Trying to Brew Like a Monk


After a lot of careful deliberation and diligent research, I think I’ve determined that Orval is my favorite beer. It isn’t the most exciting beer I’ve had. Nor is it the most quaffable. But when I have a hankering for Orval, it seems that no other beer will suffice. Orval is among the most austere Belgian beers I have tried, which may be unsurprising considering it is brewed by Cistercian monks. To me, Orval is the cervisial equivalent of Palestrina’s masses: at once structured and restrained, but with undeniable aesthetic appeal, subtlety, and complexity. The only problem is that Orval can be some work to track down and at around $6 for a 12 ounce bottle, it is a bit pricy for regular consumption. So I decided to try to brew my own. After consulting various sources, here is the (5 gallon) recipe that I settled on as a first approximation:


  • 4.5 lb Belgian pale malt
  • 4.5 lb Belgian Pilsner malt
  • 1.25 lb Caravienne malt (Belgium)
  • 1 lb candi sugar


  • 1.5 oz Hallertau (75 min)
  • 1 oz Styrian Goldings (20 min)
  • 1 oz Styrian Goldings (5 min)
  • 1.5 oz Styrian Goldings (dry hop, 7 days)


  • Belgian Abby II (Wyeast 1762)
  • Cultured dregs from 2 bottles of Orval

Mash Schedule

  • 60 min at 145 F
  • 20 min at 162 F
  • Sparge at 165 F

Fermentation Schedule

  • 1 week in the primary with the abby ale yeast
  • 3+ weeks in secondary with added dregs from Orval
  • Dry hops added during last week of secondary

Orval has an interesting fermentation schedule. Apparently the commercial version is fermented for around 4 days with a standard Belgian strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. After primary fermentation, the beer is the inoculated with strains of “wild” yeast: Brettanomyces. These yeasts (affectionately referred to in the brewing community as “Brett”) are slower acting than their Saccharomyces cousins, but are capable of digesting a wider range of sugars. The result is a dryer, but decidedly funkier beer. One can purchase commercially cultured Brett, but I decided to try to culture my own from the dregs of a couple bottles of Orval. To do this, I made a quart weak wort (1.035 sg) from my final batch sparge, boiled and cooled it as usual, and pitched the bottom inch or so of a couple bottles of Orval. After a few days of fermenting, it had a nice little krausen that faded after another few days. Here’s a picture of the floating culture:


I brewed my batch last Saturday, and everything went as well as I could have hoped. I ended up with about 4.5 gallons of wart at 1.067 original gravity. This was a bit higher gravity than expected, but I won’t complain. The fermentation took a full 24 hours to start going, but the initial wait was followed by 48 hours of vigorous activity. Today I racked the beer to the secondary and added the cultured Orval yeast. I’m not sure what to expect in terms of a final gravity, but hopefully the Brett will bring the gravity down a few points.

Will Rosenbaum

Saarbrücken, Germany

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