Orval is a beer I’ve wanted to add to my cellaring project for a long time. The problem though: by the time Orval makes it through the importation process, the Orval is about six months past the bottling date. I want to control the provenance of the bottles from as close to the bottling date as possible. Also, I want the first bottle to be tasted as close to the bottling date as I can. The only solution was to get some directly from Belgium. When I found a great 12 bottle shipper that was designed for small bottles, I knew I had my solution. I packed up a box of tastiness and mailed it to my friend Kevin Desmet of Belgian Beer Geek. He was kind enough to keep an eye on his local Orval retailer and snag the 12 fresh bottles I’d need to add Orval into my cellar projects.
Orval, for those not familiar, is made by the Trappist monastery of the same name. Located deep in the south of Belgium, Orval has been making the same beer since the early 1930’s. It is the only beer in the trappist family that uses the Brettanomyces yeast strain. It’s used twice during the fermentation process. The first round of fermentation takes place with their house strain of Saccharomyces in vertical conical fermenters. It then goes into horizontal tanks where the Brett is added along with the large bags of hops for the dry-hopping. Another dose of Brett is added for the bottle conditioning. This series of bottles were all packaged on March 28th, 2017. It then went into the warm rooms for bottle conditioning for about 4-5 weeks. At that point, it left Orval in early May. With Kevin’s help, I got to sample this beer within a month of its release. You can’t really beat that for freshness without procuring them yourself at the Abbey!
Appearance: Hazy copper, beige head, great head retention.
Aroma: Bready, pineapple, grass, floral, caramel, straw.
Taste: Bready, cracker, nutty, spicy.
Overall Impression: At this point, the Brett is only a milder undertone while the hops are fresher and more dominant. The beer still retains some of its sweetness from the malts that provide that amber color. While the sugars created in their malting process isn’t accessible to regular yeast, the Brett will chew it up over time. The hops have a classic Euro hop aroma and flavor but pack a nice bite of bitterness. And is usual for a bottle conditioned beer, the CO2 was nicely effervescent. I’ve had Orvals of all age ranges, but it’ll be exciting to track the changes in real time. Bottle no. 2 will be opened in another six months. The bottles will be kept in my wine cooler which keeps temps and humidity in the ideal cellaring ranges.
Availability: All the time, around the world.
You can read more about the history of the Trappist brewers and Orval here.
If you’d like to look at some pictures and read about my trip to Orval, click here.
Very interesting post. I’ve been curious to know what relatively fresh Orval tastes like for a while now. I tried to compare young and old Orval a while back, but I wasn’t able to track down a bottle younger than about 10 months.
Looking forward to periodic reports on the beer as it ages.
It’s hard to find “fresh” Orval after going through the importation process. By the time it gets on to store shelves here, it’s about the same as as “old” Orval in most Belgian bars!
Lucky enough to be going to Belgium next year, and I hope to visit Orval so I should be able to get first hand experience with fresh Orval then.
Most places that carry Orval will have fresh Orval, Ambassador bars will have both. Be sure to get the Orval Vert at their cafe!
That’s an awesome experiment. I wish I could do this but customs in Canada will seize any alcohol sent across a border without a distributor involved.