Last night, we blended funky Trappist pale ale Orval with two classic British best bitters, Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.
Our thinking was that mixing beers with somewhat similar characteristics – pale malts, old-school European hop varieties –would add complexity through subtly harmonies.
We poured around three-quarters of a pint of each British beer and topped up to a pint with Orval.
First impressions were not good. Both blends gained a Granny Smith character that was most pronounced in ‘Londorval’. That is a component of Orval’s flavour, yes, but, watered down, as it were, it became a grating, insistent irritation.
Bottled Landlord isn’t a favourite of ours but, of the two, ‘Landlorval’ was the better blend. Still, as the pint progressed, it began to seem ever more thinned out and gutted like… This might sound silly, but like a pint of Worthington Cream Flow from a keg that’s been sitting around for months in a hotel bar.
So, there you go: Orval doesn’t improve every beer to which you add it after all.
We can’t promise that this will be the last time we blend beers with Orval but it will probably be the last such experiment we bother writing up. If you come across a good combo, let us know.
Theakston’s Old Peculier (CO-OP, three for £5) is pleasant enough, but rather light-bodied and over-clean. It’s the perfect candidate, then, for blending with Orval, the rambunctious, stylishly unkempt poster child for brettanomyces.
This time (here’s last time), though we were less precise in our measurements, we went for an approximate blend of one part Orval to two parts Old Peculier. The resulting beer was very dark brown but stopped short of being black.
We knew with the first sip that this was another hit – Orval, still, but newly dark, rich and chocolatey. Now, we’re not saying it was better than Orval, just that it was nice to see Orval playing against type, doing something different.
There were flavours here that aren’t, as far as we can tell, in either base beer. Chinese five spice came to mind, including a dangerous suggestion of cinnamon (we don’t like it in beer, in general) which stayed just the right side of tantalising.
The Orval also brought out Old Peculier’s latent but muted prune and currant flavours, almost as if it were a kind of seasoning.
All in all, there was something distinctly medieval about this blend, perhaps recalling some of the fruit-laden recipes from the Forme of Cury, and we don’t hesitate to recommend it as a beer-n-TV pairing for the BBC’s Wolf Hall on Wednesday night.
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.)
Continue reading “Proporval”