Orval Trappist Ale Review

When I decided to review Orval as a follow-up to my Belgian beer article, I knew it would get a high score. In fact, I suspected it might grab my first “perfect” five (well, my first serious one — I’d say that beer deserved a 3.75 or so). But then I asked myself, “Is Orval perfect?” and fell once again into the internal battle that embroils every critic when he or she dishes out punishment or praise. Do scoring systems really work the way we want them to? Or do they undermine our points? Do they sum up the critique or simply provide an out for readers who don’t want to read?

How should I know? I add scores because people seem to like them, and it gives me a chance to use a cool graphic at the end. Do I need another reason? All right, all right.

Ideally, scoring systems give consumers a scale that aids in making educated decisions about a number of good products. Of course, this means that occasionally some products get shot down, but the real purpose behind my scores is to support and praise. A five outta five doesn’t equal perfection, but it does equal supreme awesomeness. I can use high ratings to shape the market, to encourage breweries to keep making new beers I might love, and to keep old greats from fading away. File this review under “Old Greats.”

I’m not suggesting that Orval is fading away (although, as I said earlier this week, Belgium’s small breweries have been struggling for years), but it sure is old. The Orval monks have been making this Belgian ale since the 1930s, but evidence of brewing at the abbey dates back to the 1100s. So let’s revisit this ancient favorite and perhaps introduce it to a few new friends.

Brewery: Orval Brewery
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 6.9%
IBU: 30-40
Glassware: Snifter, Tulip, Goblet
Serving Temp: 45°F
Price Range: $4-5 per 12 oz. bottle
Food Pairing: Fish, Salad, Light Appetizers


Whenever I uncap a bottle of Orval, I’m reminded how much I love this beer’s smell. It’s just so sweet: all flowers, oranges, apples and berries. Like an olfactory work of art. I’m not kidding. I sat and smelled the bottle after finishing the beer. Yeah, I’m weird.

The foam is nice too. Rocky and white, it surges up like sea foam over the hazy, grapefruit-hued ale and persists at the top in a swirling, cloudy galaxy of bubbles. This is plenty to get me all riled up, but now I can smell the beer better too. Sensory overload. This beer makes me wanna drink it — why should I torture myself?

The first sip tastes sweet, but it’s also smooth and crisp, with a dry bite that cuts through the flowers and fruit. Spicy, earthy Belgian yeast blends with the citrus and cherries to create a tart undercurrent. The sweetness is complemented by fresh, floral hops, which soften the flavors at first but add a bitter kick in the aftertaste. Orval’s medium body, coupled with its dryness and vicious carbonation (if poured gently), gives it an almost champagne-like texture. Delicate and creamy yet bold. It’s an immensely satisfying ale that reminds me of old things, of the historic moments history books don’t remember: kids running through fields of wheat; flowers germinating, growing, and dying without the world noticing or needing to; farmhouses set aglow by the falling sun. Yep, Orval reminds me of all that sappy lost-innocence crap that probably never happened anywhere but at the movies. But that’s why I love beer. My mind reels at how one beverage can encompass so many evocative personalities. Discovering them is the reason I run this website.

On a semi-related note: I was recently contacted by a nice fellow named Pelle Stridh, a Swedish beer lover who has been creating a network of beer blog aggregators, first in Sweden, then in the U.K., and now in the U.S. These sites, aptly named All About Beer, are a great place to keep up with the best beer blogs on the Interwebs, so check them out if you get a chance; it’s a great service that could change the way we read about our favorite beverage!

2 Responses to “Orval Trappist Ale Review”
  1. Deb says:

    Enjoy the beer festival! I’m jealous.

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