Three yeast strains are used in the triple ferment, along with Belgian-grown and malted barley, hops and water from the famous Matilda Fountain inside the monastery. The initial ferment is followed by a second ferment during the two-month aging process at 59 degrees F/15 degrees C, and finally a third ferment in the distinctive baroque bottle, after a champagne-style dosage.
When bottled, the beer is allowed to age for at least three months. In Belgium, each label has a Roman numeral indicating the month of bottling, which is lacking in the import version available here. I’ve tried it both before and after the aging cycle, and the beer definitely does improve in the bottle. The beer tends to cloud if it is not decanted carefully to avoid disturbing the yeast sediment on the bottom of the bottle. As for me, I don’t mind if the beer is not perfectly clear, and I know the yeast is good for me. I view cloudy beer as a blessing, a very natural product that has not had all of the good stuff filtered or centrifuged out.
When opened, this distinctive beer does nothing until it is decanted. Then it forms a thick, creamy head, which holds itself remarkably well. You can lean over and listen for the friendly snap-crackle-pop sound, which adds another dimension to your enjoyment. The beer is rich, pleasant and mildly tart, with a pleasing and aromatic hop bouquet. It is recommended that one drinks the beer at about 54-58 degrees F/12-14.5 degrees C but I, like most of my countrymen, prefer it a bit cooler. Don’t ever put warm beer in the freezer to chill, but rather chill it in the refrigerator and then take it out about 30 minutes before opening, to allow it to warm a bit.
Orval Trappist Ale has 5.3-6.7 percent alcohol and is not available in states that outlaw yeast in the beer. Nevertheless it is often available in major metropolitan areas and repays your search. Orval is one of the more expensive beers you can buy, but well worth it.
Fred Eckhardt lives in Portland, OR. He drinks anything put in his hot, old hand, and he may indeed want another fairly soon thereafter.