Golden Pints 2012

I’m joining in with the Golden Pint Awards.  It’s all just a bit of fun, I may not have tried all of the beers that you have, so here’s my 2012 in beer.  Thanks to Mark and Andy for organising it.

Best UK Draught Beer:

Winner: Magic Rock High Wire

Runner up: Buxton Axe Edge. Honourable mentions: Lovibonds Sour Grapes. Hawkshead NZPA.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:

Winner: Buxton Imperial Black

Runner up: Thornbridge Raven. Honourable mentions: Kernel / Redemption Big Brick Red Rye Ale & Adnams Solebay Celebratory Beer.

Best Overseas Draught Beer:

Winner: Mikkeller Sort Gul.  Runner Up:  Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:  Smuttynose Imperial Stout (2007). Honourable mention:  Russian River Pliny the Elder (thanks to @Toby_SR for sharing).

Best Overall Beer: Buxton Imperial Black

Best Pumclip or Label: Red Willow, a brand where less is more (sorry Toby, I couldn’t resist)

Best UK Brewery: Buxton Brewery. Honourable mentions: Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel

Best Overseas Brewery: Mikkeller

Pub/Bar of the Year: Friends of Ham (Leeds).  Honourable mentions: North Bar (Leeds), The Grove (Hudds) and The Sparrow (Bradford) Fantastic pubs, I just don’t get to them often enough.

Supermarket of the Year: Booths

Beer Festival of the Year: Independent Manchester Beer Convention

Independent Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz

Online Retailer of the Year: Beer Merchants

Best Beer Blog or Website: Joint Winners: Beersay and Oh Beery Me
Runner Up: Boak & Bailey. Honourable mentions: Probably Due to Network Congestion (pdtnc), HopZine, The Good Stuff, Ghostdrinker.

Best Beer Twitterer: @Filrd

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Black pudding scotch egg & Mikkeller Sort Gul (at Friends of Ham).  Also a superb meal at Mr Foleys back in April, cooked up by Tyler Kiley and matched with Brooklyn beers.

In 2013 I’d Most Like To: More beer festivals, more brew days to gain brewing experience, more beer in general.  Watch this space (famous last words).

Open Categories:

My ‘Go To’ beer: Hawkshead Lager

Most helpful brewers if you are a homebrewer and have an imagination that moves faster than your actual brewing abilities: In no particular order….

  • Dominic – Thornbridge
  • Jeff – Lovibonds
  • Matt- Hawkshead
  • Ol – Roosters
  • Jay – Quantum
  • James – Sandstone
  • James – Buxton
  • Ade – Saltaire
  • Gregg – Weird Beard Brew Co
  • Brian – Bitches Brew Co
  • Rob – Copper Dragon
  • Helpful homebrewers too, but too many to mention. You know who you are.

Sunbeam Ales – Honey & Lavender

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This 4.9% Abv, bottle conditioned beer was brewed in Leeds, bought from Beer Ritz in Leeds and I’m drinking it in neighbouring Bradford. It’s local and from a 50L brewkit. I have no problem in writing that this is a craft beer.

Pours a light golden colour, forms a decent white head and has a steady stream of carbonation. The aroma is fragrant and while the lavender does dominate, it’s propped up with a hit of lime. The flavours are balanced, it’s medium bodied and has a smooth mouthfeel. Long aftertaste of lavender, gentle bitterness with the honey and sweet malts gradually arriving.  Dry finish.

Sunbeam Ales are brewed by Nigel Poustie and my first impression of his beer is a good one! Working with honey and lavender could spell disaster, but this is a delicate beer. Cheers!

The smallest brewery in Leeds

More information at Sunbeam Ales or follow Nigel on Twitter @SunbeamAles

A Grand Day Out

It was my birthday at the weekend and I enjoyed some much needed family time at home.  All this safe in the knowledge that I had the day of work on the Monday (yesterday), with a plan to escape the day job and treat myself to a brewday on a larger scale than my home setup.  A while back I wrote about Phil Saltonstall and his Brass Castle Brewery.   Since his launch in September Phil and his beers have enjoyed recognition at local festivals, including his Vanilla Porter (Bad Kitty) winning Champion Beer at the York & Cider Festival.  I’ve continued to watch Brass Castle developments via twitter and always intended to take up Phil’s kind offer of a brewday.

After a late start I arrived at the brewhouse, having navigated the winding roads of my native East Yorkshire countryside, as roads turn to tracks laden with mud and animal produce, and ‘passing places’ save you from the locals “drive straight and true” attitude.  The brewhouse was already a hive of activity as Phil and Assistant Brewer Ian were nearing the end of the mash.  With my keen bat senses I already knew this as I approached the building, steam billowing from every outlet.  A beautiful setting on Lord Halifax’s Garrowby Estate and a much needed increase in capacity from his 1BBL brewery back in nearby Pocklington.

Soon after I arrived I was introduced to Gavin Aitchison (News editor and pub columnist at the York Press) and Paul Marshall (Landlord of the Waggon & Horses, York).  We were given the brief tour of the brewery and then enjoyed the ensuing brewday as we chatted and quizzed Phil and Ian on their operation.  The brew was a single hopped, low abv, Pale Amber Heritage Ale and I understand this will be called Number 1 or #1 with it being the first brew at the new premises.  More information on this from Gavin at the weekend.   Despite the unfamiliar look and the obvious step up from the kit I use at home, there was a refreshing familiarity with the Victorian equipment and the manual processes that went with it.

I have seen a few modern breweries on tours and while I know enough to nod along in the right places, it’s not easy to grasp the brewing process when most vessels are enclosed, electronically controlled and the liquor, wort and beer being despatched at great speed through a mess of stainless steel tubing.  This is certainly the kind of set up that is needed once demand dictates, but at Brass Castle’s Garrowby Brewhouse this is all stripped back to two copper vessels, a hopper and a large gas burner where the coal fire once lived.  As I watched Phil and Ian work together to understand the mechanics, adjust and readjust the pipework, wrestle with levers and pulleys to raise the heavy equipment and generally overcome what many would see as limitations, I felt right at home and realised that my two vessel home set-up and faffy batch sparging process is really all that is needed to brew some tasty beer.

With the beer tucked up in the fermentation vessel and with the fun over, myself, Gavin and Paul quickly said our goodbyes and left Phil and Ian to clean up!  sadly we had left our overalls and wellies at home.  Thank you to my hosts, I had a really enjoyable day and look forward to trying Brass Castle beer again soon!

Golden Pint Awards 2011

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer:

Winner: Buxton Axe Edge

Runner up: Hardknott Code Black

Honourable mentions: Ilkley Mary Jane, Magic Rock Curious NZ

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:

Winner: The Kernel India Pale Ale 100 Centennial

Runner up: Red Willow Ageless

Honourable mentions: Oakham Citra, Traquair Jacobite

Best Overseas Draught Beer:

Winner: Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout

Runner up:  Great Divide Rumble

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Joint:  Stone Arrogant Bastard / Pretty Things Jack D’Or

Honourable mentions:  Stone Cali-Belgique 2010, Flying Dog Gonzo

Best Overall Beer: The Kernel India Pale Ale 100 Centennial

Best Pumpclip or Label: Redwillow brand/logo instantly recognisable

Best UK Brewery: The Kernel Brewery

Honourable mentions: Red Willow, Buxton, Hardknott, Magic Rock, Adnams

Best Overseas Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Winner: Mr Foleys (Leeds)

Runner up: The Sparrow (Bradford)

Honourable mention: The Grove (Hudds) – will feature heavily for me in 2012

Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose

Runner up: Morrisons

Independent Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz, Leeds

Online Retailer of the Year: Winner: MyBreweryTap

Best Beer Blog or Website:
Winner: Ghost Drinker
Runners up: The Good Stuff, New Briggate Beer Blog
Honourable mentions: The Beer ProleHopZine, BeersIveKnown, Beersay, Boak & Bailey

Best Beer Twitterer: Joint: @Filrd and @BeersIveKnown always on hand with friendly banter and beer (and cheese) recommendations.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: The Good Stuff: SummerWine Diablo IPA with Baked Feta

In 2012 I’d Most Like To… visit the breweries that have kindly extended an invitiation.  Learn about brewing beer.  Brew more beer.  Await lottery win.  Sell beer.  Kick back.  Bad Back.  Employ Brew Monkey.

Open Category:

Most prolific beer rating site in the North West: The Ormskirk BaronCaptained by @Baron_Orm and ably assisted by @Christoper_R – keep up the good work chaps!

Beer and Food Alchemist of the Year: Tyler Kiley (@Tkiley1), Chef at Mr Foleys.  Oh and rumour has it that his triple cooked chips aren’t bad either.

Ilkley Brewery Company Craft-Keg Launch

A brief bloggage on the Ilkley Brewery Company‘s craft-kegged beer launch at North Bar Leeds last night.  The place was packed, this may have been typical for Wednesday night, but there was also a strong showing from the Ilkley Brewery crew, easily picked out of the crowd in their branded rugby shirts and the odd flat cap [nothing odd about flat caps].  The format was more informal than a Meet the Brewer type event, but the guys were clearly enjoying the fruits of their labour and were as friendly and approachable as ever.

Alongside their cask beers the MJ Artisan Ales on offer were MJ Pale and MJ Summit and I was informed by someone in the know that the MJ Fortis wasn’t ready for public consumption.

Demand for our cask-conditioned ales continues to rise but in order for city centre bars, restaurants and hotels to serve our beers, we needed to create something that didn’t require bulky hand pumps and a time-consuming process in order to serve cask-conditioned beer …. Kegged beers are a perfect solution for bar areas with limited service and cellar space  – Luke Raven Ilkley Brewery.

Quote taken from the Ilkley Gazette (they have their headline slightly wrong but not to worry).  See also SIBA.

After a fair wait at the bar I tried the MJ Pale, a 3.7% Pale Ale, but not before clearing up the confusion with the bar staff who was merrily pouring me an Ilkley Pale (their 4.2% cask Pale Ale).  It was crystal clear, cold is ice and had a solid bitter finish.  It was certainly a refreshing beer, but maybe lacked a little of the anticipated fresh citrus flavour.

Moving onto the MJ Summit, a 5.4% IPA, once again there was some confusion over which Ilkley beer I was ordering, and once again the wrong beer was poured before I noticed.  With the correct beer in hand I enjoyed an aromatic, sweet beer with plenty of flavour packed in.  I preferred this beer over the keg Pale but wouldn’t drink many of them in one sitting as it was quite rich, only my opinion of course.

I also got to try a few other beers from around the globe, but the best of the bunch was Ilkley’s Smoked Witch, their 5% dark ale which has a lovely mellow smoky finish.  Must investigate this one further!

All in all it was a good night, lovely beer and great company.  I look forward to trying their 4.1% craft-kegged stout, MJ Fortis, another time.

Loch Ness Brewery

"Now there is something new in the water!"

I was thinking of writing a monster based introduction.  I thought about it and decided to leave it be.  I have been to Loch Ness as a boy but have very little memory of it, so the thought of manufacturing some sort of annecdote or fabricating an affinity with the place just doesn’t sit well with me.  Most likely I would end up regurgitating a pile of badly researched noise which would be unpleasant for everyone.  Safe to say most of us know the significance of the Loch!

So what do I actually know about the Loch Ness Brewery itself? As it happens, not very much, as they have only just started operating.  However, anyone who takes a look at their website will know that its been over 150 years since ale was brewed at Loch Ness, making this brewery a significant addition in the locality.  The new brewery site is situated at the Benleva Hotel, Drumnadrochit, Inverness-shire.  Brothers and business partners Allan and Stephen Crossland run the hotel and have acted on their passion for real ale by developing their plot and making use of a cottage at the back of the hotel to house the brewery.  Joined by brewing enthusiast George Wotherspoon, they proceeded to build the plant and seek counsel from established bewers from the Highlands who were only too happy to oblige and assist where necessary.

I first became aware of Loch Ness Brewery back in July 2011 when I was writing my Mutually Oblivious blog posts.  Having taken a couple of years to conceive, plan and act on their venture, their brewery was installed and initial recipes tested by January 2011.   Through April to September of this year they have been busy finalising their brew plant and during that time they were receiving plenty of interest in their beer from local pubs and beer festivals.  To much surprise, including their own, they were able to get their first beers to the bar for the 10th Loch Ness Beer Festival which ran from 16th-24th September.

Amongst some fierce competition from the likes of Blue Monkey, Salamander, Saltaire, Isle Of Sky, Fyne Ales, Inveralmond, Highland Brewing Co and many others, their beer WilderNESS was voted as joint second favourite behind Highland Brewing Co Scapa Special.

The Brewery - 'cottage industry'

Their current range of six beers  includes a golden ale, a red ale, a mild, a stout, a traditional English Bitter and a hop forward ale all of which would serve nicely as a session beer.  Their pump clips are modern and straightforward using local landscapes along with clear and consistent branding which is most evident in their beer names.  This approach has worked well for other breweries entering a buoyant market, for example the Red Willow of Macclesfield whose owner and brewer Toby McKenzie uses ‘less’ in the same way Allan, Stephen and George use ‘ness’.  I often find myself annoying Toby with silly suggestions so I’ll take this opportunity to apologise in advance to Allan, Stephen and George.  So, good luck guys and we look forward to seeing and tasting your beers when they reach us ‘down south’!

The Loch Ness Brewery’s beer:

  • LightNESS – A golden ale, with a crisp and full flavour and mild hoppy aroma (3.6% abv).
  • HoppyNESS – Overly hopped and full of character yet still low on alcoholic content (3.8% abv).
  • RedNESS – A reddish ale with nutty overtures, malt flavours and a hint of citrus (4.2%).
  • DarkNESS – A bitter stout with its roasted barley and a slight chocolate aroma (4.6%).
  • MildNESS – A traditional dark mild with a slight roast finish (3.5%).
  • WilderNESS – A crisp copper coloured ales with a malty nose, a well rounded bitter finish with a hint of winter spice (3.9%).

Follow their progress on Twitter @LochNessBrewery

Heineken Shmeineken

I’m always on the prowl for a good reason to blog my splene and sometimes it is easy to see the worst in a situation, event or even a product.  In the dawning of a new age for beer in the UK and the enlightnement of the masses, we tend to focus on the underdog.  We champion their cause with good intention until we are hoarse, but in the same breath we often feel the need to have a quick pop at those who stand for a perceived opposition (sometimes with justification of course).  Only three days ago I spotted a Twitter hash-tag and quickly learnt that as part of the monthly Brookston Beer Bulletin’s ‘The Session’, or maybe better known as Beer Blogging Friday, bloggers are invited to write and share their thoughts on a dedicated topic.  Octobers host is Reuben Gray (The Tale of the Ale) and his theme for week 56 is “Thanks to the Big Boys“, which asks us to “… acknowledge the positive aspects of the big, multinational brewers that we so often admonish and criticize“.

As my ever so subtle post title proclaims, I have chosen Heineken N.V. (including their many subsiduaries) for my brewing ‘Big Boy’.  Without being sidetracked, as I often am when writing, my earliest memory of Heineken the brand, was about 18 years ago when my dad would buy some tinnies in for christmas, a special treat if you will.  It was the old style can and ring pull of course and we enjoyed sharing the beer while watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or whatever was on the box.  At that point in time I thought that Heineken was just one beer.  Since that time I have had no reason to look any further into their brand.  They have continued to grow to become the global force they represent today and have absorbed many breweries and brewery groups during thei steady progression.  However, it is not the well-known beverage in the green can and bottle as the reason for chosing Heineken as my brewing big boy, but more for a couple of its portfolio offerings.

I have to be admit that I am conflicted about writing this post, but in the spirit of this blogging theme I’ll try my very best to see the positives.   You may already be aware but Heineken N.V.  and the Bayerische BrauHolding AG (BBH) signed an agreement and set up a joint venture company.  Through this partnership Heineken acquired a minority stake in two German groups of breweries and undertook the exportation of Paulaner Weiss beer worldwide.  The venture group hold 50% of Paulaner Brauerei.  It is for this reason, the export of the beer and not the shareholding, that I am grateful to this corporation.  On the one hand I could round on Heineken and say “why not leave breweries like Paulaner be”, but on the other, had they left Paulaner alone then it is likely that I would be unable to nip down to my local off-licence and buy a bottle to enjoy at home.  Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier is a firm favourite of mine.

While researching this post and reading into Heineken’s global reach, I was also more than a little suprised to learn that they also provide me with a French favourite of mine in Pelforth Brune.  It turns out Heineken International bought Français de Brasserie in 1988, the brewery that produces the Pelforth brand.  I have enjoyed this beer while on holiday in France and more recently being able to find it in a couple of the great beer shops in the UK (see my links page).  Thanks to Leigh at ‘The Good Stuff’ for the photo, see his review and food pairing here.

Heineken N.V. claim to be a global business with a sensitivity for harnessing local produce and retaining their culture and integrity.  Well, as a consumer of at least two great beers that I loved before I learnt of their bed-partner, I have had time to reflect and concluded that the beer is good and their branding certainly remains true, despite it reaching my hand via a beast of the brewing world.

I must say I have enjoyed being part of The Session (cheers Reuben) and I look forward to next months with great anticipation.  Thanks for reading.

Saltaire Brewery Beer Festival 2011

 PictureWhen I bought my ticket for the Saltaire Brewery Beer Festival 2011 (September  16th-17) back in July, I was feeling rather pleased with myself as I usually leave it until the last minute and miss out.  When the Brewery started sending updates about the beers they were sourcing I couldn’t wait for the date to come around.  Just as Saltaire confirmed its lineup, CAMRA released its Good Beer Guide for 2012 with the news that Yorkshire has welcomed an impressive 16 new breweries in the past 12 months, making it the number one region for beer in terms of its choice of real ale and wealth of new and established brewing talent.  You can see all the details of the CAMRA findings in the Yorkshire Post.  Saltaire took full advantage of having an embarrassment of amazing beer right on its doorstep and chose a mouthwatering line-up including Yorkshire’s; Magic Rock, Kirkstall, Old Spot and not forgetting Saltaire Brewery’s six offerings, including Saltaire Blonde, South Island Pale and a couple of new ones in Madagascan Ale (5% Pale) and Bulldog a 4.6% Brown Ale.  South Island Pale being my pick of the bunch.
Other breweries of note and of particular interest to me were Buxton and Hardknott as I have tried and continue to return to their bottled beers time and time again.  And as if all that lot wasn’t enough,  you could also feast on beers from Marble, Liverpool Organic, Captain Cook and Dark Star to name but a few.  I did also find myself drawn to the cider tent, no not for the cider, although the choice matched that of the beer, but for the Sierra NevadaPale Ale and Kolsch.  At times I had to pinch myself, as there I was in Shipley, struggling to decide what I wanted to drink next, knowing that I had my alcohol tolerance working against me.Saltaire outdid themselves on the beer front (28 in total plus 10 craft ciders), but also on the infrastructure which has been born out of their successful monthly Beer Club.  In addition to the marquee, there was also extra seating under heated parasols, which as the weatherman had predicted were much needed and most definitely appreciated – it rained a little bit (ahem!).  Add to all of that the barbecued food on offer and it doesn’t take a beer geek to tell you that it was a very good night indeed.

I’m not sure if there was an official vote for the beer of the festival, but I do know that it was Magic Rock Brewing Co’s Curious a 3.9% Original Pale Ale and the breweries flagship beer which sold out first.  For me, my favourites of the night (from the 10 that I tried) included Magic Rock’s High Wire, Buxton’s Axe Edge and Captain Cook’s Schooner Grenville, although my pick of the festival was Marble Brewery’s Utility,their 5.7% IPA.  For anyone that tried it, no explanation needed here, for anyone wondering, I suggest you hunt it down and see for yourself! delicious!

Excellent work by Saltaire’s team and I’m looking forward to next years festival already!

Brass Castle Brewery

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a homebrewer dreaming of progressing my hobby in the hope that one day I’ll be successfull in selling my beer.  With the brewing industry going from strength to strength and scores of new breweries opening in the last few years, I happened across one start-up brewery who is living this dream.  Brass Castle is a real ale nanobrewery in Pocklington, East Yorkshire.  I hail from a small town in East Yorkshire and moved to Bradford 25 years ago, but I still have a strong connection with the region which makes Brass Castle that bit more of an interest to me.  I’m also very interested in the use of social media to promote brewing and was in touch with Brass Castle when I researched one of my previous blog posts (You are Mutually Oblivious & subsequently You are Mutually Oblivious 2), which shows their Twitter Following rapidly increase as they engaged with the brewing community.  This appears to me to be a subject being taken more seriously by brewers entering a very competitive market, and one where you may see more breweries following Camden Town Brewery‘s example in their recent appointment of Mark Dredge as their social media guru.
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The Brass Castle Nanobrewery

Phil Saltonstall is the owner, brewer and general brew-monkey of the Brass Castle Brewery.  There is definitely a romantic image of owning your own brewery, but I happen to know that it doesn’t all smell of hops!  Plenty goes on behind the pint glass and and it’s hard graft.  Phil is just one example of an amateur homebrewer who, over a period of years, has taken the plunge and turned professional.  Through homebrewing and through his time working at the Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton, New Jersey, Phil has honed his skills and his confidence and is putting his money where his mouth is.  What strikes me though as that you can make this transition from any walk of life and in some cases it is possible to balance brewing with a busy life.  Before concentrating on his beer-calling, Phil was a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter pilot for 9 years and is now a full-time coastguard, but following a Brewlab course at the University of Sunderland and I imagine countless hours he has successfully built his brewery, tested his recipes and sold his beer! Bravo sir!
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Phil Mashing In

To paraphrase some of the comments Phil has made in response to his beer going public, he has been both delighted and encouraged with the early interest he’s received from local pubs and festivals, so much so that he brought forward the launch date of his debut beer.  The original plan was to launch at Pocktoberfest, (@Pocktoberfest if you want to follow their updates), the Pocklington based Music & Beer Festival 2011.  However, given the opportunity to get involved in nearby York, Brass Castle’s Cliffhanger debuted at The Swan and The Slip Inn’s beer festival between 2nd and 4th September.  Seemingly things went well for their first commercial outing and an empty cask along with positive feedback says it all.

Next up is the York Beer and Cider Festival on Knavesmire 15th-17th September where punters will have the pleasure of trying Brass Castle’s second brew, Bad Kitty, a 5.5% abv vanilla porter, along with Cliffhanger 3.8% abv and described as a refreshing hop-laden golden ale, infused with a wave of citrus notes (brewed in honour of Coastguard Rescue Teams, and a proportion of the takings at The Swan and Slip Inn were donated to the Coastguard Association).

Following on from York’s Festival it’s on to the local Pocktoberfest ,29th-30th October, where there will be a chance to try the third addition to Phil’s range, a 4.5% abv Best Bitter.  All’s left to say is keep up the good work Phil (and Harriet) and I look forward to trying your beers the next time I make a trip back to visit family… although I may call ahead and reserve some to make sure I don’t miss out!

Thanks for reading.

If you want to read more about Brass Castle Brewery you can do so at Andy Mogg’s Beer Reviews site in his regular spot; ‘Meet the Brewer‘, in the York Press ‘New Brewery on a Real Cliffhanger‘.  Also, keep an eye on the development of Phil’s website too and don’t forget to Follow @BrassCastleBeer on Twitter to get an insight into a brewers crazy world.  N.B Brass Castle’s beers are also suitable for Vegans.

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.

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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.