★ Beer Review: Orval Trappist Ale & Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout

Two more beers for you tonight, starting off with Orval, a Belgian Trappist Ale.  Crafted within the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval monastery, Orval is notable for its distinctive brewing process, which includes dry hopping and wild yeasts. Orval is sold solely to support the monastery, but unlike many other Belgian beers, it has a relatively low alcohol content - only 6.9% ABV. Although highly regarded, Orval struck me as being a little too weak to really compare to the other great Belgian beers I've been lucky enough to sample. Its flavor was decidedly understated, lacking both the magnificent smoothness of Chimay and the distinctiveness of the Saison Dupont I enjoyed last night. At best, Orval might be considered a good introduction to Belgian ales for those of you whose previous beer experience has been confined to dull American lagers. The seasoned beer drinker might want to give it a shot, but for me personally, it was a one-and-out experience. On the other hand, the Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is simply a magnificent beer. Originally billed as a nutritional beverage, the oatmeal stout was occasionally given to lactating mothers and was renowned for its health benefits during the late nineteenth century. But when the 1800s gave way to the 1900s, this particular style of brewing simply disappeared, the victim of changing tastes and morals.  In 1980, Samuel Smith's Brewery began producing it, becoming the first in the world to do so, and even though there have been many imitators, the first remains the best. (The Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout, brewed in scenic Middlebury, Vermont, ranks a close second.) The Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is a beast of a beer, notable for its richness and its unique scent, as well as its strong but not overpowering flavor. It's a complex beer, best enjoyed slowly in the company of friends. Highly recommended and easily available, this beer is a meal fit for a king in and of itself. Enjoy!