For our second episode, we are joined by Laurențiu Mândrilă, brewer and co-founder at Oriel Beer. Laurențiu was shaped and inspired by the Belgian brewing tradition, and today, he will tell us where it all began. So let’s join him as he spends a week with the Trappist monks, discovers hidden cafés in Bruges, and enjoys some barrel aged history.
This is the beginning for me, and this is the beer that first comes to my mind. Before this, I had many other beers, mainly lagers. At that time I was collecting beer caps, and in my holidays I liked to try every beer that I could find (mostly shitty beers). But Duvel was the first good beer that was largely available in Romania. Around 2008-2009 you could find it in Mega Image, which was close to my house, so I used to buy it very often. Back then, it was something new for Romania, and together with Chimay, made me love Belgian beers. After all those years years, I still enjoy drinking Duvel, a clean and crisp beer with a lot of foam (I love foamy beers). Also I do enjoy their single hop editions, a thing that I consider doing it with our Oriel Blond in the future. It gets a plus for the good price, large availability, and the fact that the brewery is still owned by the family who founded it.
One of my favorite beers, brewed by the only Trappist brewery that makes only one beer (available to the public). A great beer that is dry hopped and bottle conditioned with Brett, that is changing depending if it’s old or fresh (I prefer the older ones). First tried it in 2010-2011, when my brother brought it for me from Italy (as he already knew I like Belgian beers). I opened it together with Ioana and poured it in a big Cognac glass (the only decent glass we had at that time). We were like: ‘Wow! Is this really beer?’. At that time, we didn’t even know what Brettanomyces was, but we really loved the taste of Orval. It actually made us start homebrewing, and later influenced me to brew the Oriel Blond Wild. A plus for Orval is the fact that, I think, it was one of the first brewery in Europe to use Brett and to dry-hop a beer. It inspired me and many brewers (including Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who even has a tattoo of the Orval logo). Later in 2018 we even visited the brewery (available to visit only once a year, with bookings made in advance). It was a real struggle to get a booking, as I had to do it online, and every time I tried, it was fully booked, but after a few days I managed to do it. We stayed for a week in a quiet, but nice village just near the abbey, visiting the local cafes daily, and waiting for our visiting day to come. The place was very crowded, full of tourists, especially Americans. The tour wasn’t guided but it’s a free tour, and at the end you receive some cheese, a glass of young Orval and a nice bottle opener (made of wood, in the shape of the Orval bottle). Near the abbey, there is also the restaurant called A l’Ange Gardien, the only place where you can try Petit Orval, a lighter (4.2% ABV) and more hoppy version of Orval.
Brouwerij Verhaeghe – Duchesse de Bourgogne
After falling in love and trying a lot of Belgian beers, in 2012 we decided that we have to visit Belgium. After seeing the movie ‘In Bruges’, we thought Bruges might be the perfect place to start exploring Belgium. I don’t regret it. Nice, quiet little city (at least at that time) full of breweries and cafés. We visited the brewery De Halve Maan (the Brugse Zot on draft, unpasteurized, was also a beer that stuck in my mind), and many cafés and restaurants. One of them was called Rose Red, a quiet bar, hidden from the eyes of the crowd, with nice atmosphere and music, and a generous selection of beers. It was there that I tried, by chance, the Duchesse de Bourgogne, and I felt in love with sour beers. By then I didn’t even know sour beers existed, but from that moment I started hunting them. Still one of my favorites, and I consider in the future to brew a Flanders Red Ale at Oriel.
Brasserie de Rochefort – Rochefort 10
Not much to say about this one. Simply one of my favorite Quadrupels (along with Westvleteren 12 and Bernardus Abt 12). I drank it a lot of times and I just can’t get enough of it. Back when I was homebrewing I even used the Rochefort yeast to brew the Dubbels and Quadrupels. Later it inspired me to create the Oriel Quadrupel, for which sometimes we still use Rochefort yeast.
Kasteel Barista Chocolate Quad (and RaspBarisa Chocolate Quad)
I don’t remember when or where I first tried it, but it quickly became my favorite dessert beers. I still buy it each time I go to Auchan, and I used to drink it each time I went to Guxt restaurant, as my last beer for the evening. At the [Oriel] brewery, it made me want to play with fruits and extracts, and this is how Quadrupel Blackberry and Raspberry were born.
Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven – La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged
The last of the six beers is La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged. I think this was the first the barrel aged beer that I tried. On a trip to Amsterdam, we decided to go and visit the Koningshoeven Abbey, where La Trappe is produced. It was a good choice, even if it was kind of far from Amsterdam, and we had to change trains and buses a few times. Also, we almost got stuck there, as there was only one bus per hour passing through that small village and we almost missed the last one. Anyway, back to it, we visited the brewery (the only Trappist brewery that you can visit anytime), right when the master brewer was brewing a batch of Dubbel. It smelled amazing, and we also had the chance to taste the wort. After the tour we stopped at the bar/restaurant of the Abbey were the monks were taking their lunch. We had the whole La Trappe beer range on draught (the only place where you can taste them unfiltered and unpasteurized). The atmosphere and the design of the place was great, and we had the best onion soup, some great cheeses with home-made bread, and butter made by the locals. Everything used in the kitchen was from the locals in the same village, and also they gave the spent grains to the farmers. At the end we wanted to go the brewery shop, which is run by the monks, but it was closed because the monks were praying. (The brewery and restaurant are operated by a private company.) We were in a hurry to catch the last bus, so we bought a few beers from the restaurant, one of them was La Trappe Oak Aged – can’t remember exactly which batch, they change the types of the barrels use on each one, kind of the same way we are doing with our Quadrupel.
In the past years I tried a lot of modern beers (especially Nordic and American beers), and I truly appreciate them. Some stuck in my mind and I will always remember them, but as I’ve noticed as an evolution of the worldwide craft beer scene, some beers are just on trend at some point, and then they vanish. The Belgian beers will always remain classic and even though they are not appreciated in these times, let’s not forget their influence on the major breweries that changed the perception about beer and put craft beer on the map of the beverage industry.