A new Trappist brewery is born! This summer, the monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey released their 'Tynt Meadow', a Strong Dark Ale. Congratulations to them! England can now proudly join Belgium, Holland, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, and the US on the small list of countries that host Trappist breweries. As a huge fan of Trappist brews, my first thought upon hearing the news was "How can I get this beer?" As a homebrewer, my second thought was "How can I brew this beer?" For the moment, it seems that the beer is only available in the UK, so the answer to my first question is "You can't". But that won't stop me from making the motherfucker—the answer to my second question is always "You can". Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any clone recipes for this beer, so I'm on my own here. What's more, while cloning a beer you've had can be hard, cloning one you've never tasted seems like a fool's errand. Of course, that means I'm just the man for the job. Since I have no personal experience to go on, I'll have to rely upon Sherlock Holmes-level deduction and googling stuff.
Thanks to cumbersome food safety laws, the bottle itself tells us a lot (here's the bottle manufacturer, by the way). We can tell the beer is 7.4% ABV and contains sugars of some kind, but not wheat, rye, or other adjunct grains. Calling the beer a 'Strong Dark Ale' might make you think that it falls into the Belgian Strong Dark Ale category, but the ABV (and other info below) suggests that the beer is in the English Strong Ale category. If the BJCP guidelines are anything to go by, that means an FG of 1.015 to 1.022 and 30-60 IBU, but that's about it. The guidelines admit that 'English Strong Ale' is a hodgepodge of various minor beer styles with no common history.
So let's turn to the brewery's own website. From this source, we learn that the beer is bottle conditioned and contains all English malt, hops, and yeast. The site also mentions that the monks consulted with brewers at "Norcia, Saint-Wandrille, and Zundert" specifically and with the other Trappist breweries in general. It is interesting that Norcia, Saint-Wandrille, and Zundert are singled out, since these are all monastaries that have recently switched to brewing from other endeavors. According to their own websites, Norcia switched from tending to pilgrims to brewing in 2012, Wandrille apparently switched from making cleaning products to beer in 2016, and Zundert switched from farming to brewing in 2013. The Norcia and Zundert beers contain spices, which the Tynt Meadow bottle and website doesn't mention. Taken together, that suggests to me that these monasteries were consulted on the business side rather than the brewing side, providing information about how to shift industries rather than detailed recipe advice.
What else do we have to go on? From youtube videos of people pouring the beer, it looks to be a somewhat cloudy deep brown color with a moderate khaki/biege head, so is probably carbonated to no more than 2 or so volumes of Co2, in line with the usual English practice, and must contain at least some dark grains and/or sugars. The head rentention seems to be average with the foam not terribly dense, so a single infusion mash is probably used rather than a complex step mash. This would also be in line with English brewing tradition.
Various online reviews agree broadly on the flavor and aroma of the beer. One thoughtful and representative review reads "The beer is not simply a clone of other Trappist beers. For a start it doesn’t display the fruity yeast character of Belgian beers. Instead its aroma is spicier, with hints of liquorice and mint, and perhaps clove. This is all apparent in its flavour, where there are dark sugars too, molasses and burnt orange." Other reviews also describe the beer as a kind of cross between an English ale and a Belgian dubbel, highlighting spice, dark chocolate, dark fruit, toffee/caramel, and brown sugar/treacle notes with a full to medium body and impression of sweetness despite a relatively dry finish. The beer label doesn't list spices, though it isn't clear to me if UK law requires they be listed on the label in the same way US law does. Still, it seems likely that the spice character comes from the hops and yeast, since few Trappist or traditional English beers are spiced.
A comment by one of the monks involved in the brewing suggests another angle. '"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.' Another article says the monks consulted with Steve Wellington, former head brewer at Worthington brewery in Burton. This is the guy who managed to keep Worthington White Shield, the historical bottle conditioned English IPA, from dying out. This makes it at least possible that some historical English beer recipes might have influenced the Tynt Meadow ale. As we know from Ron Pattinson's blog, many old ale and barleywine recipes from back in the day used brewer's invert with a relatively simple grain bill, including adjunct grains not listed on the Tynt Meadow label.
The fact that the monks consulted with local breweries in their area means there could be some overlap between the ingredients used in Tynt Meadow and other local brews. It looks like the oldest brewery in the Leicester area is Everards, though this map has no info on their yeast and their website suggests nothing special. You'll notice on the same map that Burton Upon Trent is nearby (though in a different county), as is Nottingham. In this general vicinity too is Marston's—which owns McEwan's (the brewery from which Scottish Ale yeast is said to originate)— Ringwood (source of the Ringwood yeast), and Wychwood (said to use WLP023). Since the Tynt Meadow yeast is English, it could be sourced from one of these breweries. I doubt it's the McEwan's or Ringwood yeast, since the none of the reviews mention the distinctive smoke note of the Scottish ale or the diacetyl of the Ringwood. That leaves Nottingham and WLP023 as viable possibilities.
Putting all this together, what can we say is at least somewhat likely to be true about Tynt Meadow ale? The beer probably has a base of standard English pale malt with a number of character malts, including some that produce toffee, dark fruit, and chocolate flavors. These are probably mashed via single infusion at a high enough temperature to preserve a moderate body. The grain is likely supplemented with some dark sugars. The hops are one or more English variety that produces a spicy character. The yeast might be Nottingham or WLP023 and given the Trappist (i.e., Belgian) character indicated in some reviews, the beer might be fermented relatively warm. After fermentation, the beer is likely bottle conditioned to around 2 volumes of Co2.
But there's a huge amount we don't know. Might the monks have used a Belgian yeast, but just grown it in an English lab, so that they can say that the yeast is, technically, English in origin? Is it the yeast, hops, or something else producing the spicy character noted in many reviews? Might English laws allow them to get away with using small amounts of spice without putting it on the label? Is the sugar used dark invert or some imported candi sugar (notice the brewery website only says the grains, yeast, and hops are English, not the sugar) and is it used in the brew or only at bottling? Do the monks filter the beer and add fresh yeast at bottling, and is it the same strain used in primary fermentation? And so on.
With nothing more to go on, here's my best guess recipe (with yeast and grain substitutions based on availability).
Grain (94.4% of fermentables)
Sugars (5.6% of fermentables)
After milling my grains, I performed a single infusion mash at 156 degrees for 60 minutes.
It was cold enough out that you could see steam coming off of my mash paddle.
After running off the wort, I boiled for 60 minutes, adding the requisite hops.
Once I chilled the wort, I ran 1 gallon of it into the fermenter, adding the candi syrup to it and mixing before transferring the rest of the wort.
After pitching some yeast slurry left from a prior batch into the 64 degree wort, I open fermented for 3 days at 64 degrees ambient temperature before closing the fermenter. At its peak, the ferment was at 72 degrees.
After 2 weeks in primary, I bottled to 2.1 volumes of Co2 and let it condition.
The result was excellent! The beer pours dark mahogany with a creamy khaki head, but shows off a deep ruby color when held to the light. The aroma is a beautiful mix of dark chocolate, leather, some fig and allspice notes, and a hint of coffee. The beer has an almost vinous flavor of the sort you would expect from an aged old ale. It tastes somewhat sweet with notes of coffee and cocoa, brown sugar, and raisin. The body is medium and the sweetness of the beer is nicely balanced by mild bitterness. I'll be making this one again regardless of how close it is to Tynt Meadow.
Though my tasting notes overlap significantly with descriptions of the original beer, I have no idea whether or not it's a successful clone. Hopefully the fine monks of Mount Saint Bernard will read this and send me some, or at least start exporting to the US. In the meantime, if trying to clone something you've never tasted leads to a great beer, that's success enough.