Orval responds to recent media reports

There have been a number of articles in the last few weeks in several well-known media outlets that have sounded the alarm about the status and viability of brewing at the world’s Trappist breweries, primarily those in Belgium.

Brother Xavier, left, and François de Harenne, Brasserie d' Orval.
Brother Xavier, left, and François de Harenne, Brasserie d’ Orval.

One article, in Forbes.com, here, even went so far as to claim that the Orval Trappist brewery, at l’ Abbaye Notre Dame d’ Orval in Villers-devant-Orval, Luxembourg Province, Belgium, would soon lose its “Authentic Product Status” certification, which is conferred by the International Trappist Association.

François de Harenne, Commercial Director, Brasserie d' Orval.
François de Harenne, Commercial Director, Brasserie d’ Orval.

François de Harenne, who is the Commercial Director of the Orval brewery, and also a spokesman for the International Trappist Association, told me in an email today:

“Contrary to certain reports made in the media recently, our Orval beer remains an ‘Authentic Trappist Product.’ Reports that Orval will lose that certification are completely unfounded, and have no basis in fact.”

Well, that’s certainly clear enough for me! Orval is a Trappist beer, and will remain so. Period.

In my opinion, Forbes.com should provide a correction to the article, linked above, on their website.

***UPDATE from 9:30 pm on December 25th: the Forbes article has now been taken down from their website. At the moment, the link is still the same, but the article has been replaced by a page stating said page cannot be found.***

De Harenne has also provided a more detailed response to the media stories, written by Brother Xavier, who is the Managing Director of Brasserie d’ Orval S.A.

Brother Xavier, Managing Director, Brasserie d' Orval.
Brother Xavier, Managing Director, Brasserie d’ Orval.

I have met Brother Xavier during my several visits to the Orval brewery, and I expect he will be there in that position for many years to come. He’s a fairly young monk, not much over age 40, as I recall.

I have translated this statement from French to the best of my ability, with some help, of course.

The ruins of the 12th century church with the spire of the modern abbey in the background, Orval.
The ruins of the 12th century church with the spire of the modern abbey in the background, Orval.

Here is his statement:

“Recently, the many fans of our Orval beer were inundated by an influx of articles attempting to make a correlation between the proportional volume of hectoliters produced at a Trappist brewery with the number of monks that are members of the monastic community. Journalists have even assumed that there is some concern for our future. It is our duty to tell you informally that this perception does not really match the reality of the past, present, or future.

Orval is a serene and peaceful place.
Orval is a serene and peaceful place.

Our brewery has existed since 1931. From the outset, our beer production was entrusted to secular employees in the region, because the monastic community at the time was primarily occupied by the work on the farm and the cheese makery.

In the 1930s, three master brewers each brought their own unique knowledge and insights to the development of manufacturing techniques, to produce a beer so unique and so complex: Orval. Today, Ms. Anne-Françoise Pypaert, Brewing Engineer, has taken over duties of brewmaster, with talent and skill.

Stained-glass window in the new brewhouse at Orval.
Stained-glass window in the new brewhouse at Orval.

Unlike at other Trappist breweries, here at Orval, monks have never been directly involved in the production of beer. The number of monks in the community is not directly related to the amount of beer produced, let alone the justification of any trade secret. To the contrary, four brothers (monks) with the Abbot as president, are actually very involved in the Board of Directors of Brasserie d’ Orval, with three independent directors involved in all decisions. A brother is present every day in the business.

The Production of Orval beer-brewed, matured, and refermented on the site of the abbey, has now reached a limit due to the size of the premises. This is why we imposed a policy of the stabilization of sales, which is not meant to deprive our loyal customers!

100-hectoliter secondary fermentation vessels at Brasserie d' Orval.
100-hectoliter secondary fermentation vessels at Brasserie d’ Orval.
Tasting of different vintages of Orval in the brewery lab, April 2012.
Tasting of different vintages of Orval in the brewery lab, April 2012.

(Continued, page 2)

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8 responses to “Orval responds to recent media reports”

  1. […] was actually a bit of a hubbub recently caused by poor reporting by Forbes about Orval’s production capacity and possibly […]

  2. Tony Avatar

    I have wonderful memories of Orval. I spent time there on retreat in 1967. Very peaceful and oh that beautiful beer. Reading this makes me want to return. Long may the brewery continue and the Abbey too of course!!!

  3. […] demand.  Turns out that there wasn’t a lot of truth behind that, as the monastery has responded.  Good to know that the way things have been going, are the way that they will for the foreseeable […]

  4. Mark Avatar

    I would love to visit Orval and some of the other Trappist monasteries. Looks very peaceful and rich with history. Here in the U.S. Orval is still readily available. In fact, I’m looking at some bottles right now.

  5. Taylor Brush Avatar
    Taylor Brush

    Orval is practically impossible to find in Belgium outside of certain bars and restaurants anymore, and even then, sometimes you find them empty to. I find it hard to believe that 92% is still being sold in the Benelux areas. Just a few years ago, Even last year, I could find it everywhere, but all the stores I go to have bare shelves, if they even still have a place for Orval, as most have given up that blank space for something they can actually stock. I have asked most of the larger beer stores around Belgium and have received varying answers, but it seems that even they are having a hard time getting it into stock. I only live two hours away from the brewery, you think that it would be everywhere (as it once was)!

    There has to be more to this story than what the “press releases” claim, but I haven’t been able to find it and evidently you haven’t either… If anyone in Wallonia (near Mons) can tell me a shop to get Orval again, I’d be very happy…

  6. Stefan Avatar

    Interesting bit on Orval. I am curious as to your own take on the subject, outside if what brother Xavier wrote and what was translated. I also thought there was a new yeast being used at Orval, any tie in to this?

  7. rob Avatar

    Orval rules!

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