Proporval

Orval plus Proper Job equals Proporval.

This is the first in a new series of posts about our experiments in blending British ales with the cult Belgian favourite Orval.

We’ve been think­ing for some time, most­ly inspired by read­ing Ron Pat­tin­son, that a lot of British beers would ben­e­fit from a touch of Bret­tanomyces, to add com­plex­i­ty and char­ac­ter. A bit of dirt, if you like.

Then, more recent­ly, Michael Tonsmeire’s excel­lent book Amer­i­can Sour Beers got us think­ing about blend­ing dif­fer­ent beers to taste. In notes accom­pa­ny­ing his recipe for Eng­lish Stock Ale (p318) he says:

Blend with dark mild or a porter to get a taste of what drink­ing in Eng­land was like before Pas­teur and Hansen’s tech­niques cleaned the Bret­tanomyces out of the brew­eries there.

Good idea, Mr Ton­s­meire! (Not that we need much encour­ag­ing to mix beers, mind.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, after ask­ing for advice on Twit­ter, we were unable to find a decent ‘stock ale’ cur­rent­ly in pro­duc­tion and read­i­ly-avail­able, and so resort­ed to plan B: Orval. It gains most of its char­ac­ter from ‘Brett’; is easy to find; rea­son­ably priced (£2.62  £1.80 per 330ml); and rel­a­tive­ly con­sis­tent, though its flavour varies with age. There has also been talk of it per­haps vague­ly resem­bling 19th cen­tu­ry British pale ales.

Blending an Old School Pale Ale

Last night, using a lined glass, we mixed half a pint of Orval with half a pint of (sor­ry to go on) St Austell Prop­er Job.

While the for­mer is cer­tain­ly hop­py, the hops in ques­tion are clas­sic, sub­tle, earthy and Euro­pean, where­as Prop­er Job is defined by its use of bold, fruity Amer­i­can vari­eties, added late in the brew­ing process to max­imise cit­rus and trop­i­cal fruit aro­mas. With that in mind, we hoped these two beers would com­ple­ment each oth­er rather than clash.

We were right.

The result­ing blend was red­dish brown in colour and looked, frankly, like a pint of Bass. The aro­ma was less heady and grassy than Orval, but the Bel­gian beer cer­tain­ly dom­i­nat­ed. The taste was phe­nom­e­nal – dri­er and more bit­ter than Prop­er Job, but less intense­ly funky than Orval, with a burst of zesti­ness that the Trap­pist beer lacks. It brought to mind par­tic­u­lar­ly thrilling pints of Harvey’s Sus­sex Best, albeit with a good whack more alco­hol.

10/10: will blend again.

If you want to give this a go (you should!) it’s worth not­ing that with more Orval in the mix, the end result seemed mud­dy and watered down, with lit­tle room for Prop­er Job to make a con­tri­bu­tion. We sus­pect that one-third Orval and two-thirds Prop­er Job would prob­a­bly work even bet­ter than our 50/50 blend. And if you don’t want to use use Prop­er Job, then Thorn­bridge Jaipur would prob­a­bly be a good sub­sti­tute. (Jaipor­val…)

UPDATE 22/01/2015 09:15: We had a feel­ing some­one else had already done this and asked on Twit­ter, at which point Ed remind­ed us of this post which we must also have had in the back of our mindsAnd 12:45: We must also have had this post by Alan McLeod in mind.

27 thoughts on “Proporval”

  1. I’ve enjoyed blend­ing com­ple­men­tary styles (e.g Oakham Cit­ra and Thorn­bridge Jaipur) but the notion of a lit­tle inter­con­ti­nen­tal exper­i­men­ta­tion is most appeal­ing! And a that’s a 5* base beer to blend with, no doubt. Right! Bet­ter get a case…

  2. What would be inter­est­ing is tom know whether any of your blends are greater than the sum of their parts. Whether you think the beers blend­ed are a nicer drink than those beers drank sep­a­rate­ly.

    1. We’ll make that clear in future posts.

      In this case, the rank­ing (with regard to per­son­al taste only) is prob­a­bly:

      1. Pro­por­val
      2. Prop­er Job
      3. Orval.

  3. I don’t have any expe­ri­ence of, or any urges to blend beers. Maybe I should give it a go. I look around me and see oth­er peo­ple giv­ing it a go, and in some cas­es read that the sum of the parts results in ‘bet­ter’ beer (just like your blog post!). I don’t doubt this, and folk can do what they like with beer they’ve paid good mon­ey for. Beer should be fun, and blend­ing is not too dis­sim­i­lar to a brew­er being inno­v­a­tive when brew­ing a par­tic­u­lar beer ‘style’. But.… it’s my opin­ion that cer­tain beers shouldn’t be med­dled* with…and Orval is top of that list (sor­ry). I have no ratio­nal expla­na­tion for this opin­ion. ..it’s just a gut feel­ing. It would be inter­est­ing to hear what the monks think about their beer being used as a cor­dial 😉

    I did notice that you have Orval bot­tom of your list anyway…so can see why you’d look to improve it for your enjoy­ment (and also that your aim is to try and recre­ate the taste of a Stock Ale). I’m not sure what my point is real­ly, oth­er than I can’t imag­ine blend­ing any­thing with Orval and actu­al­ly improv­ing it!

    Inter­est­ing project all the same and i’ll be watch­ing with inter­est (through my fin­gers).

    *mas­sive con­tra­dic­tion alert: I plan to brew an Impe­r­i­al Orval type clone.

    1. David – thanks for the com­ment – always inter­est­ing to have an oppos­ing point of view.

      We’ve grown to real­ly like Orval but it’s quite a chal­leng­ing beer, and we don’t always want to be chal­lenged, so knock­ing its hard edges of a bit works for us. The ‘taste of his­to­ry’ is what real­ly inter­ests us, though, and this is real­ly about look­ing at the British beers from a dif­fer­ent angle.

      1. I’m not oppos­ing what you’re doing, or frown­ing on it, I get it. Just com­ment­ed for fun.

    2. It doesn’t mat­ter what the monks think, once they’ve sold the bot­tle, it’s mine to do with as I please. It makes per­fect sense to add a heavy brett ale to anoth­er pale ale, you are sim­ply knock­ing down the brett con­tent to a tol­er­a­ble amount (for those as B&B and I’m with them who find the brett taste very strong in Orval). You are almost cer­tain­ly mak­ing some­thing such as many old-time stocked ales had, ie. each would have offered the brett taste in a dif­fer­ent way or inten­si­ty.

      You can blend to let down ABV, hop char­ac­ter, etc. I had some adjunct-heavy lager around and couldn’t drink it for the corn con­tent. I blend­ed it 50/50 with a strong Scan­di­na­vian porter, around 9% ABV, to pro­duce a cir­ca-7% stout that was cham­pi­on. Corn taste: gone. Porter taste, still very full, but obvi­ous­ly a lit­tle lighter and eas­i­er on the head. (Fun­ny thing, the colour was almost unaf­fect­ed, which arguably means the strong porter had “too much” in it to start with).

      I agree with you though that some beers don’t ben­e­fit by blend­ing though, prob­a­bly a dunkel weizen, since I wouldn’t mix that with anoth­er style (doesn’t seem right) except per­haps with a light-coloured weizen, maybe to drop the grav­i­ty).

      Gary

  4. This while thing is on a par with Alan Par­tridge dis­man­tling his Cor­by trouser press.

    Go for a walk along the dual car­riage­way. Get your­self some tung­sten tip screws.

    Or – go to the pub.

    1. Jeff, do you blend at the pub if asked. 25 years ago pubs in my folk’s town in Scot­land would sell blend­ed pints to cus­tomer requests. Is that done at all?

  5. Inter­est­ing idea, I’m intrigued that Orval seemed to dom­i­nate the mix, were the PJ hops swamped, or were they still iden­ti­fi­ably in there? Also Jaipor­val sounds fas­ci­nat­ing, I won­der if it would mix dif­fer­ent­ly with the Jaipur – is it hopped vast­ly dif­fer­ent­ly to Prop­ber Job?

    1. The PJ hops were still there but rebal­anced, I guess you could say – part of the mix rather than the over­rid­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic.

      I’m pret­ty sure PJ has some of the same hops as Jaipur but the lat­ter has a few extra vari­eties and is a bit ‘weed­i­er’. (From mem­o­ry.) We’re hop­ing some­one will try it and let us know.

  6. Am I miss­ing some­thing here?

    You took two beers, blend­ed them in equal mea­sure and found that they had the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of both although the whole, and what sets them apart was mut­ed, and you were sur­prised by this?

    Obvi­ous­ly this wouldn’t work with every beer, although any­thing con­tain­ing an amount of Bret­tanomyces would sure­ly have a dry­ing effect on most beers. I am intrigued to see how you pro­ceed with this exper­i­men­ta­tion in blend­ing, per­haps a two thirds one third mix and vice ver­sa as well next time.

    1. Don’t think we said we were sur­prised, but we prob­a­bly were sur­prised that it was so *good* – blends usu­al­ly not bet­ter than their con­stituent parts in our expe­ri­ence.

  7. Been doing it for many years, and believe me often I had to com­bat the deri­sion of those who just don’t know the his­to­ry. (Favourite com­ment in this regard although it applied to whisky in this case – I mixed two whiskies at the bar and a lady next to me said, “is that legal?”). I did a guest blog on beer blend­ing a few weeks ago:

    http://blog.timesunion.com/beer/blending-beers-at-home/3295/

    Gary

  8. The strongest reac­tion I just faced was in reac­tion to my appar­ent­ly insane sug­ges­tion to add water to beer to see if I could find a 4% beer. It was called mad­ness. Appar­ent­ly I stum­bled upon a taboo.

    1. I know, yet it is so log­i­cal and I do at all the time. Ini­tial­ly I used car­bon­at­ed water, think­ing I “had” to match fizz with fizz. Now, I just use plain water (pro­vid­ed not too weird tast­ing, some of that saline stuff from fun­ny shapes of Euro­pean waters can be a lit­tle saline or “chem­i­cal”, but in truth it prob­a­bly rarely mat­ters). There is so much fizz in the beer any­way that adding some water actu­al­ly improves the mouth feel and digestibil­i­ty.

      Gary

  9. I was going to com­pare tap, cooled tea ket­tle and store bought dis­tilled to see if there was any diff. Best beer I had the oth­er week in Edin­burgh was 3.4%. And inor­di­nate­ly thick some­how.

    1. Spe­cial brew and gold label, deeply unpleas­ant but as a poor stu­dent it was con­ve­nient.

  10. Y’all plan­ning to approx­i­mate some 18th cen­tu­ry vat­ted porter (Por­tor­val) too ? I bet 2/3 Mean­time Lon­don Porter and 1/3 Orval would taste pur­ty sassy. Liv­ing here in Beer­town Ore­gon, I’m awful­ly tempt­ed to blend up Hair of the Dog’s rich, strong, smoky Adam­bier with a third of Orval as anoth­er exper­i­ment some Fri­day night.

  11. Pingback: Peculiorval

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