Monday, January 31, 2011

Foamy Furlough: MONDAY

Linguistically, Monday is the moon's day. To kick off the Foamy Furlough© series I really wanted to showcase a beer with "moon" in its name -- and preferably something not made by a Coors subsidiary. (Sorry, Blue Moon!) I looked for Moonglow Weizenbock from the very capable Victory Brewing Company in nearby Downingtown, Pennsylvania, but it appears to be out of season.

Turns out that the only other "moon" beer carried by my three main sources (Kreston Wine & Spirits in Wilmington, Total Wine & More in Claymont, and State Line Liquors in Elkton) was Moonraker Ale by UK the brewery J.W. Lees & Co. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain this in time to incorporate it into the series.

Curiosity led me to look up Moonshot '69, the caffeinated beer with a starring role in the documentary "Beer Wars" ( -- recommended viewing, by the way. The New Century Brewing Co. website says: "Moonshot has ceased production due to an imposed ban by the federal government." Must've been good stuff...

So, per necessity, I decided to be an inventive mother and rewrite the rules. Monday is now "Monk Day," and I will celebrate by drinking Orval Trappist Ale, a pale ale brewed by the Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval in Belgium. There is more about this beer's long and venerable history here:

The simple, conservative diamond-shaped label and graceful curve of the Orval bottle are very distinctive. A beer of this style and pedigree deserves appropriate glassware, so I poured it into my trusty Trappistes Rochefort chalice (a gift, along with the eponymous beer, from Justin Shipe on my 40th birthday). This beer effervesces with tremendous enthusiasm! Even a careful pour throws up three inches of large-bubbled foam that takes minutes to settle to a clumpy quarter inch covering, leaving significant foamy lacing all around the sides of the glass.

The beer is a warm golden orange and slightly hazy. Its aroma evidences no sweetness, and overall is not nearly as pronounced as one might expect from such an effervescent pour. The main smell I pick up is the mustiness of stored linens. Perhaps some very subdued citrus rind.

The taste is pretty accurate to the nose: musty, sour, extremely dense, dry, and elusive. When it comes to mouthfeel there is, as expected, champagne-like carbonation ending in dryness. Flavor? Once you start to search for adjectives common to your beer-tasting experience, you realize what a truly remarkable beer Orval is. The taste hits with a big sour spike, then resolves into a very faint biscuity maltiness whose complexity skitters away from you as you try to grasp it, like the flash of minnows in a receding wave. It is tart like a sour apple, but without the accompanying fruitiness. Interestingly, the words that spring to mind are not really flavor descriptors: "Tight." "Controlled." Even "austere." But that's how it is with this one.

The hops profile is likewise confounding. Somewhat bitter and slightly citrusy, but deferential to the overall balance of flavor in a way quite foreign to the current hops-forward trend in American craft brews. I suspect the unique character of this beer comes down to some ancient and closely guarded stock of yeast, but that's just a guess.

Could this beer be drunk serially -- is it "sessionable," as they say in the biz? Well, it's kind of expensive for that, but I sure don't see why not. At a fairly modest 6.9% alcohol by volume, its consumption does not require heightened caution, and it finishes medium dry and clean. And there is no question that the complexity and superior craftsmanship would reward extended tasting time.

Even though the style of Orval Trappist Ale is outside of my usual preferences, I would never turn down the chance to drink one -- and that should be taken more as a testament to Orval's quality than to my insatiable thirst.

Featured beer:

Honorable mentions:

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