This Saturday, March 26, devotees of Orval Trappist Ale will convene in bars across America to celebrate one of the world’s finest and most unique beers. Orval Day was created by Merchant du Vin, a Seattle-based specialty beer importer since 1978, and it will feature celebrations in many cities, including Seattle, where you can find events at Brouwer’s Café, The Beer Junction, Slow Boat Tavern, and Toronado. In Bellingham, Elizabeth Station will be offering bottle pours of this amazing beer.
Orval only sells one beer, and it’s all brewed within the walls of Notre Dame d’Orval Monastery in Belgium. It’s a delicious beer when fresh, but it also evolves in the bottle for many years.
Orval is made with pale and caramel malts, plus Belgian candi sugar. It’s fermented with a house yeast strain, dry hopped with whole-cone hops, and then bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces (aka Brett), which is a wild yeast strain that contributes to the beer’s depth and dry finish.
Stylistically, some say Orval ranges between a Belgian pale ale and a saison, but it defies categories. It pours with a light amber-orange hue crowned by a sudsy, foamy, long-lasting head.
Young Orval is crisp and effervescent with a snappy bitterness, a slight caramel sweetness, a subtle fruitiness, and pronounced hop aromas of spices and flowers.
As the beer ages, its hop bitterness mellows and its Brett characteristics develop further, adding a barnyard-like funkiness, along with earthy hints of leather and spices. It finishes very dry with a balanced amount of acidity.
The story of Orval
As the story goes, around 1070 A.D., princess Matilda, the Duchess of Burgundy, and a group of travelers stopped to rest in a forest in what is now Belgium. Matilda dipped her hand in a spring and her wedding ring – a memento of her deceased husband – slipped off her finger and sank. Matilda’s heart sank along with the ring, and she fell to her knees and prayed for its return. To her surprise, a trout swam up to the surface with her gold ring in its mouth, and it returned it to her. Matilda proclaimed the area to be a “Golden Valley,” and she gave the land to the church to establish a monastery. To this day, the trout and ring can be seen in Orval’s logo.
The first Orval church was consecrated in 1124 and the monastery became part of the Cistercian (Trappist) Order in 1132. Orval was destroyed and rebuilt many times due to fire and wars until it was finally disbanded in 1795. In 1926, Orval was reborn, and as a way of earning revenue for construction and daily operations, a brewery was included in the construction plans. Since then, Orval Trappist Ale has earned global recognition.
Orval is one of those beers that seems to get better and better every time I try it. If you have never tasted it before, I highly recommend it. And if it’s already one of your favorites, Orval Day is just a reminder for you to revisit this classic.