Brock Wagner, owner of the Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston, stands in the steel basket of a hydraulic boom lift flanked by a row of stainless-steel fermentation tanks, each named for a patron saint of brewers. Like a preacher at his pulpit, Wagner proselytizes on the virtues of Saint Arnold beer to a few hundred fervent believers gathered on the concrete floor below him. “Life is too short to drink bad beer,” he says. “You only have one liver. Use it wisely.”
Over the past 15 years, craft breweries—defined as small, local, independent beer makers who use the finest ingredients and follow traditional brewing practices—have experienced exponential growth. Today, American beer drinkers, whose choices were once limited primarily to Coors, Miller, and Budweiser, can enjoy an array of options. More than 400 craft breweries currently dot the United States. (Check out our Web extra interview with writer Ian Dille)
Shiner's 1909 Spoetzl Brewery today produces more than 370,000 barrels of beer per day.
When entering Shiner (pop. 2,070) from the north on quiet Texas 95, the white brick Spoetzl Brewery building signals civilization. Initially constructed in 1909 by a group of German farmers who yearned for the beer of their homeland, the brewery has been considerably expanded. Today, it produces approximately 370,200 million barrels of beer per year. (One barrel is equal to 31 gallons.)
“Austinites get it,” says Live Oak Brewing Company’s Chip McElroy of the city’s appreciation for his authentic Live Oak Pilz and general love of craft beer. A biochemist-turned-brewery owner, McElroy currently makes beer at a former meatpacking plant just east of downtown Austin.
According to the Web site of Fort Worth’s recently opened Rahr and Sons Brewing Co., the 150-year history of Rahr family brewing is nearly older than that of the city itself. Upon entering the brewery’s museum-like office, filled with century-old artifacts from the family’s original Eagle Brewery and Malting House in Wisconsin, I believe it.
Back at the Saint Arnold Brewing Company, I’m deep into my third sample of Fancy Lawnmower, a light German-style Kölsh with citrusy hop flavors that perfectly complements summer yardwork. For the past 13 years, owner Brock Wagner, a former investment banker, has devoted every Saturday to sharing his passion for good beer. “When we started hosting tours, there would be 15 people and we’d walk them around the entire place,” he says. Today, the brewery is humming with more than 450 beer lovers, many of whom have brought their empty six-pack holders of Saint Arnold’s five year-round and five seasonal beer styles.