The monks of Ampleforth abbey, who are great gardeners with a particular name for making cider, are to brew a beer from an ancient recipe in their archive, which has not been tried for two centuries.
Chuffed by the success of their apple orchard, which has grown to more than 2,000 trees and 70 varieties of apple, the Benedictine community hopes to have £36 packs of 12 bottles of beer available by the end of June.
Known traditionally as ‘la bière Anglaise’, the brew is thought to date back to medieval times before the order was suppressed in England under Queen Elizabeth I, a time of repeated panics over potential invasion by Catholic powers supported by recusant English followers of the ‘old religion.’ It assumed its French name via the loyalty of exiled monks, who brewed it in France while their French colleagues made related experiments which led in due course to the 19th century’s Benedictine liqueur.
Ironically, production stopped when they finally came back across the Channel, exiles again because of the anti-clerical French Revolution. No one knows why, but perhaps they were content with the thriving English beer and ale market which saw brewers, and their women counterparts brewsters, in pretty much every village.
The clerical connection with the drink was also strong. Not far from Ampleforth, the Anglican vicar of Lastingham at the time, Rev Jeremiah Carter, played the violin in the Blacksmith’s Arms where his wife was the landlady. The wheel has kept turning. Monks from Ampleforth enjoyed hammering out tunes on a honky-tonk piano in the thatched Star Inn at Harome when it was run in the 1950s by a publican exiled from London.
The abbey says of the forthcoming beer:
It was made with hops and barley, then double fermented for strength and a ‘champagne-like’ sparkle. In 1793, escaping the French Revolution, the monks fled back to England and eventually settled in at Ampleforth in 1802, and built the Abbey. Today the beer, to the same recipe, is being brewed and poured again.
Cases will be collectable from the abbey to avoid £13 mailing costs, with a limit of four per customer on reservations – an echo of the origins of the cider, which started after monks successfully sold apples at the roadside. Their cider mill now produces 22,500 litres of cider, cider brandy and an apple liqueur.
A final interesting fact, which the Guardian Northerner has mentioned before and will again, is that the world’s biggest outlet for Benedictine is Burnley Miners and Working Men’s Social Club. This still serves ‘Benny and Hot’, the mixture of Benedictine and hot water for which soldiers of the Lancashire Fusiliers developed a great liking during the First World War.
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