Orval is a perennial favourite amongst beer lovers, craft beer or otherwise, and for good reason. That bitter, funky, highly carbonated and refreshing brew is delicious (in my opinion) and pretty much unique. It has a huge fan base and makes regular appearances on the UKCBN Facebook group. For the past couple of years I’ve thrown a mountain bike in the back of my car and headed to Belgium for a bit of cycling and a chance to take in some Belgian beers. This has included visits to the Ardennes where, after crashing around in the woods and back roads near Florenville and Izel you can find the monastery of Notre Dame d’Orval. It’s a beautiful old abbey in a lush green valley and worth visiting in its own right.
The monastery famously only makes one beer, although that’s a total lie because they make two. However, the lighter Orval Verte is only available on draft to the public at the neighbouring restaurant A l’Ange Gardien, giving one more reason to cycle there. The food’s good too because, well, because it’s Belgium.
They throw open the doors to the brew house every September and let the public in, and I haven’t timed my visits to coincide with that so far. I’m not too bothered though because I get the impression it is very much like any other modern brewery and that you’d be more likely to see regular blokes in overalls clambering around on shiny kit rather than some idyllic olde worlde vision of aged friars stirring the mash with wooden paddles and a prayer on their lips. After all, monks only need to oversee the brewing process in order to retain Trappist certification; they don’t always need to do the brewing itself.
The abbey has a very good visitor centre which includes an exhibition on the brewing of Orval, and that is the main point of this post. Below are crude photos of the main parts of the exhibition which step the visitor through an overview of the process. I thought that Orval fans and those interested in brewing Belgian styles might find it interesting, and I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. I apologise for the quality but they were the best I could do without clearing the visitor centre out and asking them to shutter the windows. Anyway, they are readable enough. If you’ve tried brewing an Orval clone and would like to share your recipe / technique / experience, please feel free to share below.
I do recommend that if you’re in that part of the world that you call in for a bite to eat and look around. Also, you can pick up a carton of 12 bottles for around EU20. Difficult to strap to a bike though.
A couple of bonus pics