Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Young and The Old

Back in the winter of 2008 it would have been almost inconceivable that I would be capable of keeping a cellar of beers with the intent of aging them. I was an impulsive drinker, buying stuff and enjoying it within a week or so. Aware of this predilection for drinking beer, I bought a bottle of Orval while visiting my parents in France that Christmas, and squirrelled it away in a dark cool place to await my eventual return.

Fast forward to the winter of 2011 and I again found myself in the French countryside visiting my parents. As you likely know, I stocked up on most of the beer for that trip by ordering a load from Beer Ritz for my parents to pick up at my eldest brother's place. However, on the first shopping trip of the holiday my mind was set on the beer aisle at the L'eclerc in La Souterraine. Sadly there was no Unibroue this time, but Orval was there, and only €1.60 a bottle (that's $2.03 or £1.32).

The aim of my experiment was to drink a young version of Orval followed by an aged, from the same glass, suitably cleaned between drinkings of course. I wish I could share with you the pictures of I took, but circumstances have mitigated against me on that front, hence the old picture of Orval above. Suffice to say Mrs Velkyal and I are currently sans camera. Anyway, to the beers.

Young Orval was largely as I remembered it, pouring a deep slightly cloudy orange with a voluptuous white head. The nose was at first lemony followed by cupboards that haven't been dusted for some time, with a trace of old man pub. In the mélange of aromas I also picked up traces of spicy hops and a fruitiness that reminded me of apricots and peaches. In the drinking bit, which is in reality the best bit, the sweetness of the malt held up firmly against the bitter twang of the hops and the slight sour tinge that was flitting in and out. When I first drank Orval, I wasn't sure what to make of the bright, sparkling effervescence of the beer, now I really enjoyed it. A quick swirl of the bottle and in went the rest of the dregs, yum.

Old Orval surprised me by being a slightly darker shade of orange, bordering on a light brown, and the head while voluminous, was rather less buxom that the young version. What a hit of sourness smacks you in the face when you smell this stuff, as well as some kirsch and the lemons of youth have become moldy. People often say it smells of barnyard and leather, I got more hay and cow shed (and yes, I have spent enough time in cow sheds to know how they smell). Rescuing my olfactory senses from the onslaught of tarts longing to abuse it, I took a mouthful. This stuff has zing, yes it is tart and sharp but it didn't remind me of vinegar in the slightest, in the background the same malt sweetness of youth lingered, but the sourness of age had come to the fore, making it very dry and puckering to drink. I bloody loved it.

Come then with me to 2012 and yes I have a cellar of beers being aged for some illusive special occasion. I think some Orval had better join them, mind you at about $6 a bottle (three times the price in France) it won't be an awful lot.


  1. Ha! I liked that "sourness of age" thing. I thought aged brought wisdom, but yes, you do become a bit more sour as you get older....

    I must get around with comparing that 5-6 year old Westmalle Trippel I have in my cellar with a young, fresh one.

  2. Mmm, 3 year old Orval. That must have been a great beer. When I was in Belgium I noticed a few pubs that sold "Oud Orval" for .50 to 1 euro more. It was your normal Orval except that it had been aged at least 6 months, giving it more time for the Brett character to develop.

  3. Neat experiment! Thanks for posting this.

  4. In Calais last June, we were served 18 months out of date ie 6.5 years old Orval for €4 a bottle. Didn't know whether to laugh or cry..


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