In the Dartmoor area the monks have been renown for their skills in producing alcoholic delights. The monks at Buckfast had their mead and fortified wine, whilst the monks at Tavistock were famous for their sweet cider. The cider was one of the purest in the county and so much in demand they couldn’t make it quick enough. The apple orchards at the abbey produced a superb drink but it was a trifle on the sharp side. Therefore the job of the head brewster was to solve this problem, luckily he was a dedicated man and so he devoted many hours in addressing the dilemma. The solution was found by adding liberal quantities of sweet white wine, but as with all things, solve one problem and face another. Although the cider was sweet it was also very ‘heady’ and resulted in, well, to put it bluntly, drunken monks. It did not take long for the serene and contemplative atmosphere of the abbey to be replaced by one of joviality and truculence. The infirmary saw an upturn in cases of general malaise and violent stomach upsets. The Abbot realised that this situation could not continue and so offered a reward to anyone that could come up with a less potent means of sweetening the cider.
Word soon got around the local community and the abbey was deluged with people offering alternatives. These ranged from the unbelievable to the unhygienic, many of them had already been tried by the brewster. The list of additives varied from honey, pears, elderflower to raw meat and rats. The Abbot was becoming desperate and his monks were getting unruly.
One day an old man came limping up to the abbey gates and claimed to have an extensive knowledge of alcoholic beverages and brewing. His claim to fame was that he had blended both Benedictine and Chartreuse. The monks welcomed him with open arms and offered him the full hospitality of the abbey. The old man refused all and simply asked for an empty barrel to sleep in. The Abbot was called and even he was unable to dissuade the visitor, so he was shown to the brew room where an empty keg was found. Within minutes the old man had curled up inside the barrel and was snoring like a pig. Most of the monks were impressed with the strangers eagerness to turn down a bed, food and drink. Brother Leonard however was a little more suspicious and decided to keep an eye on the new guest.
Later that night, out of curiosity, Brother Leonard went back to the brewing room and tiptoed over to the barrel. The reverberating keg told him that the old man was still inside and fast asleep. He took a candle, gently opened the lid and peered inside where to his horror he saw a cloven hoof sticking out. So the Devil had tricked his way into the monastery and now his ruse had been discovered. The monk quickly replaced the lid and connected a pipe from the main cider vat into the cask. Once he was happy it was securely fixed he turned on the tap and started to fill the barrel. The cold cider soon awoke the Devil who burst out of the cask in a cloud of steam and curses. The room filled with acrid sulphur fumes and flames as the evil one fled from the room.
By the time the excitement was over, Brother Leonard noticed that the barrel was still filling with his precious cider. He rushed over to the vat and turned the tap off, and then returned to the smouldering barrel. The monk was a frugal man and could not abide waste so imagine how he felt about losing a whole keg of cider. Leonard thought about tipping it back into the main vat but then realised that it might spoil the whole pressing. Human nature being what it is, it was not long before he was tempted to try a little of the steaming liquid. Brother Leonard picked up a nearby tankard and scooped up some of the cider which he gingerly sipped. To his amazement it was the sweetest cider he had ever tasted. What could the Devil have done to it? After a series of deductions the monk decided that it must have something to do with the sulphur, the smell of which was still lingering in the room.
From that night onwards Brother Leonard always poured the cider over hot sulphur. The secret was closely guarded by the abbey who became renown for their sweet, mellow cider. The monk duely received his reward from the Abbot, which as the order demanded their monks had no personal possessions was duely handed back. What he did get to keep was the reputation of the best cider brewer in Devon which basically meant the whole world.