Orval Day 2013 – 3 November, 2013
Orval Day is an annual event held at The Beer Mongers in Portland, Oregon. Sean Campbell, the owner, is a major fan of Orval, so much so, in fact, that he considers it to be the best beer in the world. So what happens when you own a beer shop? You can have a day to celebrate your favorite beer.
Orval is the most unusual of the Trappist beers. While you can find similarities between various beers in the other Trappist breweries lineups, there is only one brewery that brews one beer for public release and that one is the only one that bottle conditions its beer with the famed wild yeast: Brettanomyces.
It’s a fairly laid back event featuring multiple vintages of Orval as well as several other Orval “homage” beers brewed by other breweries, but I was there for the Orval. I’ve been a fan of Orval for quite a while, but haven’t done an organized vertical tasting of it despite years of drinking bottles of varying ages.
Additionally, there’s a raffle with the grand prize being a 3 liter Orval Chalice. I won a rad Orval bar towel which I added to my bar towel collection. The event was capped off with the playing of a fun and informative documentary about Orval and their brewery.
If you’ve never been to a vertical, it’s a pretty common thing in the wine world and one that’s becoming popular with age worthy beer enthusiasts. Basically, a vertical involves a tasting in which you try different vintages of the same beer to see its different stages of development. In most cases, you want to start with the oldest beer so you don’t blow out your palate with the bigger, bolder flavors of the freshest beer. For example, many people do verticals of Sierra Nevada Celebration or Alaskan Smoked Porter. The fresh hops of the former and the massive smoke of the latter would render your palate mute to the subtleties and complexities of the aged versions. I drank the beer starting with the oldest and finishing with the newest, although I’ll present the tasting notes below from freshest to oldest so you can read how the beer develops in sort of a stop motion method.
Note: All beer has been stored at a reputable wine storage facility that maintains scrupulous temperature and humidity control. The Beer Mongers have an excellent cellaring program and randomly break things out for sale or save them for special events.
6 Month Old – Bottled 12/04/2013 (April 12th, 2013)
Appearance: Darkish orange, light haze, light tan head, great retention.
Aroma: Woodsy, floral hops, incense, pepper notes
Taste: Light pepper, malt sweetness, light caramel notes, crisp hoppy finish.
Overall Impression: At 6 months, this beer is on the border of what would be considered “fresh” Orval. There is still some good hop character and a general “fresh” feeling to the flavor and aroma, but the yeast hasn’t really kicked into full gear yet. There’s still a decent bit of sweetness in the beer. With importation times, this is likely the freshest you’ll be able to experience in the United States.
1 Year Old – Bottled 30/08/2012 (August 30, 2012)
Appearance: Hazy, dark orange, light tan head, great retention.
Aroma: Spicy/woodsy hops, pepper, earthy, sage, thyme
Taste: Toast, bready malt, light sweetness, nutty, harvest barley (you’ll know this one if you’ve ever been on a barley farm at harvest), prickly peppery finish.
Overall Impression: At 1 year, the yeast is starting to really get to work on the beer. It’s less sweet as the Brett is eating the more complex yeast the main yeast left behind. There is still good hop character, but it’s starting to be supplanted by yeast character.
2 Year Old – Bottled 18/08/2011 (August 18, 2011)
Appearance: Hazy, darkish orange, light tan head, great retention.
Aroma: Butterscotch, pepper, caramel, buttered bread.
Taste: Buttery, white pepper, honey, earthy, mango, lemon, tropical fruits, bready, grainy.
Overall Impression: I think this bottle had some diacetyl going on. The yeast is really in full production here, and will eventually take up the diacetyl it’s producing. It’s not intensely strong, but maybe more than I care for.
3 Year Old – Bottled 07/10/2010 (October 7, 2010)
Appearance: Light haze, darkish orange, light tan head, great retention.
Aroma: Pepper, earthy, herbal, sage brush, classic Brett funk, sage, thyme
Taste: Pepper! earthy, funky, a bit of honey in the finish.
Overall Impression: This may have been my favorite of the bunch. The Brett has really dried out the beer and added a huge amount of yeast character. This intense dryness is one of the things I like best about aged Brett beers.
At the beginning, the hops are the dominant feature of Orval, along with a nice bit of sweetness that was left behind by Saccharomyces. As the beer ages, the Brett eats the complex sugars and as the hops recede with time, becomes the dominant flavor feature. With each year, the Brett becomes stronger and stronger while the hops become weaker and weaker.
This is a fun event. A small group of Orval Devotees gathered to share their love for this amazing beer. These are the kind of beer events I like best: small, intimate, and low-key. If you live in the Portland area, or plan to visit, be sure to stop into The Beer Mongers, especially for the next Orval Day. If you don’t, start buying a few bottles to keep around and do your own vertical! According to the brewery, the beer should be good for up to 5 years, although I’ve never tried one that old.
Have you been to a vertical? Do you like trying aged beers?
You can read more about the Trappist Breweries and their histories here.
Orval is pretty close to the top of my list of favorite beers too, but I’ve never tried a vertical tasting. After reading this post I’m intrigued to give it a try. It sounds like the pepper taste really intensified as the beer aged.
It totally does, along with its general funkiness.
A lot of beers classified as saisons have the peppery finish and funkiness of an Orval, and not surprisingly also use Brett yeast. In your opinion what is the difference between Orval and a good belgian Saison?
What a wonderful day to be had!
It was a fun afternoon!