Popular Posts

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Orval - Trappist Abbey and Beer‏

Belgium has no wine-making tradition but more than makes up for this with its many and varied beers of which the Trappist ales, made at one of the country's six Trappist monasteries, are amongst the best.

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.

The original Cistercian monastery dates from 1132 but is now in ruins after being destroyed in 1793 by French forces - its contemporary replacement, dating from 1935, is unadorned and futuristic - and also not generally open to the public, so we contented ourselves with a wander round the much more beautiful and atmospheric ruins.

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


  1. Thanks for the recommendation - I haven't tried Orval beer yet but will definitely give it a go the next time I'm dining at Belgo Centraal.