Perhaps if Henry VIII had left them alone, Britain’s monastic communities would be big players in brewing today. As it is, Buckfast Abbey in Devon is as close as we get.
The monks of Buckfast don’t make beer, though: as perhaps befits the French origins of the monks who took over the Abbey in the nineteenth century, they produce fortified ‘tonic’ wine. What’s more, Buckfast wine does not have a good reputation. The first time we heard of it was in an episode of Rab C. Nesbitt.
Watching the oddly stilted video presentation in the visitor centre, we were struck by several things: the contrast between the simple monastic life and the huge, branded tankers transporting wine “all around the world” (Scotland); the glasses of beer visible on the table during footage of the monks at lunch; and the shot of the monastic produce shop.
Yes, there is beer at Buckfast after all — bottles of Chimay and Andechs on sale to tourists, alongside honey, sweets, soap and trinkets made by monks all over Europe.