The new brewery of Trappist (Cistercian Strict Observance) Mount Saint Bernard 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, later removing to premises in nearby Charnwood Forest, Coalville, Leicestershire.
A page from the 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 is 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’s 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 abbey’s website makes clear, the beer is mashed and brewed from all-English materials including malt, hops, and yeast. I was very glad to read this and had called substantially for this style of beer in my 2016 essay discussing historical brewing at the abbey, see here.
While it is doubtful a strong ale was made at Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s vs. the low-alcohol, “small beer” I discuss in the 2016 post, older monastic brewing history suggests full-strength monastic ale was made in Britain that influenced European abbey brewing before the French Revolution.
This earlier tradition, deployed notably at the Benedictine Dieulouard abbey in France before the Revolution, had to, in my view, influence in turn the strong beers later made at Belgian Trappist monasteries in the post-Napoleon period. See again my 2016 post for this broader history.
In time, and certainly today, a Belgian yeast signature emerged that typifies most (not quite all) Belgian Trappist beer, influenced likely too by the typically high fermentation temperatures used. The impact on the palate is quite different, in my experience, to that resulting from today’s English brewing yeasts and fermentation practice.
The Belgian yeast signature displays a chalky, clovey note, whereas English yeasts generate a range of flavours from mineral to soft black, or other, fruit character. I realize this is generalization and does not take account of numerous factors such as water profile, but still a bright line can be drawn, imo.
Regarding the true nature of the beer brewed (or sourced, perhaps) at Mount Saint Bernard in the 1800s, perhaps it was a typical English 7% abv “first mash” strong ale but diluted for serving in the refectory.
As pointed out in my earlier posts there is evidence that strong abbey ales were considered to “support” dilution, meaning sometimes the beer was cut with water to reduce the alcohol. If this process was not used at Mount Saint Bernard, then presumably a small beer or ale was brewed (1-3% abv), the type of low-alcohol beer still widely brewed in Britain then.
Until such time as Mount Saint Bernard brewing records of the 1800s surface – apparently the monastery cannot locate them – the precise character of the monks’ 19th century beer cannot be known. Nonetheless, as I documented earlier, from 1842 until the 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 Anglo-European abbey brewing tradition. And it offers, in my view, a (welcome) change from the typical Trappist/Abbey/Belgian ale palate, dominated as it is by the Belgian yeast signature.