Day Trips

Saint Arnold Brewing Co.'s new cavernous tasting room harkens back to the days of big German beer halls where families gathered to talk and laugh and enjoy fresh beer

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

Saint Arnold Brewing Co.'s new cavernous tasting room harkens back to the days of big German beer halls where families gathered to talk and laugh and enjoy fresh beer. The dust has just about settled as Texas' oldest microbrewery completes its move into a 96-year-old red-brick building on the northern edge of downtown Houston, and fans are lining up at the door for a look at the new facility.

"The tastings have taken on a life of their own," says Brock Wagner, founder of the brewery. For an hour on weekday afternoons and three hours on Saturdays, the brewmaster opens the taps on half a dozen kinds of beers. Patrons pay $7 for a 9-ounce glass and four bottle caps that they can exchange for samples. For beer lovers, the samplings are the pinnacle of the drinking experience. After all, freshness is one of the most important aspects of good beer. (And there is a Saint Arnold root beer for the designated drivers.)

"It's become an event," Wagner says. Some days, especially on Saturdays, the basketball-court-sized room fills to capacity. Some groups bring picnic baskets and games, or they'll just practice the art of conversation. The weekday afternoon open houses are the least crowded.

Founded by Wagner and Kevin Bartol and named for the patron saint of brewers, the company's first location was a warehouse that looked more like a garage than a brewery. Since the first keg rolled out June 9, 1994, the Saint Arnold Army has been gaining recruits.

"There isn't any magic bullet for success," Wagner says. "We've just stayed focused on making great beer – the kind of beer that we like to drink."

The first few years, the Saturday afternoon tours were often led by one of the founders. The open house attracted a dozen or so people who shared a passion for the brewing process. By the time the company moved last summer, the tours had grown to hundreds of thirsty beer drinkers wanting a peek into the birthplace of their favorite brew. "And we only had two restrooms for all those people," Wagner says.

The new location not only increases the number of potties but nearly quadruples the amount of brewing capacity. The former Houston Independent School District food distribution warehouse was gutted down to the brick and mortar. A new brewhouse was built to contain the 30-foot-tall stainless steel fermenting tanks, and a complete set of refurbished brew-making equipment from a Bavarian Cistercian monastery has been ordered from Germany. Last year, the brewery produced 26,000 barrels of beer. "My goal is to make around 50,000 barrels a year," Wagner says. "Then I'll be happy."

Saint Arnold Brewing Co. is located at 2000 Lyons Ave. in Houston. Tours will restart this spring; until then, the tasting room is open weekdays from 3 to 4pm. On Saturdays, the doors open at 11am and the taps are turned off at 2pm. For more information, go to www.saintarnold.com.

971st in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Saint Arnold Brewing Co., Brock Wagner, Kevin Bartol

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