For the uninitiated, Orval is a Belgian beer made by the Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval Abbey in Gaume, Southern Belgium.
It’s a unique beer, a stone-cold classic that has remained unchanged in looks and taste since its creation in the 1930’s.
It’s not easily classifiable, being more akin to a traditional British IPA than anything from the Belgian style canon. What sets it apart though are its multiple fermentations, the last of which takes place in bottle when the beer is deliberately inoculated with brettanomyces – a yeast famous for its beer spoiling properties – to add life, character and a complex, evolving palate of flavours.
When fresh the beer has a pronounced hoppy aroma, light fruity palate and assertive bitterness. With age the hops mellow, the bitterness rounds-off, complex floral yeast flavours develop and the candy-sugar malt is balanced with a touch of acidity.
Most aficionados will tell you that flavour really starts to develop after 6 months. I’d have to agree. The iconic label shows the bottling date (and a best before of 5 years later) so we always know how old a bottle is.
Last Christmas I started to keep a few cases back each time I ordered new stock, and have now started a fledgling ageing programme in the cellar of the shop. The first of these cases, contain bottles that are now 6 months old and therefore ready for sampling.
You’ll find fresh Orval on the shelf in the shop. Take it home and enjoy it, or stick it in a cupboard and wait a while for the magic to happen. Or ask a member of staff and we’ll see what we’ve got in the cellar.