The monks pace serenely in their long black habits, to a background of chanted psalms and obedient students from Ampleforth College swotting for exams.
But beneath the peaceful surface of Ampleforth Abbey, in a lovely North Yorkshire valley, lies a commercial operation that is about to pull off a coup – Britain’s first monastic beer since the Reformation, more than 450 years ago.
Tawny glasses of Ampleforth Abbey brew have circulated among testers for the past year and, following repeated tweaks of yeast and malt, the beer is to go to the market in July. The launch is eagerly awaited in drinking circles because of a heady mix of history, religion and the Benedictine order’s formidable reputation in the field.
“We think we’ve got the taste and texture right,” said Father Wulstan Peterburs, Ampleforth’s procurator, whose job is to oversee St Benedict’s rule that monks should be self-sufficient and busy in their worldly as well as spiritual lives. “The last time the order did this in a big way, in the 18th century, we were given a licence by Louis XIV to sell our beer everywhere in France. We’re not being that ambitious but we think we’ve got a success on our hands.”
The beer is strongly flavoured and limited to 330ml bottles because of its gutsy 7% alcohol by volume. It is being brewed after a decade of cider production by the monks, which has gone from a homemade press in a derelict farm to 22,500 litres a year, and was honoured, again, at last month’s International Cider Challenge.
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