03 March 2009

Orval Trappist Ale

Rating: 8.9
Brewery: Brasserie d'Orval (Guame, Belgium)
Glass: Tulip or Chalice
ABV: 6.2%
Seller: The Foodery (Philadelphia, PA)
When Enjoyed: 26 February 2009

Say it slowly now, brettanomyces. Yes, brettanomyces. This is the stuff classically unique beer is made of. Brettanomyces is a unique strain of wild yeast found only in the backyard of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval which is situated in the southern regions of Belgium and borders both France and Luxembourg. The inclusion of this sort of ingredient is truly what sets this beer apart from others. There is no other beer like it, which is perhaps why this bright, bubbly amber ale is Brasserie d'Orval's only brew, which even sets it apart from the other half dozen trappist breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands.

This brew, available only in the skillet-shaped bottle pictured above, pours smooth into any rounded bottom glass with a rich head that has a noticeable citrus fragrance. The carbonation is powerful and maintains itself through the whole experience. This is a quality that many American made Belgian Ales overlook, often they nail the ingredients and consistency but the potency is mitigated by a lackluster carbonation.

Orval is an eminently enjoyable drink, in the end, it does not bowl you over with ABV or malt content, nor does it offer a truly varied palate of tastes that its Trappist counterparts often do. It is stylistically unique in this way, as a relatively low alcohol amber with a relatively high hop content, it presents a truly unique flavor, but as tasty as that is, it is not something that will develop and improve over the course of the bottle. It is also worth mentioning that its low ABV and not-so-sophisticated malt makeup means that this beer will not age as well as the premiere tripel's and quadrepel's of other Trappist breweries.

What really makes Orval a valuable experience is that wonderful little organism brettanomyces. The yeast's effectiveness has the double effect of infusing Orval with its bubbly texture and augmenting its palate ever so slightly in the direction of a wheat beer. It serves as a welcome reminder that our best beers owe their quality to unique, tiny, living organisms.