Is Orval becoming the new Westvleteren?

Posted January 12 2013
Due to the ever growing popularity of Belgian Trappist beers, some of these beers are getting hard to find, even in Belgium. One of the beers that have become scarce lately is Orval. It has been absent in supermarkets and beer shops for a major part of the year 2012, and even pubs have trouble getting deliveries from their distributors. In the summer of 2012 Orval’s commercial department decided to stop making publicity on beer events, in an attempt to calm down the hype. It has gone that far, that some people have been calling Orval the new Westvleteren. But is that really justified? And why exactly Orval?
Orval beer
Let’s start with the latter question. Why Orval ? With its annual productions of 65,000 hectoliters, it is definitely not the smallest Trappist brewery, Achel (4,500 hectoliters) or Rochefort (18,000 hectoliters) for instance are much smaller. The reason is something totally different; it is the internal Belgian demand. Although the abbey of Orval reserves around 85% of its production for the Belgian market, it is still not enough. In brief, Orval is getting scarce because the Belgians are drinking so much of it.

But there is still a big difference between a popular beer that is unavailable from time to time, and Westvleteren. Will it get that far with Orval ? Probably not, for a number of reasons:

The first reason is the production capacity. In 2008, Orval increased its production capacity from 38,000 to 65,000 hectoliters per year. That is about 14 times more than Westvleteren (4,750 per year)

The second reason is the different distribution channels of the two breweries. Orval sells its beer through beer wholesalers, like almost every brewery does. Their beer can be found in regular supermarkets and beer shops in Belgium, and even in some very specialized shops abroad as well as in online beer shops. Westvleteren on the other hand only sells its beer only to private individuals, who have to go to the monastery to pick it up in person. This makes it very hard for most people to ever get hold of a bottle of Westvleteren.

And a third reason is the international popularity of both beers. Although Orval is considered a very good beer on the different beer rating sites like Ratebeer, that is nothing compared to the popularity of Westvleteren 12 which has been elected Best Beer in the World by that same site.

So, although Orval may be temporarily unavailable in some places, it is still a long way from becoming the new Westvleteren.