Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orval Trappist Ale (2011 original review)

Orval Trappist Ale is one of the most requested beers to be reviewed. Why it took me nearly 500 episodes to get around to it is anyone's guess. Not that this is the first time I've had it (or even had it ON CAMERA for that matter as you'll see in the video). It's a Belgian "single" or Belgian pale ale, but it's made with that wild "Brett" yeast to give it a sour, funky edge. It's a difficult be to accurately review since no two batches are truly the same (and storage conditions means different bottles from even the same batch might be different).

P.S. Sorry about the video quality. This is the second episode in a row where my editing software has been acting extremely glitchy and won't render anything in high def. I've been rendering all the raw footage in standard definition and then taking that render and re-rendering it into high def. Obviously the picture quality is affected in the process. I'm still trying to troubleshoot the issue but hope to have it resolved in time for episode #500 coming soon!

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (630) - Albany, USA - JUL 12, 2011
I believe every Trappist brewery makes a "Belgian single" or pale ale exclusively for the monks’ personal consumption and for sale at their gift shops only. I’ve had a few of these rare beers (i.e. Westvleteren Blond and Chimay Doree), and other beers of the style (i.e. Russian River Redemption). And while all have been good, none have really been more than that since they’re not meant to be. In the case of Orval Trappist Ale, it’s the only beer brewed by this monastery and a Belgian pale ale at that. The difference being Orval is brewed with wild yeast to give it a sour flavor and stronger potency. The result is a beer poles apart from others of the style.

I poured a 11.2oz bottle into a Trappist chalice.

Appearance: Extremely hazy opaque brown color, some carbonation visible. Forms a large, fluffy white head which retains well enough but leaves no lacing.

Smell: Belgian farmhouse funk plus fermenting fruit and sour candy.

Taste: As soon as the beer touches the tongue there is an immediate sour, dry sensation. This increases a bit as the palate continues, but with the addition of fermenting green fruits through the middle. White grape, green pear and Granny Smith apple flavors all emerge throughout the middle of the palate. Additionally there’s a candy-like sweetness riding shotgun the entire time. The result is a palate of authentic light fruit flavors, candy sweetness and a sourness often found in sour candy as well. As a lover of sweet and sour candies and green fruits I found it quite delectable.

The thing about Orval is that it’s an impossible to beer to truly review since it’s made with wild yeast and no two bottles and no two batches will taste the same. It’s bottle-conditioned so the flavors within individual bottles are constantly changing as well. Having had this beer several times at different ages in different vintages I’ve noticed differences in their palates. However, the green fruit and candy sourness have all been part of the palates. Tasty to be sure, but sometimes too mild and sometimes too funky.

Mouthfeel: Fizzy, tingling sensation from the carbonation. Otherwise medium-thickness and softer mouthfeel. Aftertaste is slightly sour and dry.

Drinkability: While the palate may vary from bottle to bottle, Orval’s drinkability remains pretty consistent. Despite the high Trappist carbonation, it’s an otherwise smooth, quaffable beer. I wouldn’t consider it refreshing, though, considering the sourness and dry finish and subsequent aftertaste. The 6.9% ABV actually seems rather high as the beer drinks like something much lower. I think it’s an ideal beer to pair with cheese and fruit, but it’s difficult to place it in a specific social situation.

Overall, Orval is different from your usual Trappist beer, and if all you’re used to is dubbels, tripels and quads - that’s a good thing for sure.

Grade: 8/10

NOTE: See my 2018 re-review to BJCP specs here: