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Old dog, new day

One of Belgium’s most iconic beers gets its due on Saturday.

Some 400 locations across America are participating in the third annual Orval Day, honoring the Trappist pale ale that introduced brettanomyces yeast – Brett, for short – to the U.S.

In Spokane, The Blackbird is handing out free glassware with the first two dozen Orval purchases and serving a classic Belgian dish, moules frites (mussels with French fries).

Nectar Wine and Beer in Kendall Yards is giving glasses to the first 10 Orval customers and offering customized cheese pairings. It’s also waiving the usual $1.50 fee for opening a bottled beer in-house.

Immediately recognizable from its distinctive skittle-shaped bottle (resembling a bowling pin), Orval is brewed under the supervision of monks at the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval monastery.

Orange in hue and highly carbonated with a huge rocky head, it’s fruity and bready with a bone-dry finish, thanks to the addition of easy-fermenting liquid candy sugar and the highly attenuating yeast used for primary fermentation. 

Dry-hopping with a combination of Halleratu, Styrian Golding and Strisselspalt contributes earthy, herbal, spicy notes.

But the defining characteristic is a pronounced barnyard funk from bottle-conditioning with Brett, a wild yeast that’s become commonly used by American brewers in sour and farmhouse styles. That also allows it to age nicely for five years or more.

Continued fermentation in the bottle can raise alcohol by volume to the 6.9 percent listed on bottles in the U.S., though it leaves the brewery a full percent lower.

“I think it’s one of the most interesting beers in the world,” says Nectar’s Ben Simons. “You definitely get that wild element from the Brett, and there’s a refreshing element to it with some floral and stone fruit character.”

A favorite among more discerning drinkers in the days before the craft beer boom, Orval has taken more of a back seat in today’s scene.

“I don’t sell a lot of it, but always keep it in stock,” says Simons. “People are always looking for the new hot thing, and sometimes the old classics can get neglected.”

In addition to raising awareness about the beer, Orval Day is designed to do good. Through the end of the month, importer Merchant du Vin is donating $1 from each Orval sale to Map International, which provides medicines and other health supplies to those in need worldwide.