COALVILLE, United Kingdom – For the monks of Mount Saint Bernard abbey, St. Patrick’s Day had a special significance this year: It was the first brew day of their new brewery.

Beginning July 9, visitors to the monastery, as well as some local outlets, will be able to get their hands on Tynt Meadow English Trappist Ale.

A national distributer will also be providing the beer, but only in limited quantities.

Although for many people around the world Trappist monks are associated with beer, in this part of the English Midlands they are known for another beverage – milk.

The Cistercian abbey was founded in 1835, and for most of its existence its dairy farm provided most of its income. However, the farm later proved uneconomical.

(The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance is commonly referred to as the Trappist order, after La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, France.)

“One of the main reasons for starting a brewery was the closure of our farm,” said Father Joseph, who has been working on the project.

“We always had a dairy farm, but it was becoming harder and harder to make it financially viable. Once the decision was made to close the dairy farm we then had to decide on a new source of income to replace it with,” he told Crux.

Father Erik Varden, the abbot of the community, drew upon his time in Rome and noted that the Benedictine monks of nearby Norcia had opened a successful brewery.

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Monasteries have been brewing beer for years, and the Trappists are no exception. In 1997, eight Trappist institutions founded the International Trappist Association, to protect the name and quality of Trappist-produced items, including beer. Since then, four new beer-making members have joined, including Mount Saint Bernard. A full half of the twelve Trappist monasteries making beer are from Belgium, the heart of European beermaking.

When people hear the words “Trappist beer,” they usually think of a Belgian-style ale. But the monks of Mount Saint Bernard wanted their beer to be unique.

“Our advisors all said, ‘don’t just brew another Belgium Trappist Beer.’ What we have done is married the venerable traditions of continental Trappist brewing with those of British brewing. So not only did we visit most of the Trappist breweries to learn from them, but we also visited a number of breweries here in the East Midlands to learn from them,” Father Joseph said.

The beer, called Tynt Meadow after the location of the monastery (a Trappist naming tradition), is made with English barley and hops, and even an English strain of yeast.

(Credit: Mount Saint Bernard abbey.)

According to the tasting notes, “Tynt Meadow is mahogany-colored, with a subtle, warm red hue, and a lasting beige head. Its aroma carries hints of dark chocolate, licorice, and rich fruit flavors. The beer is full-bodied, gently balancing the taste of dark chocolate, pepper, and fig. It leaves a warm and dry finish on the palate.”

Although this is a new venture for the modern monks, there is evidence Mount Saint Bernard’s had a brewery for a period in the 19th century.

There is an account of chimney sweeps working at the monastery drinking beer brewed by the monks after their day’s work: However, the monks could find no evidence of the recipe in their archives.

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The current project has caused some disruption for the monks – they have been relocating their refectory, kitchen, and laundry to provide space for the installation of the brewery – but Father Joseph said that monks will not let making beer interfere with their primary mission, which is prayer.

“We aim to integrate the brewing into our daily religious life. Our continental Trappist brothers advised us ‘In a monastery you brew to live, you don’t live to brew.’ Initially the setting up of the brewing has caused some disturbance to our normally regular life but once we are up and running we think brewing will integrate well into the monastic timetable,” he told Crux.

Varden, when he blessed the brewery on April 23 – the feast of England’s patron, St. George – noted the theological significance of the project.

“One of the fascinating things about beer, is that this – potentially – sophisticated beverage is made of the simplest ingredients. By being refined to manifest their choicest qualities; by being brought together in a favorable environment; by mingling their properties and so revealing fresh potential; by being carefully stored and matured, the humble malt, hops, yeast, and water are spirit-filled and bring forth something new, something nurturing and good, that brings joy to those who share it,” the abbot said.

“Considered in this perspective, the brewery provides us with a parable for our monastic life, with the Lord as virtuoso brewmaster. The Scriptures favor wine as an image of the Gospel – but that is culturally conditioned; beer, it seems to me, is a much-neglected theological symbol,” Varden continued.

The decision to start the brewery comes as much of the world is experiencing a “beer renaissance,” with artisan beers and microbreweries proliferating around the world.

Father Joseph said that although this renaissance may have played a role “in the background,” it didn’t directly influence the monks’ decision to start the brewery: “I think the main influence was the fact that 11 other monasteries of our Order brew beer successfully.”