Brett a Manger – A Homage to Brasserie d’Orval

PictureDon’t you just hate those bloggers who think of a silly or whimsical subject title and then try their hardest to sculpt a blog post out of it? Who me you say?… how very dare you!  What I would say is, I’m no expert on this subject and may get some facts wrong, but it’s my genuine attempt to show my love for a great beer.

I am but one of millions of people who love and respect the Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval, their history, dedication to their cause and of course their very special beer and cheese.  Their product range consists of Orval (a 6.2% Belgian Ale), Petit Orval (a 3.5% Belgian Ale – only available at the Cafe near the Abbey and produced predominantly for the Monks at Brasserie d’Orval) and of course their mighty fine cheese.  The industrious monks at the Orval Abbey weren’t content with gifting us with heavenly beer, so when they are not busy maintaining historical buildings, forests and going about their daily lives, they also produce a raw, pressed cheese.  Some credit should also go to the Picturelay-workers of the local community who run the cheese-factory and brewery on a day-to-day basis.  (Availability of this cheese outside of Belgium, France & Holland is unknown to me?).

The first thing that you will notice here is that despite the clear opportunities available to diversify their range, the monks stay true to their calling, and their trade-mark produce serves only to support charitable aids and for the upkeep of their way-of-life.  Having recently watched a popular cookery programme (on tour) visit a similar Abbey, they were surprised to find an array of merchandise available to the public year-around and somewhat dubiously nothing was produced on the site of the Abbey or by the monks.  This is not meant to be a criticism of that or any other monastery striving to survive (financially), rather the reason for drawing this comparison is to highlight the tenacity and faith of the monks of Abbey d’Orval and as testament to their superb products.  The sad reality is that aside from the successes (in brewing terms) of Abbey d’Orval and Westvleteren Abbey, many of today’s monasteries and Trappist monk communities (as well as other denominations) are in decline.  The last-guard or generation of monks in some areas simply do not have the resources to successfully maintain this kind of revenue, yet our appetite for tourism beit genuine interest or a tick-box exercise and our craving for gift-shop knick-knacks seems to force a way into being fulfilled.  Interestingly, the Orval website says this: “The conditions for visiting the brewery are the following ones: to be “more than” tourists, having something to do with the beer distribution or coming from a brewery”.  While we would all love to try beers and other artisan Trappist and Trappistines produce from as many places as possible, and would not like to see such traditions fade, the real issue here is the plight of a religious order and the monks at Orval clearly feel they don’t always get the visitors or the attention they really need (although the income is well received).  Not a subject I would be qualified to comment on further, but a sobering thought all the same.

Enough of that though, what I wanted to do was to write a little bit about my love for a great beer, a beer that is in my ever changing top five, but will always be in there somewhere.  I make a point of having at least one bottle in the house ready to drink as the mood dictates, and a couple of bottles safely pushed to the back of a roof space (beer cupboard) where I can’t reach them without the help of a youthful sweep!  The tasting notes for Orval are well documented, (and I’m yet to try the Petit Orval), but I love the bready and slightly sour aroma and then the lemon and spice and sourness from the brettanomyces yeast (more so when drunk young).  But, age a few bottles and try after a year or so I’m told you can reap the rewards of your patience.  I’m a few months in and will report back when I’ve experienced it first hand.


Photo by Mark Dredge

Finally, when performing the obligatory Google trawl to see what has gone before me in a given blog subject matter, I happened upon Mark Dredge’s (Pencil & Spoon) post on FABPOW Orval & Orval Cheese.  Within this post he makes reference to ‘Orval Day’ at North Bar (Leeds) back in October 2010.

Updated 17/10/11:   I can confirm that #OrvalDay2011 is on Wednesday 19th October @NorthBarDrinks, Leeds.

So there it is.  My homage, (or frommage if you will) to Orval.  Orval the beer, Orval the cheese and most importantly Orval the community.  So raise a glass to dedication and its resulting perfection.

Please let me know what you think of my post. Thanks.

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