The 21st century has seen a boom in the craft brewing business, which has led to hundreds of micro-breweries popping up and becoming popular enough to stock supermarket shelves. Now, an Arkansas monastery is capitalizing on the trend by bringing the time-honored tradition of beer-brewing monks to the US.
Country Monk Brewing is owned and operated by the monks of Subiaco Abbey, located about 100 miles northwest of Little Rock. Founded in 1878, the religious community is composed of more than 40 monks and has served the town of Subiaco as a draw for tourism, as well as a secondary school that provides education for about 160 boys in grades 7-12. More recently, they’re serving as the town’s beverage provider.
“It started really with the monastery deciding they wanted to get into the brewing business with all the craft beers going around,” said Brother Basil, head brewer of the abbey. He added, “It’s part of our lifestyle as well,” noting that monks have been brewing beer since the 5th century. At that time, beer was a more healthful beverage than water.
“Back, what, a thousand years ago, there was no water purification system. So, your water was actually purified when you’re making the beer because you’re boiling it and that helped people from spreading disease and it was cleaning the water,” Brother Basil told THV11.
Brother Basil noted that Country Monk Brewing is the fourth monastic beer-making operation to flourish in the States, with others located in Oregon, Indiana, and Massachusetts. The last of these is the American branch of Trappist Beer, the most famous monastic brewing company which was started in Belgium and spread to many countries in Europe.
The Subiaco Abbey only got their license to sell their brews a couple of months ago, but prior to this they were allowed to give it away for free, which they did at several craft beer festivals. While the only way to get a bottle of Country Monk beer is currently to visit their brewery on a Saturday afternoon, where one can have a tasting and go home with some growlers of their favorite draft, with the positive feedback they’ve been getting it is only a matter of time before they begin to export across the country.
Brother Basil said, “All three beers we have, the pale ale, the amber, and the stout, have all gone over really well.” Father Walz hopes that the brewing operation will become profitable enough to help support the Abbey. He noted that they had brewed 500 gallons of beer in the two months since receiving their license.
Beer is not the only thing the Subiaco Abbey is known for. For the last 15 years Father Richard Walz has spearheaded a separate business that makes hot sauce. With the addition of the brewery, they expect to be able to keep the Abbey running indefinitely.
Brother Basil says the community has been very supportive of their work and believes this is because monastic brews are somewhat hard to come by in the US, and when they can be found they are often expensive, since they were most likely imported.
The monks are currently planning to build a tap-room, which will help them further distribute their beer and spread the name of Country Monk Brewing. They plan to break ground on the project this summer, and after that the sky is the limit.