On a recent sunny afternoon, the usually bustling Saint Arnold Brewery found itself shockingly quiet, but for good reason. Founder Brock Wagner and the rest of the crew were recovering from a pub crawl celebrating the Houston craft beer titan’s 20th anniversary.
“I’m a little slow-moving today,” Wagner admitted. “I will say I got out of bed about 30 minutes later than I normally do.” This sort of day-after defeat definitely isn’t the Saint Arnold norm. “For everybody to be hung-over is exceptional. You wouldn’t survive here drinking too often.” Ironically, the brewery has thrived for two decades precisely because so many other Houstonians’ love of Saint Arnold immoderate, to say the least.
When he opened Saint Arnold in the early ’90s, Wagner thought the boom in craft beer—beer that feels personal, created on a smaller scale, with individuals rather than the mass consumer in mind—might be a short-lived phenomenon in Texas, but although there were a few years of stagnation in the late ’90s, sales picked up around 2002 and have been going strong ever since.
Today, Saint Arnold is an institution, with beers on tap at nearly every bar in town, not to mention its own vendor inside Minute Maid Park. “We’ve established ourselves as a destination here,” Wagner said. “That was always our goal.” The brewery, which has tentative plans to open a beer garden on the two-acre lot it recently purchased next door to its brewery, has doubled its number of full-time employees, from 30 to 60, since 2011. And not only did it deliver 58,000 barrels of beer last year—meeting and exceeding the goal Wagner had set for the brewery at its founding—Saint Arnold is on track to brew 65,000 to 70,000 this year.
Of course, with size come new challenges. “We have to keep innovating and coming up with new, interesting things,” said Wagner, especially now that Saint Arnold’s success has paved the way for newer, younger microbreweries like Karbach and Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. to enter the market. But perhaps a little healthy competition is needed. “It’s a good sign for the entire industry that breweries are succeeding,” he said. “If we were the only one, consumers would suffer. We wouldn’t all be driving each other.”
In any event, Wagner is confident that Saint Arnold will be around for some time to come. “We’re at a size where this is a sustainable brewery that hopefully has another 20 years, or 100 years—as long as Houston will have us.”