Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: The Orval Project (Part 1)
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The Orval Project (Part 1)
OK, look, I've been really good, I've tried to explain and enthuse about beer in a non-geeky way, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and accept that you have to learn something new to further your understanding. So it is with The Orval Project.
Orval is an oddity in the Trappist beer pantheon. They only make one beer (all the other Trappist breweries produce at least a double and a triple); the beer is only modestly strong (6.2%abv - the others start at 7%abv); it's fairly dry and hop-driven (most of the others tend to sweetness). And significantly, it is refermented with a multi-strain yeast that includes the wild yeast brettanomyces (brett for short). Now, if I talked about how filthy and dirty hops can be last time (good dirty, though), that's nothing as to what brett can do to a beer (or wine). Brett can slowly grow and bloom to turn a clean beer into a complex, funky, earthy, horse box, pigsty of a beer. I have to say, and given the preceding description this might not come as a total surprise, that I'm not crazy about it's flavour. I think that it's not good dirty, it's bad dirty, although lots of others disagree. But in the same spirit that has forced me to learn how to like goats cheese, I'm going to learn about brett in beer. Actually, I'm being disingenuous; as with goats cheese, I'll be happy if I can learn to not to gag on it.
So when I noticed a batch of very freshly bottled Orval, I thought that it would be interesting to track the development of brett over a year (or so). I actually tried a bottle before recording this blog, and it was almost totally clean. The beer was not dissimilar to a good English ale, although almost totally dry, with a slightly peppery note from the hops, and the characteristic supersaturation of carbon dioxide that the Belgians seem to love (I don't get it - it's just a big fizz on the tongue to me, a huge belch waiting to happen). The one I tasted here had a slight mousey, barnyard character, hence my look of slight puzzlement - were these beers going to turn bretty in a matter of weeks?
Anyway, this is Part 1 of the Orval Project. As I say in the video, I've no idea how much bottle variation there will be, and I'm genuinely curious to see what will happen over the next year with these beers. I might not like it all, but I'm sure as hell going to learn something.