Of all the Trappist abbeys, Orval is singular. They brew one beer and it is completely unique. Orval is a blonde ale, but it’s not a run-of-the-mill blonde. Orval appears unassuming — golden and bubbly, crisp and drinkable. But it throws a curve, a tart, funky curve. It’s so subtle you could miss it before the snappy hops finish the show.
Orval’s beer was actually originally brewed in 1932 by a team made up of one German and one Flemish brewer. Flanders is known for uniquely sour and wild beers and Germany in known for very crisp and clean lagers. It was a perfect match leading to a very unique beer. Our old friend Jean De Clerck actually destroyed Orval’s unique taste when he had them remove an old brewing stone, the source of wild yeasts, from the fermenter. Locals nearly revolted when that special something was lost. They eventually brought it back by adding Brettanomyces to bottles during conditioning.
Orval is actually fairly open about the origins of their beer. Though it is arguably the oldest monastery – founded in 1070, abandoned in the 1790s – Orval houses the youngest brewery. They only started brewing in the twentieth century. They don’t rely on dubious stories about ancient recipes handed down from monk to monk. That freedom from tradition allowed the brewery to create an entirely new beer in a brand new style.
Orval is the first Trappist beer I’ve reviewed and it’s crazy. Initially, all I smelled was the faint scent of wild yeast. The feel is super light, dry and effervescent. The flavor is a little bit tart and a little bit bitter. The bubbles remind me of a bitter sparkling wine.