The Orval brewery was set up in 1931 within the abbey of the same name, to finance the reconstruction work. This was the beginning of an adventure that the monks did not necessarily expect.
Wanting to distinguish themselves from the Trappist browns, the monks trusted the first brewmaster who added hops he had already used in Bavaria to the recipe and was thus inspired by English methods by doing a raw hopping during fermentation.
The second specificity of the Orval beer is the yeast used, it is in fact a mixture of classic abbey yeast and wild yeast. It is this wild yeast which gives this small acidity at the end of mouth and this fizz with big bubbles.
The third and last particularity of Orval is that the brewery sells only one beer, whereas the other Trappist abbeys have a wide range of beers. Of course, they brew a second recipe, the green Orval, but this one is close to the first one and is only served on the spot and on the cask.
One of the few breweries brewing Trappist beers
There are only twelve breweries in the world that brew Trappist beers. One of them is the Orval brand, which makes their beer also a rarity. The brewing activities are governed by the wishes of the monastic community and follow the criteria of the “Authentic Trappist Product”. The criteria are that the product must be manufactured in a Trappist abbey, the monastic community must be involved, and part of the revenue generated by the sale of its products goes to charity.
The legend of the monastery
There is a story about how the monastery started. The legend states that a countess of Tuscany, Mathilde, once lost her golden ring in the stream of the valley. After this accident, she started to pray to God. God answered her prayers, and a trout appeared with the golden ring in its mouth. Thus to be thankful, she decided to build a monastery right in the valley.
Staying true to tradition
When Orval beer was created, no one could expect that it would be followed by such fame. This was not in the mind of the monks when they hired their first brewer. The first master brewer was a German by the name of Martin Pappenheimer, who is now buried at Villers-Devant-Orval. Martin was the one who invented the beer recipe for Orval.
Though it is one of the most sought after beers, the brewery wants to remain true to its values. The production focuses only on quality and keeping the same brewing tradition. Thus, it remains a rare product.
Even though the brewery wants to stay away from mass production, they still manage to produce over 22 million bottles every year. Most of the beers are sold in the Belgian market.
With such demand, the brewery still wants to improve its brewing activities. Thus they continue to invest in equipment that guarantees better control and production. The goal of the brewery is to satisfy the demand but still stay loyal to the monastic community.
The Ambassador Orval label
A committee with representatives from the brewery was formed to honour individuals and establishments that showcase one of the 12 Trappist beers in the world. The Ambassador Orval label requires cafes or restaurants to meet three criteria of Presence, Service and Knowledge. So if you ever see a restaurant or a cafe that has an Orval trout on a steel background, you know that the place has earned the label, and you can get Trappist beer there.
One of the best beers in the world
Orval beer is even considered one of the best beers in the world. The beer has a very distinctive taste and is a reference to bitter beers.