Sunday, 13 March 2011
Orval - Trappist Abbey and Beer
Too northerly for viticulture, Belgium was originally a region of city-states whose monasteries were bastions of knowledge with their libraries, herb gardens and beer and cheese-making.
After a day spent visiting Bouillon (see here) en route to France's wine regions, we stopped by Orval Abbey for a mixture of sightseeing and beer-purchasing.
Afterwards, exiting through the monastical gift shop, there were opportunities to buy religious trinkets and imagery, but more importantly boxes of Orval beer (we passed on the Orval beer glasses and decided the Orval cheese, whilst good, would not keep during our journey).
The beer itself is quite strong, 6.2% alcohol, and is fermented using Brettanomyces yeast. Like many Belgian beers, it undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle meaning it has a sediment and is extremely fizzy, so out of a small-ish bottle of 33cl, around a quarter is lost.
Many bottle-conditioned ales improve with age just like a fine wine and finding this to be the case with the Orval, after the first few bottles, I tucked the rest away to be sampled periodically over the next 18 months or so.
Early bottles were crisp and refreshing, well-structured and balanced with orangey, coriander-seed hints.
The development from bottle to bottle every couple of months was barely perceptible but after a year or so, it had become noticeably fuller, richer and more strongly-flavoured, but still did not appear to have peaked.
Moreover, with a little of the gas escaping via the crown top, it was a little less explosive on opening.
This then, is a beer for cellaring - for at least a year or two, so if you happen to be passing through the Belgian Ardennes, it's worth stocking up with a few cases.
Orval Abbey - http://www.orval.be/an/FS_an.html