All About Beer: How did you get your start in brewing?
Jean-Marie Roc: It’s a long time ago. I was intent to be a brewer when I was 12. I already appreciated. From the beginning, at the midday meal we got low alcoholic beer, tafel beer every day. And on the Saturday evenings in the winter, my father and my mother drank gueuze without sugar and my sister and me, we got gueuze with one piece of sugar. So, it’s my parents’ fault if I am now a brewer because we got beer when we were very young.
There is just one Orval beer?
We also make a beer for the monks with an alcohol content of about 3.5, but it’s quite easy. I take Orval, I add fifty percent water, some sugar, some yeast and we put it in the bottle and that’s it, that’s the monk’s beer. And there is some draft beer…for me (laughs).
Orval has the greatest hop character of the Trappist beers. What are Orval’s most important characteristics?
Highest hop character and bitterness, very high drinkabilityAnd high CO2 content, hop aroma and, after months, the Brettanomyces aroma, but you need six months refermentation in the bottle before you get this aroma. Honestly, I prefer the beer that is very young, which means two or three months, but most people prefer the beer after six months or one year.
What is your favorite combination of Orval and food?
Orval with mussels. I don’t eat a lot of meat, I prefer fish. With beefsteak it is good, I believe…but I don’t like steak. Cooking mussels with Orval: it gives the mussels a special taste, they become plump with the taste of beer.
Are there monks working in the brewery?
No, no. In the fifties there were two monks working in the brewery: one in the lab and one responsible for production, but they stopped working in the seventies. There are fewer monks today: 20 years ago there were more than 30 and now there are about 15, so it’s impossible for them to be involved in the daily production of the beer.
Do you have a philosophy of beer and brewing?
Keep it easy. I think American brewers get it wrong, because they are always complicating the process. It’s incredible: I cannot understand it. Everybody in the US thinks the process is complicated but it’s not true, there’s only one secret—keep it easy.