The Trappist (Cistercian Strict Observance) Mount Saint Bernard’s new brewery in Leicestershire, U.K. is now operating. This is a major development in both U.K. and international brewing circles. The first and only beer to be released is Tynt Meadow, named after a patch of land where the first monastic arrivals in the area built shelter until removing to premises in nearby Charnwood Forest, Coalville, Leicestershire.
This page from this abbey’s website gives full information on the monks’ vocation, the brewing project and underlying aims, and how to source the beer. It is available in bottled form only and bottled with its residual yeast, a technique at least hundreds of years old.
Such “bottle-conditioning” is not dissimilar (in substance) to the part of Champagne production that generates the famous fizz. Champers is said to be, pleasingly in this context, of monastic origin via the historical originator, Dom Perignon, although the story may be mythic or in part.
Mount Saint Bernard beer sales will help support the trust that funds the abbey’s activities, promotes its good works. The brewery is one of only a dozen authorized to use the Trappist designation. Most Trappist breweries are in Belgium with a scattering in other countries, including now the U.K.
First reports indicate a rich brew of traditional English character. As the web page makes clear the beer is mashed and brewed from all-English materials including malt, hops, and yeast. We were very glad to read this and had called substantially for this style of beer in our 2016 essay discussing the history of brewing at the abbey, here.
While it is doubtful this type of beer was made at Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s vs. the low-alcohol, “small beer” I discussed in my 2016 post, earlier monastic brewing history suggests a full-strength ale was made in the U.K. that influenced European monastic brewing before the French Revolution.
This earlier tradition, as deployed notably at the Benedictine Dieulouard abbey in France before the Revolution, had to in our view in turn influence the strong beers made at the Belgian Trappist monasteries post-Napoleon. See my earlier posts cited in the 2016 post that discuss this earlier history.
Needless to say the beers once “Europeanized” evolved over the generations. In particular, a Belgian Trappist yeast signature emerged, possibly too in association with the typically high ale fermentation temperatures used. The impact on palate is quite different, for the most part in our experience, to that resulting from current English brewing yeasts and fermentation practice.
The Belgian yeast signature is a chalky, clovey note whereas English yeasts generate a range of flavours from mineral notes to soft black or other fruit character. I realize this is generalizing and doesn’t take account of factors such as water profile but still this bright line can be drawn in my view.
Regarding the true nature of the beer brewed (or sourced, perhaps) by Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s, I should add that quite possibly it brewed a typical, 7% abv “first mash” strong ale but diluted it for service in the refectory. If it did brew such a beer, the new one just issued can be said to follow more directly in its footsteps.
As pointed out in my earlier posts, there is evidence that strong beer in the abbey tradition “supported” dilution, meaning sometimes it was cut with water to reduce the alcohol.
Until such time as 1800s’ Mount Saint Bernard brewing records surface – apparently the monastery can’t locate them – the precise character of the monks’ beer in that century can’t be known. Nonetheless, as I documented earlier, from 1842-1890s numerous visitors to the abbey recounted that a small beer was served with the meals; we know that much.
Any way one looks at it, the type of beer Mount Saint Bernard has decided to brew in 2018 is fully within the relevant traditions. And, it offers a (welcome, in our view) change from the typical Trappist/Abbey/Belgian ale palate.