About 15 years ago a friend introduced me to the delights of Belgian beer and since then I’ve watched excitedly as these heady but wonderfully tasting brews have grown in popularity, not only in supermarkets but also in pubs and bars across the UK.
Amongst the most popular, in retail, have been Trappist beers, specialist beers brewed by monks such as the different Belgian variety of Chimay.
But now a Benedictine order from Yorkshire which already makes a popular cider have joined the Trappist beer boom by creating their own British version – called simply Ampleforth Abbey Beer. It’s based on an ancient recipe and is the first British beer to be brewed by monks since the reformation of the monasteries – more than 450 years ago. Not only is the dark, malty tasting beer very good indeed, it also compares really well to its illustrious Belgian cousins.
The Ampleforth Abbey recipe is pretty strong at 7% ABV and it’s one I put alongside an ever-growing number of British ales and world beers that sit well at the dinner table and that, like good wine, can really enhance the flavour of your meal.
As a Trappist beer fan I was naturally curious to find out more about the venture and what prompted the monks at Ampleforth, in North Yorkshire, to start brewing so I jumped at the opportunity to speak to them about their new venture.
I spoke to Father Terence, Prior of Ampleforth Abbey.
He told me: “In the 18th century we were granted a licence by Louis XIV to brew and sell beer throughout France.
“The recipe for our new beer is based on that historic one. We have worked with an expert Dutch brewer who set up the Little Valley Brewery at Hebden Bridge, here in Yorkshire. He visited several Trappist breweries in Belgium and Holland to study their brewing techniques and we think he has helped us produce a first rate beer.”
“One of St. Benedict’s rules is that monks should be self-sufficient. Our orchards and cider production have been a success so making our own beer seemed a natural progression for us.”
The result is a wonderfully double fermented brew that has a roasted, malty and nutty taste. I’ve tried it with a Sunday roast as well as strong English hard cheeses such as Cheddar and Double Gloucester and it complemented them very well..
Last November Ampleforth Abbey Beer was taken on by Tesco’s regional sourcing team who work with small food and drink producers across the UK to sell their local produce our stores. Since then the beer has done very well and its sales now match Leffe – one of the top selling Belgian beers.
About Mike Baess
Mike has been a food writer for many years. He started as a journalist on a local paper in his home area in north London and also in east London and Essex.
After working in commercial journalism for a few years, Mike came to Tesco 13 years ago and has since spent most of that time using his journalistic skills to find interesting stories about new products, trends, suppliers and our people.
Other than writing and his family Mike’s main passions are music, sport and of course food and he considers himself fortunate to be able to make a living combining two of those.
Mike lives in Hertfordshire and is married with a five year old daughter who is equally interested in food!