Day 7 The Golden Valley and the 4th Trappist.
After a short drive (aren't they all in Belgium) we arrived at the abbey. The new abbeye was built in 1929, the old one having been destroyed during the French Revolution. Entering the main Abbeye courtyard you find a shop selling religious and beer realated items. Through the shop you can tour the old Abbeye and see the water source for the beer. The rain was pouring down, but we figured that it would be dry in the brewery. We waited a short while until François de Harenne, the commercial director of Orval, greeted us.
François was very interested in the history of WWII, so he and my dad had some discussions including François' visit to Baugnez. While I was sitting at his desk I noticed a familiar bottle in his small refrigerator... a bottle of LaFolie from New Belgium in Fort Collins, CO.
On the tour of the brewery, it was pointed out that Orval is dry hopped! The open fermenters , in the basement level below the storage tanks, are not available for viewing due to contamination concerns. Also, we learned that the labels for Belgium indicate an abv of 6.2% while the US labels are 6.9%. This is due to the increase in levels from bottle conditioning and the US regulators small allowable variance in stated vs. actual. The beer is more than 9 weeks old before it leaves the brewery and the beer for the US market is brewed to order, not taken from existing inventory.
On return to François office, we met the brother who heads the brewery. In our discussion of Trappist we learn that they refer to the abbey as a 'community' of brothers who elect the Prior (head brother). The name Trappist as it refers to the beer is owned by the community and cannot be transferred or sold to anyone. This is why LaTrappe is no longer Trappist as they sold the brewery to another producer, but could not sell the name "Trappist". The Trappist brewers gather together on a regular basis to discuss the 'industry'. As I will hear again later at Westmalle, they are very serious about protection of the name Trappist and the depiction of black and white clothed monks.
We were also told that Orval is at their maximum production and will not increase further as it is not in the interest of the abbey to do so. It is the mission of the bothers to "work by the hand" and this is why the brothers no longer work in the brewery. The automation necessary for current volume cannot be done by hand. Instead the brothers make the cheese, bread and tend to the gardens and the seven times a day prayer.
We had a 'tour' of the Orval glasses in the office. We saw the original glass over 70 years old as well as the hand blow chalice used as the model for the current production glass. The original chalice glass as used by Chimay was first designed for Orval, but they wanted the deeper and greater capacity of the current design. The original style glass, which is now served with the water at the café, may get more use as they may bottle the water for sale outside the Abbey!
As with all the Trappist, there is a low alcohol beer produced for the brothers. At Orval it is call Orval Green and is 3.5% abv and only sold at the abbey café, the Auberge de l'Ange Gardien. It's a lighter version but still with the hop taste of regular Orval. There is also a green glass, which is specifically for this beer and was at one time a green bottle as well. In the café you can not only drink the regular and green Orvals, but also sample the cheese produced by the Abbeye.
After running around looking for the case for my digital camera (containing the memory cards), we bid farewell to Franois and head off to Ramstein, Germany.
Arriving early for dinner, we take some time to take photos for Greg of High Point Brewery in New Jersey. His beer is known as "Ramstein" and we wanted to take some photos of his beer posted around town. The guys at the bar seemed humored by the labelÉ "Brewed in the German tradition". One of my favorites is the Winter Wheat, which at 9% will warm you on a winter's night.
Back to Belgium 2001