Orval, the Funky Trappist Beer, in an Unlikely Restaurant
I caught a nice surprise yesterday at Chef Geoff's Downtown, a restaurant better known for its 33.8-ounce "Supermugs" than its artisanal beer selection. There, amid a long bottle list with a few decent craft beers (Dogfish Head 60 Minute, Lagunitas Pils, Williamsburg Alewerks Washington's Porter), was the legendary Orval. Dry, leathery, hoppy, musty-furniture-tasting, familiar Orval.
Orval is one of the six Belgian Trappist breweries, the only one to make just one beer — and the only one to use the wild yeast brettanomyces in their brewing. Years ago, before U.S. craft beer exploded as it has, Orval was the ambassador of funky beer, often the only wild beer you could find (unless you had a homebrew go awry). That's why, when you ask six of the country's finest brewers what their last beer on earth would be, one-third of them will say Orval.
One last thing: I ordered the Orval ($10.95) hoping for a low turnover of the esoteric beer at Chef Geoff — Belgian styles like that age well in the bottle, and sometimes you'll get a vintage find that's accidentally been aged. In this case, no such luck — the beer was bottled in May 2009, which is actually the youngest batch available here because the bottles are conditioned before distributing. Still though, not a bad way to brighten up a round of burgers and sweet-potato fries.
Note the "best before" date