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Monks and beer may seem like an unlikely pair, but at Country Monks Brewing, located at Subiaco Abbey, beer lovers will find some of the best brew in the state, and while under the leadership of Brother Sebastian, the brewery has been thriving.
The Courtyard of Subiaco Abbey
Nestled in the foothills of the scenic Ouachita Mountains and located just east of Paris in Logan County, Subiaco Abbey is home to a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery of the Swiss-American Congregation. Founded in 1878, not only is Subiaco Abbey a strikingly beautiful and peaceful institution of prayer and reflection, it also is the home of Country Monks Brewing.
The primary work of a monk is prayer and biblical study, but it is also true that St. Benedict expected monks to engage in manual labor (both inside and outside the monastery) to provide for their needs while also serving others. Some of the monastery’s areas of work and service include the operation of Subiaco Academy, a boarding school for young men, and the hosting of spiritual retreats. You can also find the laboring monks engaging in many other activities, such as woodworking, gardening, and the creation of custom craft products like their delicious peanut brittle and rich, flavorful hot sauces.
Beer Tasting with Br. Sebastian at Sodie’s Wine and Spirits
For Brother Sebastian, the labor of being head brewer has yielded some very impressive results. When the brewing began in 2017, his initial role was working as the assistant to the brew master, Brother Basil, but by 2020, he had taken over full operations of the brewery and has had that role ever since.
I first met Br. Sebastian during a retreat at Subiaco. Not only is he head brew master, but he is also the manager of the taproom where our retreat group had the opportunity to sample some of the Country Monks beer. As a lover of quality craft beer, this brew blew me (and my fellow coworkers) away. I was taken not only with the beer, but with Br. Sebastian’s warm, friendly and cheeky demeanor. He was eager to explain each beer, its making, ingredients, and the unique nature with which each name was created.
Currently, the brewery makes one style of beer, an ale and there are nine flavors. These beers are not only unique in flavor but also in their names and packaging. Some of the crowd favorites are the Abbey Amber, the Irish Red and a tasty oatmeal stout, which they call True Grit Trail. Other notable flavors are Scholastic Stout, Belgian Brittle (which has notes of their craft made peanut brittle…AMAZING), and Peter’s Chair Pale Ale. With such original names, it is only fitting that the packaging be equally distinctive.
The original three cans of stout, pale ale, and amber were created by Br. Basil, the original founder and brew master of Country Monks Brewing. Starting with the Irish Red, Br. Sebastian decided he wanted the design on the cans to go more towards a cartoonish look, which led to what he calls their “fat monk trademark.” Led by artist Rajitha Saparamandu, these comical and endearing images can now be found on all of the Country Monks products that are made at the abbey.
Artwork by Rajitha Saparamandu
Most recently, Country Monks Brewing has begun to slowly become more mainstreamed into some of the beer markets in Northwest Arkansas. It can be purchased on Saturdays (from 9-4) at the Abbey Tap Room, along with most of the other products made at the Abbey. But additionally, it can be purchased at Circle S in Paris, Sodie’s Wine and Spirits in Ft. Smith, and Liquor World in Fayetteville. When you encounter any of this blissful brew at any of these sellers, do what I did…buy one pack of each; you can thank me later!
When I asked Br. Sebastian if there was anything else he would like the readers of OnlyinArk.com to know about Country Monks Brewing or Subiaco Abbey in general, he replied,
“I think that with all things that are special, Subiaco is one of those gems in Arkansas that you’re just not going to find anywhere else. Even if you don’t enjoy drinking beer, I would say, come out and visit the Abbey. There is almost 150 years of history of us as Benedictine monks here in the River Valley of Arkansas, and the building alone is worth a tour. You can stop at the Coury House and pick up a self-guided tour paper, and it will bring you around everything that you’re allowed to see in the Abbey: the grotto and the Stations of the Cross, East Park, South Park, the 1904 barn. All of those things are just worth the historical aspect of it, and then if you show up on a Saturday, come down to the taproom and enjoy the conversation; we have a great time when we’re down there. Typically, if the room is full, everybody’s having a conversation, people are asking questions, or they’re just talking to each other. I think it’s a great atmosphere, and I enjoy having people show up.”
I can attest: Show up; share some stellar brew; engage in friendly conversation. And savor another one of our state’s triumphs that make it uniquely Arkansas.
To enjoy exclusive access to discounts and rewards at participating breweries (including Country Monks Brewing), wineries and distilleries, check out the Arkansas Craft Beverage Pass.
Photos courtesy of Country Monk Brewing
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