My expectations of Orval were for the most part blown to pieces. Tasting this wild, assertive beer paints in the mind pictures of basic technologies and broad brush brewing techniques. In reality just about everything at Orval was the cutting edge of the cutting edge, most especially the lab. Beers from Belgium’s second biggest brewer were on the floor of the lab awaiting analysis because the brewery in question didn’t have equipment up to the standard of Orval. A UK brewer making the same volume of beer would have a tenth of the equipment.
Jean-Marie was justly proud of his brewery and lab and accepted my overstated jealousy, admiration and offer to take over the Orval reins come his retirement in a couple of years with patience and humility. Humour was never far away during my visit and when Jean-Marie agreed to come over to Cornwall to collaborate on a brew I assumed that he was winding me up. After checking several times more than was sensible, I finally accepted that I was actually going to be doing a collaborative brew with the man in charge at Orval! I reckon if I had checked again he would have thrown me out.
With the summer out of the way Jean-Marie and I are getting down to the finer points of the brew design. My rationale for the visit to Orval was to learn about the beer and the brewery and to come away armed with the knowledge to enable me to make a Patersbier. What has come out of our discussions is a beer which features some unusual combinations and is a long way from where I thought we would be before the visit. I assumed that the beer would be an ale with a red -brown colour and a lot of hop. What we now plan to make is a traditional ale wort, albeit with the addition of a good measure of sucrose, which will be fermented cold by a lager yeast in an ale fermenter. The beer will then be moved to a maturation vessel and after a diacetyl rest, lagered on dry Saaz hops for as long as my patience holds up. The 4.5% ABV beer is then to be bottle conditioned to a high CO2 level. The inclusion of Brettanomyces in bottle is yet to be decided on. Ever heard of a beer like this before?
So a date of the 4th October is set for the royal visit and the brew. The finished beer should be available before Christmas. I will of course update my blog as things develop.