Chasing the dragon
A Review of Orval by Brasserie d’Orval
Posted on 11/12/2012 by Chops
                   
Exquisite
''What do all beer geeks drink?'' I have heard time and time again that the answer to this question is Orval. Apparently this is the one beer that every enthusiast across the globe swears by. It's the one beer that consistently surprises its drinkers and can never be tamed. To put it in South Park terms, drinking Orval is the equivalent of ''chasing the dragon''. You never quite grasp it, no matter how hard you try. So going into this beer for the very first time, the stage was set for an epic showdown. Would the beer live up to the lofty expectations? It was time to chase that dragon.

As a little back story, the Orval Brewery (better known as Brasserie d'Orval), is a Belgian Trappist brewery located within the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval in the Gaume region of Belgium. They produce two beers: Orval and Petite Orval. Their rich history dates all the way back to the 1600s. Needless to say, they've had plenty of time to perfect their art form. The brewery is closed to the public for the most part, but they do open their doors for two days a year for an annual open house.

In the glass, this beer has a hazy deep golden orange coloration. When held up to a light source, you can also see a syrupy swirling effect that resembles suspended smoke. It was very interesting and I spent a good few minutes mesmerized by it. It comes with a rocky off-white head that has great retention. When going in for that first whiff, it doesn't take long to figure out this beer's appeal: a surreal complexity. There really is no way to describe this beer in a linear fashion. It's easier to just rattle off what you find. According to my nose: grassy, herbal, earthy, spicy, floral, caramel, citrus, tartness, fruity, and what I can only describe as a balloon plastic. This is the kind of beer that you smell, shake your head in confusion, walk away from, come back to after a minute, and repeat. I could not solidify any rhyme or reason to what I was about to drink.

The flavor complexity immediately smacks you across the face, which amazingly overshadows an equally bewildering mouthfeel. Much like with the aroma, don't even bother trying to construct a coherent flavor train. There isn't one. Just pick out everything you can with the quantity of liquid you have available. In this attempt, I found a tart lemony citrus, cloves, sourdough bread, lemongrass, hints of caramel sweetness, lighter fruits like apples, pears, raisins, and grape must. I could have easily built on that list if I had another bottle. With almost no effort, you can discover something new on every sip.

Orval has a lighter body for the style, but it perfectly matches what the flavors demand. The core feel is an extra dryness that beyond defines the vibe. It's incredibly unique for a beer and it took a few sips to get comfortable with. The internal mouthfeel has a huge transition swing. It starts off rich, smooth and sweet. But, the middle ground transforms into a mishmash of flavor and body, which eventually exits very crisp, very dry, and airy bitter. The finish itself lasts for an amazingly long time. I was tasting this beer long after I finished it. Every sip was a head scratching experience that left me wondering how in the hell they crafted this magical beverage.

Overall, Orval is an extraordinary beer. No amount of words will adequately describe this beer's complexity. I could easily write ten more reviews and they would all be different. At this point I can completely see why Orval is regarded as the beer geek's brew. It's a brand new experience in every bottle. I can completely see a gaggle of beer nerds sitting around a table with their Orval brews just throwing out random adjectives. Needless to say, I can recommend this beer to any seasoned drinker. Check that, I flat demand that every seasoned drinker try this beer. It's just too unique of an experience not to have. The beer is accessible enough for novices, but it demands a sophisticated palate to fully appreciate. Best to hone your taste for Belgian brews before tackling this magician. With that, I must depart for the beer store, for there are more dragons to chase.
More Info:  http://www.orval.be

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Orval by Brasserie dOrval
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