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.