Sure to make the most expert pourer of beer seem amateurish.
Orval Trappist Ale from the Brasserie D’Orval
6.9% ABV (although that number is debatable)
The ale being reviewed tonight is one of two produced from within the walls of the Belgian monastery, Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval, the Orval Trappist beer.
The hue is gold bullion liquefied and placed in glass. Orval appears light and effervescent. The head is huge; bubbly but not creamy. A puffy rather than thunderous cloud.
Those little bubbles, like tiny sea eggs, settle to the bottom of the glass. Occasionally, a few sprint toward the white layer that rests atop the liquid.
As more beer is delivered to the vase, the race of bubbles becomes an all out power struggle with endless baby spheres racing each other to their foamy escape.
The aroma is like a tractor-pulled trailer full of straw on an autumn night. The straw is accented by a touch of citrus that makes for a pleasant but not overly pungent scent.
It becomes immediately obvious that Orval's uniqueness defies categorization. It initially delivers a surprisingly abrupt alcoholic bite that, thankfully, mellows as the beer sits.
Nevertheless, a tremendous battle is occurring here. The frontline pits sour versus bitter, but the cavalry exists in an extraordinary array of characteristics.
At first, the product of that battle-royale is a bit disappointing. Imagine something akin to rubbing alcohol. Not good. But, to great delight, Orval grows significantly more appealing with time. In fact, the dynamic change of this beer during a single setting is testament to its depth and gives the beer a kind of luxurious appeal (almost to suggest that this is the connoisseur's beer; one whose best attributes would be missed if downed with haste).
This beer is complex, and requires slow deconstruction. It has an acidic nature not unlike orange juice. Yet, the flavor profile is so very little like orange juice, and very much more like a zesty lime juice matched with the intriguing warmth of a scotch.
The base of this beer is briny. It shares the mineral quality of a Gose. But that's it. In every other aspect, Orval is much more in your face than the gentle Gose.
At first, Orval seems more unique than good. But then it creeps on you. Ultimately, it develops such as to be quite tasty, and unlike anything else in the fridge (or cellar). One wouldn't sit around the campfire crashing several of these. But one could, with great pleasure, sip a single Orval while enjoying a delicious cut of steak.
As it subdues, Orval eventually becomes a bit more reminiscent of a Saison, in a very general sense. It grows more "wild." So, as to say that a farmhouse yeast (or something like it) slowly peaks through. Though it never fully becomes Saison-like. Truly, Orval is not of any single style.
So, about that complexity. Let's say this is a Saison (as wrong as that is). If so, it is one with an alcoholic kick not shared by others of the style. And despite seeming airy with a fluffy head, it hardly drinks lightly, though its refreshing nature is slowly released during the duration it spends in the glass. Orval's undeniable citrusy Trappist sourness is abutted by an unexpected bitter note.
This beer is so artfully balanced that, as a whole, it is an enigma.
Due mostly to uniqueness, Orval receives 3 stars of a possible 5 from TheCraftBeerGuru.com.
It could be supposed that only Orval's most hardy advocates could enjoy more than one or two of these during any one sitting. But trying one is a must. And, so, Orval receives TheCraftBeerGuru's highest recommendation.