St. Arnold Brewing Company
2000 Lyons Ave. Houston, TX 77020
I walked in the doors and followed the signs up a series of old concrete steps. “This building seems very old,” I thought to myself. The sentiment was appropriate for while this was not the original home of St. Arnold Brewing it is the current home of Texas’ Oldest Craft Brewery1. I was to learn during the tour, that the building was formerly used as a bakery and is over 100 years old. But I digress.
I stepped up to the counter on the third floor and was greeted by a smiling older gentleman. “First time here?” he asked. The look of uncertainty on my face must have given me away. “Yes.” I responded. He proceeded to give me the run-down. You pay $10 for the tour and receive a souvenir glass. Along with the 6 oz glass you are given 4 drink tokens. Some of the beers only require 1 token, others require 2 tokens. Some of the speciality beers you can’t use tokens on and have to pay with cash or plastic.
I entered and went up to the taps to look at my options. Another friendly face greeted me from behind the bar and went over the different beers available. She asked if I liked sour beers. I said yes and tried out the Boiler Room Berliner Weisse. It only took one token. It was a very nice light sour beer, with a lower octane of 3.7% ABV. I enjoyed the brew and see how it would be a perfect Texas summer beer. At this point I saw that they had a kitchen and ordered myself a burger and chips. I needed to provide a nice foundation of food for the beers I was about to consume.
As I waited on my food, I walked around the dining and tasting area. It is a big open room with rows of long wooden benches. There were murals on one side of the room, depicting St. Arnold assisting in different areas of the beer making process.
I could imagine large swaths of monks sitting down to enjoy communal meals and refreshing ales here. My number was called and I went to retrieve my food and use a token to get their Christmas Ale which had recently been added to the taps.
The burger was quite tasty and filling, the Christmas Ale was even better. Just as I finished eating, they called out that it was time for the tour. Everyone rushed to the bar to get a fresh glass of beer to take with them as their “tour beer.” I would have been down to 2 tokens at this point but a stranger, that I sparked up a conversation with, had to leave early and gave me his last 2 tokens. I happily told him I’d make good use of the tokens. In fact, I used those 2 tokens on the 20th Anniversary Ale, an English Barley-wine style ale. It was delicious.
Josh was our tour guide and to date is the best brewery tour guide I’ve had the pleasure to encounter (this excludes all Beer Blogger Conference tour guides as they gave us splendid special treatment).
Our first stop on the tour was the boiler room. This is where Josh told us about the history of Saint Arnold Brewing. Saint Arnold was founded on June 9th, 1994 by Rice University graduate, Brock Wagner2. In their first year Saint Arnold Brewing Company only brewed in the 100s of barrels of beer. In 2013 they made 58,000 barrels of beer and were expected to hit 62,000 barrels in 2014. These numbers put them at the 48th largest craft brewery in the U.S.
Their production numbers were a little surprising to me. Karbach Brewing Company which has only been around for 3 years is already on pace to match Saint Arnold’s production numbers in 2015.
There was one tidbit about their history that I found really cool. The first 5 bars that served their beer back in 1994 are all still in business: Star Pizza, Big Easy, PJ’s Hop House, The Ginger Man, and Richmond Arms. Every 5 years the founder rents out a bus and takes all the employees on a visit to each of these 5 bars to drink and celebrate the continued success of Saint Arnold Brewing Co. and the fine establishments that helped them get their start. Needless to say a fun time is had by all who attend, according to Josh.
At this point we moved out of the boiler room and down a flight of stairs into the fermenting room, where there are rows of 240 barrel fermenters. Each of the fermenters are named, mostly with patron saints. They did auction off the naming rights of a few of the newer fermenters. One being named “Dr. Gonzo”, in homage of the character from the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Another is named after Michael Jackson. Not the King of Pop but Michael Jackson the incredibly influential beer writer who had an enormous impact on the craft beer movement.
Along with the history of the brewery, Josh also gave us a brief history of the actual St. Arnold. The quote that best sums up the patron Saint of Brewers is this: “Don’t drink the water. Beer is a gift from God.” While at first glance it appears that Saint Arnold was a lush, he was actually protecting the people. The water quality in the 600s AD was poor at best. There were many diseases you could get from drinking tainted water, while beer which was fermented was much safer and more enjoyable to consume. So Saint Arnold would spread the word to drink beer instead of water in order to save people’s lives.
The tour wrapped up at this point and we all made our way back to the taps. Josh had mentioned that the only beer that the Saint Arnold brewery makes that doesn’t abide by the strict German Purity Laws3 was the Pumpkinator. He mentioned that they didn’t have any on tap but for $8 you could buy a tasting glass worth of their Bishop Barrel #6, or what they call at the brewery the “Rumpkinator.”
They made the “Rumpkinator” by putting some of the 2013 Pumpkinator in a rum barrel to age. You can take a wild guess as to what my next beer was. Yes, I forked over the $8 and had a glass of pitch black “Rumpkinator.” It was absolutely fantastic, well worth the price. The rum flavor was delicious and melded with the molasses flavor perfectly. The pumpkin flavor came through nicely as well, the rum flavor not overpowering my palate. Though it was a small portion it took me some time to make my way through this glass.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company opens their tap room Monday through Friday from 2pm – 4:15pm, with tours given at 3:30pm. They also have tours at 12pm, 1pm, and 2pm on Saturdays. If you are in the Houston area or are making a trip there, I strongly encourage you to visit the tap room and take a tour. Saint Arnold Brewing only distributes in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, so if you don’t live in those states and happen to be traveling to Houston, definitely make a point to hit up the Brewery.
- You may be thinking “Hasn’t Spoetzl brewery, the makers of Shiner beers, been around since 1909?” There is some debate over how a “craft brewery” is defined. The Brewers Association has a definition and Kraft sent me an interesting article on the matter. ↩
- Rice University is located right next to the Medical Center in Houston, Texas, only a few miles south of the brewery. ↩
- German Purity Laws state: Beer must be made with only malt, hops, yeast and water. ↩