Orval – Trappist beer from the Valley of Gold

Orval is a beer produced by Trappist monks from Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in Belgium. Unlike the other Trappiest abbey breweries like Chimay, Rochefort and Westvleteren, these monks only make one kind of beer, the eponymous Orval Belgian Pale Ale, with Petite Orval (think Orval Light at 3.5% abv), brewed for their own consumption.

The legend behind the abbey, according to their website, is that the widowed Countess Mathilde of Tuscany accidentally dropped her gold wedding ring into a fountain or spring. She prayed to God for its return, and a trout jumped up from a water with the ring in its mouth, causing the good Countess to exclaim, “truly, this is a Val d’Or (Valley of Gold)!” Hence the name Orval and the trout-and-ring symbol, which were adopted by the monastery she funded there afterwards in gratitude.

Poured into a ten-ounce brandy snifter, because I didn’t have the requisite chalice. Bottled in 2009, best before 2014, and enjoyed in 2011.

Appearance: Reddish-amber, with a cloudy, bubbly, frothy head; excellent retention and lacing.
Nose: Grass, straw, and yeast. Herbal and spicy, hoppy- but not of the in-your-face American hops. What I imagine a western Europe countryside would smell like.
Taste: Slightly acidic, grassy and herbal. I’ve read people describe this as funky and I would tend to agree. That’s really the most appropriate word to describe this.
Mouthfeel: Light-medium body, strongly carbonated, crisp and dry. Very tart and piney finish.
Appearance: 5; Smell: 4; Taste: 4; Mouthfeel: 4.5 Overall: 4.5

Not really my kind of beer, but I appreciate how complex it is. As far as Trappist ales go, I still prefer Rochefort 10 and Chimay Grand Reserve. I guess I’m still not ready for Saisons and Sour Ales, given that this is a Belgian Pale Ale but more on the sour, funky yeast side. Overall, I’d say this would be a really dynamic beer for pairing with food, but when drunk alone, I’d prefer one of the above two other Trappist brews. I did have this with some tangy aged Edam (a.k.a. quezo de bola), and I thought they played off each other well. The one thing I have to emphasize with this beer is that you have to drink it at the right temperature, which according to the bottle is around 12-14 degrees C. It’s better to err on the warmer side than on the colder. While I was drinking this, the flavors really came out as the beer warmed. On the other hand, I’ve had this at the Distillery served at around 5 degrees and all I could taste was coriander.

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2 Responses

  1. Noel says:

    I've had it a few times. Yes, it is the quirkiest of the Trappists. Sent a case to a beer-loving writer friend in Texas a few years ago. He loved the stuff but told me none of his friends could get into it.Like your blog entries. keep it up!N

  2. Eli says:

    Hey Noel! We've missed you at Craft the past few weeks! I've been wanting to get into the sours, but it's still an acquired taste for me. I'll try the Victory Helios saison soon and see if I can appreciate it already.Thanks for the kind words! See you soon, cheers!

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