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How I Created … Ampleforth Abbey Beer

Ampleforth Abbey Beer
by Wim van der Spek

I was approached by the monks of Yorkshire's Ampleforth Abbey in the autumn of 2010 to see if I could assist in reproducing a beer their predecessors once brewed.

Wim van der Spek Little ValleyThe purpose of the venture was to develop an authentic monastic beer that would be for sale in the commercial world, with the proceeds going to support the Benedictine community and its work.

Being from the Netherlands, I have grown up with the Trappist styles. My favourite beer was, and still is, Orval, so I felt very honoured to have been asked to get involved in the Benedictines' creation.

The project also built on my brewing experience before I set up Little Valley Brewery.

After studying at Munich's Doemans institute in the 1990s, I worked for six months at Rother Bräu brewery, in the northern part of Bavaria, familiarizing myself with a number of beer styles including a dark kloster bier, brewed for a local abbey.

The monks at Ampleforth wanted to create a beer that was authentic and in the style of the beer brewed by their forefathers when they lived in Northern France.

We found inspiration in old monastic recipes they held – which described the beer once brewed by the monks as having a ‘champagne like sparkle' – and also in the discussions I had with monastic communities in Belgium and France.

Research Visit

On a lengthy research visit with Ampleforth's Father Wulstan, I was able to see inside the breweries of Orval, Chimay and Westvleteren. I liked the way that the communities remained true to their values and their way of life whilst at the same time earning their living by producing beer commercially.

We also looked at the Alken-Maes-brewed Grimbergen and Mont des Cats in Northern France, whose beer is brewed by Chimay.

As for style of beer, dubbel was chosen because the monks believe that the darker style was more common in the days of their forefathers. In those days, the kilns of the maltings were heated with direct fire, meaning that the malts were generally darker and produced darker-coloured beers.

Not all of the same hops and malts mentioned in the recipes we looked at are available today, so we had to source some alternatives. We chose a mix of crystal, Munich and chocolate malts to create a roasted flavour and full body.

Some soft brown sugar was added to achieve an original gravity of 1062. This is a common practice among Trappist brewers and also enhances the caramel character of the beer.

After an old-fashioned boil of three hours, using pellet Savinjski Golding hops, we added more of the same hops – this time whole-leaf – in the whirlpool.

In the fermenting vessel, we used a commercial Trappist-style yeast, keeping the temperature ‘high’ to create more esters during the fermentation.

Ampleforth Abbey BeerAfter fermentation we held the beer for three weeks in maturation vessels at 10°C before bottling with the addition of fresh yeast and soft brown sugar.

The second fermentation took three weeks at 20°C, meaning the process in all took around eight weeks from mashing to the final beer.

The Trappist breweries were asked for their feedback on the Ampleforth trial brew and all commented that we were correct to start out with a darker-style beer. I was thrilled to hear the head laboratory technician at Orval give a seal of approval.

I was very pleased with the results. I think Ampleforth Abbey Beer (7% ABV) sits nicely among the monastic community of beers as well as standing out from the array of British-style beers on the market. I am particularly pleased with its drinkability.

The beer was launched in June 2012. Currently the production has expanded to a level that requires an automated bottling plant, and this will be operational in July 2014.

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