Daily Archives: December 9, 2009

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer

#36 – Brugse Zot

#36 - Brugse Zot

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The beer Brugse Zot is actually a slight against the people of Bruges. The jester or fool on the label is meant to represent the people of this elegant, quaint tourist haven. This isn’t just a wild accusation of widespread idiocy by the brewers, but actually a legend that stems from the colourful history of the town.

The modern day country of Belgium was once part of the wider Netherlands, which was also a part of the enormous realm of the Holy Roman Empire. For sixty years from 1459, Maximilian ruled the Empire, and did much to protect the lowlands from French rule as a way of defending his first wifes inheritance (Duchesse de Bourgogne, #105). Many Belgians were extremely fond of the emperor for his attempts to stabilise the area, and none more so than the people of Bruges who welcomed him on a visit to the town with a colourful parade of merrymakers. At the end of the visit, local dignitaries asked the emperor if he would be so kind as to provide hard cash for a new lunatic asylum in the town. Maximilian responded with the immortal lines ‘Madmen? Lunatics? Since I got here I’ve seen nothing but lunatics – Bruges is a madhouse!”. The nickname for the people ‘Brugse Zotten’ stemmed from this day.

It is unclear in what context Maximilian made his reference, although it should be pointed out that the burghers of Bruges once held Maximilian hostage for several months in an attempt to raise a ransom. Whether this was before or after Maximilians remarks would largely go someway to defining just how foolish the people of Bruges actually were.

The beer itself is the flagship beer of the town of Bruges, brewed by the De Halve Maan brewery. It had a nice pale colour on pouring with a frothy white head. It looked a bit lagery on first glimpse yet the aroma was polished with a really fruity bouquet. The first swig was though quite mild in comparison, with a pale flavour that threatened to explode at times but remained firmly in the anonymous camp. The odd hint of daring citrus just wasn’t enough to turn this beer into anything but an average Belgian blonde. I’d certainly be a fool to buy a crate of this !

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, de Halve Maan