COLUMNISTS - BAR MAN: Trappist temptation
When I was young I was convinced that all the best beer was brewed in this country.
My excuse for this Anglo-centric view is that the pubs near me sold mild and bitter alongside fizzy lager and stout.
I had never been abroad and the off licences offered little more than bottles of pale ale or brown ale. My eyes were opened and taste buds tickled on my first trip overseas, which happened to be a university field trip to Germany. Clearly we were hard working students, but our packed schedule allowed for just the odd sample of the local beer, and I soon realised that there was far more to life than Thwaites mild. If German beer was good, the ones I tried in Czechoslovakia and then Belgium were exceptional, and I discovered that some of the ones to look out for were produced by monks in Trappist monasteries. There has been a long tradition of monks brewing beer, and you can see the remains of the old Brewhouse down at Castle Acre Priory, but for us, the tradition was lost when the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th century. Not so on the continent, and the Trappists, or more correctly the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, an offshoot of the Benedictines, whose rules they follow, have continued to produce beer, wine and spirts for hundreds of years.
The type of beer they produce tends to be top fermented, strong and bottle conditioned and a hint of the flavour might be discovered by trying a glass of the Dubbel from the Oundle brewery that has been on sale at the Nip and Growler.
For the authentic stuff, you will have to track down some produced by members of the International Trappist Association (ITA), who wanted to distinguish their products from the more widely available Abbey beers. When the association was formed in 1997, there were only eight members, six from Belgium and one each from the Netherlands and Germany. Since then, their numbers have been augmented by enterprises in Italy, Austria, USA and two further monastic breweries in the Netherlands.
However the expansion has not stopped and the latest proposal is for the Mount St Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire to join their ranks.
It won’t be the first abbey beer to be revived in England, as they were beaten to it by the monks at Ampleforth in Yorkshire who commenced brewing in 2012, but they do not fall under the strict requirements of the Trappist brand. Mount St Bernard became the first permanent monastery to be founded in England since the reformation when it opened in 1835, and is the only Cistercian house in the country, so it will not be starting a trend.
The council have given permission for a disused dairy to be converted to a brewery and, once operational, any profits will be used for the living expenses of the monks, and the rules state that any surplus must go to charity to help persons in need.
Their most difficult task will not be the equipment, but the expertise. I guess that there must be a Trappist beer consultant at one of the other monasteries, but eventually someone at Mount St Bernard will need to acquire some expertise. There may also be difficulties in sourcing some of the ingredients. I hope they succeed. It’s the 500th anniversary this year of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of a church in Wittenburg, starting the Reformation. Perhaps it’s time we talked about it over a bottle of English Trappist beer.