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 minds. And 12:45: We must also have had this post by Alan McLeod in mind.
27 replies on “Proporval”
This is the kind of out of the box thinking that I admire. Salut!
Be interesting to compare to UK brett IPAs like wild beer evolver
Had Evolver once; it was flat and sour. I think it may have been off, but how would I (or the bar staff) ever know?
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…
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.
We’ll make that clear in future posts.
In this case, the ranking (with regard to personal taste only) is probably:
2. Proper Job
As an old hand at this, I can say yes without hesitation.
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.
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.
I’m not opposing what you’re doing, or frowning on it, I get it. Just commented for fun.
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).
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.
whole thing not while thing
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Special brew and gold label, deeply unpleasant but as a poor student it was convenient.
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.
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