Drink Magazine

My Orval, My Orval Day

By I Think About Beer @ithinkaboutbeer
My Orval, My Orval Day

(Image from orval.be)

Hazy and coppery orange with an impossibly dense and tall head rising out of its classic chalice, Orval is a feast for the senses. The aromas are a combination of earthy European hops and funky brettanomyces yeast. The taste is effervescent, dry, and lingering. At a modest 6.9% ABV, it’s an incredibly drinkable beer compared to many of its Trappist compatriots.

The Valley of Gold

My Orval, My Orval Day

The stained glass window in the brewery depicting the famous trout.

My Orval, My Orval Day

A pasture outside the Abbey of Orval.

My Orval, My Orval Day

The Brewery of Orval

At the point, I became the object of the bar’s attention. They quickly began gathering a few people until I realized they were assembling everyone in the bar who had even a smattering of English. Pretty soon, I was having a conversation by committee with the bar patrons. They were extremely curious why an American would bother coming all the way to their tiny corner of Belgium. And really, that’s a fairly good question as it’s a two-hour drive from Brussels with no typical tourist destination. I explained I was on a mission from Beer. For the locals, Orval is omnipresent but taken for granted unless it runs out. My interest in their local beer peaked their curiosity since it’s not really a place local people visit even though it’s just down the road.

Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval

My Orval, My Orval Day

The view from A l’Ange Gardien

A l’Ange Gardien

Orval’s brewery is one of the larger parts of the abbey complex. The main brewing hall is a beautiful mix of copper, tile, and stained glass. Much of the older brewing is preserved along one wall. The active kettles are a clever facade of copper and steel. The outside looks like the old copper kettles but when you look inside the door you see the actual stainless steel kettles within.

My Orval, My Orval Day

The old copper kettles in front of the modern control room.

My Orval, My Orval Day

Under the copper facade, stainless steel lurks.

You can walk amongst stones and ruins still bearing the char Napoleon’s troops caused when they burned the entire complex down just over 200 years ago. You can walk by the same water that Countess Mathilda lost her ring in nearly 1000 years ago. Overlooking the ruins, brewery, fromagerie, and cafe is the massive Art Deco statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus designed by famed architect Henry Vaes. In the cafe, you can sample the fruits of the abbey’s labor and lands: cheese and beer. You can taste the Orval Vert in the only place in the world that serves it. Or you can sample the Classic Orval from the bottle and glass that were also both designed by Henry Vaes.

In the 

My Orval, My Orval Day
brewing museum next to the ruins you can look over antique brewing equipment. In the cellars of the ruined abbey, displays and artifacts will take you through the history of the abbey and the region. You can walk the same path invading armies from Charlemagne’s Franks to the Catholic and Protestant armies of the 30 Years War to Napoleon’s French to Hitler’s Nazis walked. You can experience history, culture, culinary delights, and the tranquility of southern Belgium.

My Orval Day

While anyone with the desire and time can visit the ruins, cafe, and gift shop; the brewery is closed to all without special invitation. Those lucky few with an invitation get to look behind the curtain. After a walk through the beautiful brewhouse, I watched as one of the brewers pulled bags of spent hops from the horizontal conditioning tanks. The first fermentation takes place in standard vertical conical fermenters with standard Saccharomyces yeast. The next stage takes place in horizontal conditioning tanks stuffed with multiple bags of hops. The dry-hopping process is unique to Orval as a Trappist. They’ve been using it since the beer was first formulated in 1931. They use Bavarian Hallertau, Slovenian Styrian Golding, and Alsacian Strisselspalt hops.

My Orval, My Orval Day

Dry-hopping bag coming out of the horizontal conditioning tank at Orval

My Orval, My Orval Day

Newly filled bottles of Orval

My Orval

I’ve loved Orval for many years. The beer itself is fantastic; but when you add in the Trappist history, you develop a true loyalty to the beer and the brand. Getting to tour the secretive halls of the brewery and walk through the storied abbey grounds only sealed that fate for me. Orval is often one of the first beers I order when I touch ground in Belgium. When there’s nothing that’s jumping out at me, I fall back on Orval. When I’m home in the US and missing my friends in Belgium, Orval is the beer I reach for. It’s my comfort beer when I want to feel like I’m in Belgium. Everyone has a favorite age for Orval. The brettanomyces makes it very age-worthy allowing the brewery to put a 5 year best by date on the label. For me, whatever the age of the bottle in front of me is my favorite.

My Orval, My Orval Day
Brand loyalty is at an all time low in today’s modern era of craft beer. I drink a lot of different beers, but I still have beers and breweries I’m incredibly loyal to. Orval is one of those beers and breweries. It’s my Orval.

Orval Day 2017

2016 was the first year Orval’s US importer, Merchant du Vin, celebrated Orval Day. They set up events around the country with Orval loyalist accounts to celebrate one of the world’s most beloved beers. You can even find bottles of various ages as bars are starting their own cellaring programs to emulate Orval Ambassador accounts. Orval Day 2017 is Saturday march 25th. Merchant du Vin has provided a list of participating accounts located throughout the country. If you’re an Orval fan, be sure to show up at your local participating account and join the celebration. If you haven’t tried Orval yet, Orval Day 2017 seems like the perfect day to get your toes wet.

A portion of the proceeds from Orval Day will be donated to MAP International.

You can learn more about the history of the Trappist Order and Orval at The Brewing Monks.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to Merchant du Vin for arranging my tour with Orval.

Tower and Church - Orval
The Welcoming Statue - Orval
Steeple - Orval
Statues - Orval
Ruins to New - Orval
Ruins and Bell Tower - Orval
Rows of Horizantal Fermenters - Orval
Reflecting Pool - Orval
Orval from the Street
Opening the Horizontal Fermenter - Orval
Old Statue of Mary and Jesus - Orval
Old Brewing Kettles - Orval
Old Bottles Returning Home - Orval
Museum Copper and Gauge - Orval
Mathilda's Spring - Orval
Enter Through the Gift Shop - Orval
Dry Hopping Horizontal Fermenter - Orval
Doors - Orval
Copper and Gauge - Orval
Clock Tower and Ruins - Orval
Clock Tower and Crucifix - Orval
Cheese Factory in Back - Orval
Autumn Through the Window - Orval
Autumn Ruins - Orval
Autumn Hills Peaking over Orval
Autumn Hills over Ruins - Orval
Arches and Bricks - Orval
Arch Ruins - Orval
Orval's Ruins and Arches
Orval’s Ruins and Arches
Ancient Carvings - Orval
Afternoon Sun on Orval
Abbey Grounds - Orval
Mary & Jesus Statue at Trappist Orval
Mary & Jesus Statue at Trappist Orval
Orval in Sun and Clouds

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