Deep in the countryside of southwestern Belgium, life continues at the monastery of Orval more or less the same as it has for hundreds of years. However, the brewery has only been around since the 1930’s. For this reason, Orval produces a beer unlike any of the other Trappists or really any brewery in continental Europe. The Orval brew actually would fit in quite while in any British Pub. This brew is nice and light with a beautifully hoppy aroma and a clean, crisp, slightly bitter taste. This is really a nice change from the sometimes cloyingly sweet of most Belgian Ales.
I was lucky enough to spend the summer of 2007 in Belgium and made the trip to Orval. Visiting Orval can be a truly cathartic experience on a summer afternoon. The brewery and most of the monastery is not open to the public. However, there is an visitor center/shop and cafe. For about an 8 Euro entrance fee, visitors can wander around the ruins of the original monastery. A great deal of the walls are still intact and nature has reclaimed part of this area. There is something inexplicably cool about standing in the middle of a chapel with a grass floor, no ceiling and surrounded by stone walls.
After I walked the ruins, I sat down at the Cafe to enjoy the Orval patersbier and some of the famous Orval cheese. This cafe is one of the only places to get the Orval patersbier which is a lower alcohol beer made for the consumption of the monks.
Even though this trip is light on the beer and brewing, this was definitely one of my coolest experiences in beer touring. To be on such hallowed brewing ground is really a treat. If you make it to Belgium, a visit to Orval should be high on your list.