English Heritage tastes success with special brew

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Indy Lifestyle Online

English Heritage has shown no lack of invention in its efforts to raise money for the upkeep of the buildings in its charge but it now seems to have stumbled on an entirely unexpected revenue stream: the sale of liquor. After recently buying its first pub, in the grounds of the medieval Byland Abbey near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, the conservation body concluded that consumers' interest in the heritage of their surroundings might also persuade them to buy an ale with historical authenticity. The result is the Byland Brew - made with generous supplies of orange to the kind of recipe which, historical evidence suggests, was appreciated by imbibers as far back as Roman times. The 4.2 per cent proof ale is has gone down so well at the Grade II-listed Abbey Inn that it is to be made a permanent fixture, on draught.

The ale is a fitting addition to life at Byland where, centuries before the pub building was put up by one of the brothers at the local Ampleforth Abbey, the medieval monks of Byland Abbey appear to have been warming themselves on winter nights with drinks they distilled surreptitiously. The clues to their covert drinking habits were uncovered last month by archaeologists, who found apparatus which could only have been used for distillation - or else for dabbling in the black art of alchemy.

The order of Cistercian monks which established Byland Abbey in 1137 knew that hard spirits were banned, but as the years wore on the strictures of the regime relaxed. There is no suggestion of mass production or drunken monks - but some sort of locally produced spirit may well have been offered as a post-dinner warmer on some of the wilder Yorkshire nights, according to English Heritage.

Byland was also famed for its hospitality in the 13th century, when Edward II called in for dinner - but famously was forced to abandon dessert when Robert the Bruce attacked with the Scottish army. English Heritage's decision to spend nearly £1m to buy the Abbey Inn - whose Piggery restaurant is a nod to the establishment's original use as a farm - has been a major draw for pub-goers who, in increasing numbers, are seeking out establishments with a history. People also like the idea of the money they are paying for their drink going towards the upkeep of crumbling buildings elsewhere. The recipe for the new Byland Brew, produced by the local independent brewery Suddaby's, is a modification of another local brew, the Malton Goddess, which was produced to commemorate the discovery of the statue of a deity several years ago. "We researched Roman recipes then and this is a more quaffable ale - designed for drinking outdoors, like the Byland monks once did," said the brewer Neil Suddaby.