Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Orval: Beer of the Week Backgrounder

By William Brand
Tuesday, October 16th, 2007 at 3:52 pm in Uncategorized.

Beer of the Week

Our beer of the week is unusual in many ways. It’s Orval *****, the world classic ale from the ancient CistercianOrval Bottle Trappist monastery, Abbaye Orval, in Belgium near the French border.

Brewing began here in the 12th Century, but stopped in 1793, when Napoleon sacked and burned the monastery. Brewing did not resume until 1931.

The beer – formulated by a German brewmaster with help from a Belgian – is quite different than beers from the other six Trappist breweries. They all make strong, dark, sweet ales. Orval does not.

This is a 6.2 percent alcohol by volume beer, packaged in a unique .33 cl (11.15 oz.) bottle. It’s a brilliant, dusky gold beer with a towering, lively head of foam that lasts and lasts. The nose is spicy with an aroma of ripe pears and hints of apples.

The beer’s dominant taste is hoppy and dry with exquisite undertones, maybe even a touch of old leather.

It’s brewed with an ale yeast using pale barley malt and a touch of caramel malt. Hops are aromatic Bavarian Hallertau. It’s always been dry hopped in the English style: mildly spicy, Serbian Styrian Golding hops are added during fermentation.

When the beer is bottled, a bit of white candy sugar and a wild yeast – Brettanomyces is added to each bottle, so fermentation continues. The brett gives the beer its characteristic leathery, dryness. The sugar insures the beer will be lively when poured. Tim Webb, author of the “Good Beer Guide to Belgium” recommends letting the beer age for a year before drinking to allow the beer to mature.

An abbey this old is steeped in history, and of course, legends. According to the original legend, a noble lady, Mathilda of Tuscany who was a widow, lost her wedding ring in a fountain. “She prayed to the Lord and at once a trout rose to the surface with the precious ring in its mouth.

“Mathilda exclaimed, `Truly this place is a Val d’Or.’ In gratitude she established a monastery on the site. The Orval label shows a trout with the ring. Proceeds from the beer support the monks and their many charitable works.

For more information on this unusual beer go here. Can’t find this beer? Call (510) 915-1180 or email us for a copy of our Bay Area Retail Beer List.orval-bottle.jpg

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