, and charitable works, and whatnot. Still a jolly good thing, I say.

Orval is a 6.2% Belgian pale ale (though, according to the folks at Beer Advocate, it’s labeled as 6.9% for the U.S. market). Unlike some of the order’s other abbeys, the Orval Brewery sells only the one beer, and according to their website, their production capacity is darned close to maxed out at “around 70,000 hectoliters per year.” And since the abbey is most certainly not an industrial park, they have no intention of expanding their brewing operations.†

I get the impression that limited supply is a normal feature of Trappist ales, as is their low interest in exporting it. In the case of Orval, they export less than 15% of their product, making it a somewhat rare find in these United States. Not impossibly rare, but certainly not as common as the Trappist ales’ secular cousin, Duvel.

orval-1Orval pale ale is memorable, at least in part, because of the distinctive character imparted by brettanomyces. This is a feature not shared by other Trappist brews.‡ In an article for Brewing Techniques, Christian T. DeBenedetti describes the Orval brewing process. They use three fermentations: the first, “with a standard pale ale Saccharomyces strain” in open stainless steel tanks, the second involves a bunch of different yeast strains (including brett), dry-hopping, and “horizontal stainless steel conditioning cylinders.” The final stage is bottle conditioning with candi sugar and “fresh primary yeast.” I would guess that last step is the reason that the ABV is higher on the label for U.S. distribution than in Europe; the beer goes in at 6.2%, but who knows what it is when it comes out? Besides delicious, that is.

Yep, time for tasting notes. Ben recorded today’s notes, with occasional remarks and interjections from me.

Bottle date: 07-17-14. Had in a 6 oz. Belgian globe glass. Meagan drank hers from a Glencairn glass (of which she is ridiculously fond).

Visible: Pours an effervescent orange hue with a generous head. Ice-cream head reminiscent of Hennepin.

Olfactory: Amazing citrus smell. Hint of brett? Tangy smell, like a Gewurztraminer. Hints of ginger. Some leather in the nose.

Taste: Malty Deliciousness. Dry Belgian pale flavor. Citrus hops. Very small “wild” brett tang. Super clean. Could drink this all day.

Feel: Bubbly! Possibly medium body.

There you have it. Yumptious Trappist ale.


Brasserie D’Orval.” Orval. Brasserie D’Orval SA. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.†

DeBenedetti, Christian T. “Sanctity Meets Modern Times in an Evolving World Classic.”Brewing Techniques 1 May 1998.‡

Orval Trappist Ale | Brasserie D’Orval S.A. | Villers-devant-Orval, Belgium.” BeerAdvocate.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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