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Belgium - Orval

DK Publishing logoDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks


2, Abbaye de Notre-Dame d’Orval, B6823, Villers devant Orval, Belgium

The single Orval Trappist ale is a symbol of the whole abbey: the best in early 20th-century Art Nouveau styling, blending with the medieval ruins that surround it. The bottle, glassware, and everything else is designed with an eye for beauty and peace. The ruins can be visited, but alas, not the newly revamped brewery.


beer style: Amber ale
alcohol content: 6.2% ABV

An ultra dry ale that owes a large part of its character to Brettanomyces yeasts, (not unlike those that define lambic) and to a high proportion of dry hops.

The Story of … Orval

In the world of beer there are many blessed brews, but the best must surely be those from the Trappist breweries. Today there are seven breweries that can use this appellation, meaning that their beers have been brewed within the enclosed community of a Trappist monastery. The magnificent seven abbeys where this brewing takes place are Ache, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren in Belgium, and Koningshoeven in the Netherlands. Beer mythology has it that monks have been brewing continuously since medieval times. It’s a good story, but one that omits the Reformation, when many monasteries were abandoned for years and were used as a source of building stone.

In 1926, the de Harenne family, who had acquired the Orval ruins and surrounding lands in 1887, donated them to the Cistercian order so that monastic life could be re-established at Orval.

In 1931, the monks decided to take up the tradition of brewing once again. Their goal is not profit but a “redevance”—that is, to generate enough funds for the upkeep of the abbey, to support the local community, and for charitable projects.

2, Abbaye de Notre-Dame d’Orval, B6823, Villers devant Orval

The monastery

Orval Abbey’s lovely grounds are open to the public; unfortunately, the brewery is not. However, its beers, including Petit Orval (the beer that the monks can drink), can be bought from the adjacent Ange Gardien pub.

The long view

The abbeys share a common commitment to quality. As part of their philosophy, Trappist breweries not only use the finest ingredients but also invest in top-of-the-range brewing equipment. Orval director Francois de Harenne says: “The monks take a view of the long term, and want the very best equipment. The tradition of Trappist breweries is for the equipment to be sophisticated. We have a high level of quality and we must keep it.”

Moving with the times

As part of its commitment to technological advancement, Orval is in the process of replacing its mash tuns.


Sacks of dry Styrian Goldings hops are added to the beer while it is undergoing secondary fermentation. These add balance to the beer and give it a rich, round, earthy, sweet aroma.

The Orval trout

Local legend has it that a widow called Matilda lost a golden ring in a lake and promised that, if it were found, she would thank God by building an abbey. The ring was brought to the surface by a trout, as depicted on the Orval label and bottle-tops, and in images at the abbey.

Brew kettles

Orval maintains its equipment in splendid condition, as evidenced by the glowing state of these 1930s kettles. As in all Trappist breweries, the beer is top-fermented. Other characteristics of Trappist beers are that they all tend to be strong, bottle-conditioned, aromatic, and full of yeasty and fruity flavors.

The beer

While some Trappist beers are dark and heavy, Orval is light and dry, and perfectly partners the cheeses that are made in the abbey’s dairy. Three Belgian malts and white cane sugar produce a beer with a distinctive pale orange hue.

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