Houston guide: Saint Arnold Brewing Company

I am not really Italian in many, many ways… I do things that could cost me my passport, should they ever be discovered: I drink tea in the morning, not coffee, and even worse, I prefer long black americano coffee over espresso; soccer is not my favourite sport, and to be honest it doesn’t even make my top 3.
And I’d have beer over wine any day of my life.
This may depend upon the fact that my dad worked in Belgium during a very delicate, pivotal phase of my adolescence, and that Belgian beer is the best there is!
Luckily, here in Texas beer is very good, at least compared to North American standards, mainly thanks to those German and Czech settlers who came here in 1830’s.
I have already planned to visit the Spoetzl brewery in Shiner, one of the US oldest independent breweries.
In the meantime, here in Houston we have Ziegen Boch and Texas’ oldet craft brewery, Saint Arnold.

Saint Arnold just celebrated 23 years of operation last weekend. In facts, Houston did not have a micro brewery until 1994, when a saintly Brock Wagner established Saint Arnold. It looks like Brock started his career as home and craft brewer in his college dorm at Rice University, here in Houston. Seven years after graduating, he partnered with Kevin Bartol to found a craft brewery in the only big city in the United States that didn’t have one. Very smart!
A craft brewery must be small (maximum 6 millions barrels per year), traditional and independent.
Saint Arnold is rather small, as it produces 622 thousands barrels in 2015.
They are rather traditional, they only use the traditional four ingredients of beer: water, grains (but no corn or rice), hops and yeast.
And they are independent, because they are not part of any brewing industry brand.

Saint Arnold himself welcomes you as you enter the door.

The brewery is dedicated to Saint Arnold of Soissons, bishop of Metz. When Arnold retired from his bishop see, he founded the abbey of Saint Peter of Oudenburg, Belgium, where he started brewing beer, and encouraged his parishioners to drink beer instead of water. During an epidemic, his community survived the plague because they were not drinking contaminated water but the abbey’s beer, and water is boiled during the brewing process.
The guys at the brewery like to tell you a legend about invoking Saint Arnold’s help and a small pot of beer multiplying to quench the thirst of a whole procession of pilgrims on their way to Metz…
Be it because of the epidemic or because of the miracle, Saint Arnold became the patron saint of beer brewers.

The beer that really got me into Saint Arnold was the Texas Honey Saison, in the Icon series basically a series of beers that are produced only for 3 months or so). I saved the last two bottles for a special occasion, but it’s been nearly one year and I cannot bring myself to open them.
Of the beers available year round, I love the Lawnmower (a German style kölsch) and the Santo (a black kölsch), and also the Ale Wagger (a brown ale) is not bad at all.
And then there are the seasonal beers, that give you something to wait for during the year: my favourite are the rainbow Summer Pils, the malty Oktoberfest and the Belgian-style wit White Noise.

The board last summer, when we visited.

The visit at Saint Arnold is fun, and it’s also free Monday to Friday, while it’s $10 admission charge on Saturdays, but the 10 bucks include souvenir glass and four 8 oz samples.
They are incredibly easy, and you can bring snacks, games, folding chairs and picnic blankets, but no dogs obviously. For the same reason, during weekdays when they are in production, closed toed shoes are required on the downstairs portion of the tour. Besides, closed shoes are always a good idea when you’re visiting a production plant, y’all: there are stairs, and the floor can be wet and slippery.

An actual brewer explains how beer it’s done:
1) water and grains are put together in the mash kettle, and left there for 1 hour
2) the mixture is separated by gravity in another pot
3) hops are added the liquid (called “wort”) in the wort kettle, to give bitterness to both flavor and aroma
4) a whirlpool separates the heavy parts and the liquid is pumped to fermentation
5) yeast is added in the fermenters: different yeasts, different beers. For instance, ales are fermented for 2 to 4 weeks at about 70 F, while lagers are fermented for 6 to 8 weeks around 55F.

Fermenters

Then you are free to roam in the huge drinkin hall, with long, communal tables, surrounded by funny murales of Saint Arnold and Houston.

Houston celebs

The famous sign, in the place where it should be

And my favourite, Saint Arnold at the PLC…

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