Orval is really a classic Trappist ale. A few may argue that it even the classic beer within the style…I would beg to differ, perhaps citing Rochefort or Chimay; regardless, it is a pinion of what is “Trappist.”
A beer is better appreciated if the brewery and brewers can first be appreciated, in my opinion. I am not suggesting that the beer itself will taste better in some psychosomatic suggestive sense, just the beer will take on a character of its own. For that reason, I suggest heading to the Monks’ website and read the exhaustive article that details their brewing process. It is really insightful as to how the flavors of Orval are achieved (and gives me a boat load of homebrewing ideas).
Orval pours just like a Trappist should: Fizzy, thin, and with a thick marshmallow-like head. The beer is mostly clear but there is a faint filmy quality. It is orangish brown in color.
The aroma surprised me a bit. Right off the bat there was a piney aroma that hinted of juniper berries, gin, and brisk hops. There was a distinct aroma of musky grains, lemon, the classic clove, subdued banana, and oddly enough…mint.
While I thought the aroma lacked in complexity, the taste more than made up. I picked up on some brettanomyces-esque funk. The malts were masked to some extent, but there were some interesting qualities that came through. There was a subtle sweetness that reminded me a bit of a farmhouse saison, with lemon grass hints. The piney qualities of the hop influence were less up front, but still slightly present. The beer has a floral quality that pairs well with the flavor of honey. The clove and spicey notes typical of the style come through as the beer goes down the throat and linger in the aftertaste, but are never predominant.
Orval is a fantastic beer. While it isn’t my favorite Trappist beer, it is unique and delicious. Were it cheaper, I’d drink it regularly. Knowing that the Monks’ passion for this beer is perhaps only supplanted by their passion for God and man makes it better!
Among other Trappists: