I was away last week,
on vacation doing some heavy research in Belgium. I stuck mostly to beers unavailable stateside, like the grassy-hoppy Bink Blond, and intensely sour real lambics, which are a fraction of the price in their country of origin. But Trappist beer is irresistibly cheap there — you can find Chimay and Westmalle for less than 2 euro in every “night shop,” right next to the paprika-flavored Pringles. So understandably, my late-night drink of choice was often Orval, the funky Trappist beer bottled with wild yeast.
The weird thing is, it’s not as good there. That’s because by the time our bottles reach the shelves in D.C., they’ve conditioned in the bottle for six months or more, letting the brettanomyces yeast do the fermentation dance with the beer’s residual sugars. In Belgium, the Orval is fresh, forcing the brett to play second fiddle to an unbalanced beer. In different bottles I tasted unpleasant flavors ranging from seawater to freezer burn. I know I just got done praising imported Orval for tasting like “something festering in the back of a horse stable,” but there’s good funk and bad funk. Thing is, Belgians know this too — good beer bars in Brussels charge extra for aged Orval. Luckily, we have the aging process built in.