Ampleforth Abbey Trading Ltd., Ampleforth, York, North Yorkshire, England, UK.
The village of Ampleforth near Helmsley, about 20 miles North of York, is more than just pretty: on the edge of the North York Moors National Park (an area of outstanding national beauty), there is a white chalk horse that can be seen from many miles away, a small Saxon church and a mile from the center is the working Ampleforth Abbey and college. Benedictine monks, having been exiled from France by the French Revolutionaries, spent a few years in Lancashire before settling by this village in 1802. In 1803 a college was founded and today there is a junior prep. school, a private hall (St. Benet’s Hall) at Oxford University and a new Church (replacing the original one) completed in 1961. They also support other Monasteries including sites in Missouri USA, Macheke Zimbabwe and two in Lancashire. The Ampleforth community of around 70 monks and over 600 students live a peaceful and quiet life of obedience, servitude, self-sufficiency and community support for God.
On the 200-acre grounds of the Abbey are 100-year old orchards with plum and mostly apple. The apples numbering around 2,200 trees, many on dwarf stock (making them easy to harvest by hand), include a very rare variety dating from 1608 called Ribston Pippin (originating from nearby Ribston Hall). Most of these apples were sold to people and businesses in the local area but by the 1980’s sales had began dwindling. This was because grocery stores were selling “perfect” apples year round and very few people wanted the small, scabby and irregular shaped ones from the Abbey and so, by the late 1990’s over 70% of the apple harvest was being discarded.
In 2001 German born monk Father Rainer Verborg, a former surgeon, arrived at the Abbey. He was tasked with working out what to do with the neglected orchards, and thus prevent the apples from going to waste. Well, Monks (especially Benedictine ones) have a long history of producing alcohol and so Father Rainer set about a plan to try and make various drinks from this produce. Initial thoughts suggested the dessert or eating apples from the Abbey could not be made into hard cider (as hard cider is traditionally made from bitter “cider” apples).
In 2002 despite this popular thought regarding the apples, Father Rainer went ahead and made a 60-liter test batch of hard cider from the Abbey apples (having consulted with colleagues in Brittany, France – famous for their apples and Calvados Brandy). To many peoples surprise the flavorsome and scented eating apples made a unique and very fruity cider. With this success he made his own apple presses and the business has grown quickly since. Today, there is a cider mill (with mechanical presses) run on behalf of the Abbey by estate employees, including manager Cameron Smith. They use apples from just under 50 of the 70 different varieties - in 2013 producing 25,000-liters of cider - and now plan to plant even more apple trees.
Not resting on his laurels, Father Rainer has gone on to make (to much acclaim) Cider Brandy (aged in French oak barrels for 3 or 5 years) and a speciality called Amber - a combination of cider brandy and apple juice). They also produce several fruit flavored Gins and most recently an award winning Trappist-style beer (sold at the onsite bar, The Windmill Public House). All of these drinks are available from their online and on site shop (they also have tours) with all profits going to support the Monastic Community.