A Year of Beer 2009 #21 - Orval Day at North Bar Leeds
Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Orval Day at North Bar Leeds
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Orval Day at North Bar Leeds
There is only one Orval.
It's a phrase that I've heard a lot over the years, but what does it mean? That we've nearly run out? That the brewery only produces one version of this beer? Or that the dry, peppery complex beer has no parallel in the beer firmament?
Mostly the last two, as it turns out. Orval (6.2%abv) is such a singular, complex beer that there just isn't anything like it. It's the product of three fermentations, two at the brewery and one in the bottle. It's made up of malt, hops and candy sugar. And it's a beer that wilfully changes character over time.
Young Orval is a dry, fairly tart, slightly peppery beer, notable for its dryness and complexity. This isn't just the action of hop spice against malt sweetness - there just isn't much residual sugar at all. This is likely due to the action of brettanomyces bruxellensis, a naughty little uncultured yeast that just loves to chomp its way through all sorts of sugars, leaving a tell-tale smell and taste behind it. The tart complexity is slowly broken down, and replaced by something much more venerable.
This is also a beer that ages very well. That's not to say that it necessarily goes on getting better for ever, but it does change markedly over tie. The tart, crunchy edges get smoothed off, and the beer relaxes - in fact, "relaxing" is a good way describing what the beer does. As it gets older, the beer seems to become more willing to gently roll around your mouth and caress your tongue, rather than just hurrying across the palate.
Two more things. Firstly, Orval is a beer that displays a prominent (but not overpowering) brettanonmyces character, but it is nothing to do with lambic beers, or any other barrel-aged and blended beers. Orval isn't sour, and brett alone doesn't make a beer sour - that takes a whole host of other yeasts and barrel flora to do that.
Secondly, a massive thanks to North Bar generally, and Matt in particular, for their generosity on the day, and devotion to the cause of good beer over the years. North Bar in Leeds is one of the best bars in the UK for great beers, served by enthusiastic and unpretentious people, in interesting surroundings. Long may it all continue.
Oh, and the cheese was pretty good, but not as scary as I was expecting. Visit North Bar soon.