When Brock Wagner opened Saint Arnold Brewing Company in 1994 there were no microbreweries in the city and craft beer was virtually unknown to most locals. But years of putting out good beer, building community, and educating customers paid off as Saint Arnold, Texas’s oldest craft brewery, steadily grew into the Houston institution that it is today.
The brewery, which moved to its current location on the edge of downtown in 2010, draws thousands of locals and visitors each week to tour its facility and sample its beers. It can also be credited with planting the seed for the vibrant craft beer movement in Houston and the state. Now as it approaches 23 years on June 9, Wagner has plans for a Saint Arnold restaurant and biergarten, and the brewery is getting ready to host a lineup of special events, including the headlining anniversary party on Saturday, June 10, to celebrate.
We caught up with Wagner to talk about the brewery, the craft beer scene and his favorite spots in town.
What goes through your mind as you approach your anniversary?
I guess I’m happy that I’m still doing what I love after 23 years is usually what I think about. That and what do we need to be doing so that we can be doing this for another 23 years.
Looking back, did you envision where you’re at right now?
I don’t think I ever envisioned anything as big as what we’ve managed to be able to achieve. I had probably more modest goals when we were starting. There was no craft beer community in Houston or Texas, really, when we started and to see how it’s flourishing today is certainly nothing that I would’ve ever expected.
Was not having that craft beer culture a challenge?
It was a huge challenge. I thought there was more awareness of what good beer was when we started but discovered that wasn’t the case and really spent our first ten years just educating people on craft beer and building a market for craft beer in Houston.
How would you describe the scene now?
It’s really vibrant now. Last night we were at Flying Saucer and there were five other breweries that had done takes on beers of ours and the bar was just packed. It was very exciting to see.
What are you most proud of?
I would say that I’m most proud of the team of people that I work with. It’s great to work with a group of people that are as passionate about beer and building community as I am. It’s fun to go to work everyday and work with this team.
Tell me about the anniversary festivities.
We always have some special one-off beers, special casks that we have on tap. The rock, paper, scissors competition [on Friday, June 9] is really funny. That’s something that everyone can participate in although some people swear that there’s skill to it. Then Saturday, we’re going to have a great lineup of local musicians performing at the brewery. We’ll have a stage set-up outside in the parking lot, there’ll be a lot of activities. It’s just a giant celebration. I’m sometimes personally bad about sitting back and celebrating everything that we’ve achieved, and I try to force myself at our anniversary party to just go out and have fun and enjoy our beers and our events the way everybody else visiting the brewery is.
Word is that there are plans for a St. Arnold biergarten and restaurant. Can you tell us anything about it?
We’re not talking a whole lot about that yet just because we’re still a little ways off on that but hopefully we’ll be breaking ground in the next few months and it’ll be open sometime during 2018. It’ll be a restaurant and a really nice outdoor biergarten area.
Where do you see craft beer in Houston going?
I think it’s going to continue to grow. There are so many new breweries, there’s a lot of excitement about the beers people are brewin. What I see is that the craft beer movement has really come to Houston in a big way and it’s redefined how people think about beer. I think when people go to a restaurant now and look at a menu they expect to see a nice selection of craft beers and when they don’t they’re really surprised and disappointed.
Are people surprised to find such a strong craft beer community in Houston?
Absolutely. I think people are surprised to find out how down to earth people in Houston, how this great craft beer community, this great food community and how people in Houston don’t take ourselves too seriously.
What are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in town?
There’s so much amazing ethnic food, like one of my favorites is Huyhn, a Vietnamese place on St. Emanuel. All the Goode Company stuff. I think it gets lost with all the new stuff going on but the Goode Company Bar-B-Q and Seafood, those are some of my favorite places to visit still. I live in Montrose so I can walk to Underbelly and Hay Merchant and Uchi and several places in Midtown like Piola. I think the best part about Houston is that you can explore so much. I had dinner at Nobie’s last week and it was my first time there and it was just a great meal.