Dogged research has gone into the creation of Ampleforth Abbey beer. Wim van der Spek at Little Valley Brewery is a Dutch brewer who visited the Trappist breweries in the Low Countries – six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands – to study their recipes and methods. Father Wulstan Peterburs (pictured) from Ampleforth accompanied him, as he was determined to produce a beer with an authentic monastic character.
Van der Spek married modern brewing techniques to the fragments of information made available by the monastery of Dieulouard near Nancy in Lorraine. The English Benedictines settled there when they fled to France following the coronation of after Elizabeth I's coronation and built a brewery to support their pastoral work.
"La bière anglaise" was brewed with barley malt, wheat, hops, yeast and water and would have been a deep amber, russet or brown beer. Before the invention of coke in the industrial revolution, which enabled pale malt to be produced, grains used in brewing were "kilned" or gently cured over wood fires that created brown malt and dark beer.
The beer brewed at Dieulouard was said to be "double fermented" and even "sparkled like champagne". This raises the intriguing thought that the English monks may have had contact with Dom Perignon and other French Benedictines who developed sparkling wine in the 17th century, also in north-east France. What is certain is that the monks' beer would have had a first fermentation in the brewery and a second in oak casks.
Van der Spek's beer for Ampleforth has a second fermentation in bottle rather than cask. It's called Double, in the Trappist tradition of producing beers in rising order of strength, labelled Single, Double and Triple. Ampleforth Double (7%) is brewed with pale and wheat malts and the colour is the result of three darker malts: chocolate, crystal and Munich, which are roasted to a high temperature. Soft brown sugar, another Trappist tradition, is also used. There are two hops varieties: Northern Brewer from Germany and Savinjski Goldings from Slovenia.
The yeast culture comes from an unnamed Belgian Trappist brewery but the Ampleforth beer is so strongly reminiscent of the ales produced at the Rochefort monastery in Wallonia that the origin of the yeast is not difficult to determine.
The beer has a spicy and peppery aroma from the hops, backed by roasted grain, chocolate and sultana fruit. Rich fruit and malt dominate the palate but they are balanced by spicy hops while the finish is bittersweet with dark fruit, roasted grain, chocolate and gentle hops.
Roger Protz is a beer expert and was a voluntary adviser in the development of Ampleforth Abbey beer
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