Sunday, January 4, 2009
Orval Brewery (Brasserie d'Orval)
Orval Abbey is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1132 in the Gaume region of Belgium and is located in Villers-devant-Orval, part of Florenville in the province of Luxembourg (not the country!).
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the abbey was completely burnt down by French forces, in retaliation for the hospitality it had provided to Austrian troops, and the Trappist monks dispersed. In 1887, the land and ruins were acquired by the Harenne family. They donated the lands back to the Cistercian order in 1926 so that monastic life could resume on the site. Between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, the new monastery was constructed, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey.
Despite not commercially producing beer until more recently, Orval probably always had a brewery onsite, brewing beer was customary in these areas ill-suited for vine-growing. Beer was first and foremost considered for its nourishing properties : it was called "liquid bread". Various facts corroborate this idea : topographical references on old drawings; a detailed description of production left by a Franciscan visitor three hundred years ago; and an area called the "hop-field" very close to the monastery.
In 1529, the Emperor Charles Quint granted the monks authorization to establish a foundry which would provide the necessary revenues for the monks to financially support themselves. When Orval later (circa 1926) began to rise again from its ruins after more than 130 years, the enormous task of rebuilding the monastery required considerable financial means; a brewery was established to assume the role of the former foundry.
This newly established brewery employed lay-people. The first master brewer was a German by the name of Pappenheimer; he is buried at Villers-devant-Orval. The origins of Orval's very distinctive beer can probably be attributed jointly to Mr. Pappenheimer and to the Belgians, Honoré Van Zande and John Vanhuele who were working in the brewery at the same period. They were adventurous brewers who employed methods that were not used by any local monasteries or brewers at the time. Several of these methods, such as the infusion brewing and the "dry-hopping" are English: probably owed to John Vanhuele, who brought them from England.
Currently the brewery produces two trappist beers:
* Orval Trappist Ale, 6.9% ABV, often referred to as The Queen of Trappists. It was first made in 1931, and has a complex and unusual flavor and aroma produced by a unique strain of yeast. The beer is light in color, slightly cloudy, and has a large, foamy head. There is a complex aroma of leather, horse blanket, spice, and many other earthy components.
* Petite Orval, 3.5% ABV, beer brewed only for the monks. Although not generally available for sale, it can be purchased in the monastery itself or the café near the monastery.
Because the beer is bottle conditioned, its flavor can improve over the years with aging, although its hop character and relatively low alcohol make it less suitable for this purpose than some other Trappist ales.
As with most Trappist beer, Orval is considered to be world class quality and highly critically acclaimed. Orval is also known for its unique "skittle" shaped bottle.