Houston Now Has a World-Class Beer Garden Destination At Saint Arnold
Five years after Texas changed the law to allow breweries to sell beer on site, Saint Arnold Brewing Company has opened a massive beer garden and restaurant directly next to the brewery at 2000 Lyons.
Founder Brock Wagner has been planning this for much longer than five years. Rumor has it that he had a Lego model of the beer garden in his office in the “oldery”—the original brewery that was located in a warehouse with no air-conditioning in the northwest part of the city. It wouldn’t have been Wagner’s first vision to become a reality; after all, Saint Arnold is Texas’ Oldest Craft Brewery. We were invited to check out the new facility and its offerings.
The Saint Arnold vibe is immediately recognizable on the walk up to the beer garden. Visitors are greeted by a rotating selection of art cars—some of which belong to Saint Arnold and others on loan from the Art Car Museum, a local non-profit that Saint Arnold works with closely. One of Saint Arnold’s year-round beers, Art Car IPA, is even named in honor of the non-profit. Another community-themed beer, Orange Show — a blonde ale with blood oranges — is named after the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.
Inside the restaurant, patrons may find themselves spending more than a few minutes admiring the six chapel-shaped dining alcoves, each with its own mural painted by local artists in their trademark styles. Eagle-eyed visitors will recognize the work from GONZO247 who created the artwork for Art Car IPA as well as the grain silos outside of the brewery. Santo label designer Carlos Hernandez and art car painter Robynn Sanders were also commissioned to create murals.
As if the restaurant weren’t enough to impress, the experience is taken to a new level by the actual beer garden. The massive outdoor space is easily large enough to comfortably hold a few hundred beer lovers. The highlights include a water fountain constructed out of a beer kettle, American hophornbeam trees with hop flowers, pristine bocce ball courts and multiple cornhole games. There’s also plenty of seating—be it communal tables, traditional four-top tables or Adirondack chairs for maximum relaxation. It’s incredibly simple to get lost in the incredible view of the downtown skyline thanks to the open-air dissolving metal building frame.
Don’t worry about the heat during Houston’s summer; multiple Big Ass Fans keep plenty of air moving, though the staff of 150+ is excellent at delivering cold pints.
Speaking of cold pints: there are a few taps reserved for rotating beers exclusive to the garden. The Palmer is a refreshing Berliner Weisse sour beer with lemon peel and Old Barrel Tea Co.’s black tea which weighs in at a friendly 3.6-percent ABV. RAF-arita is a tart Gose with raspberry purée, lime zest and kosher salt. Hop lovers will appreciate Citra-odos IPA, named for the Citra hops that lend a fruity and juicy flavor. It also includes Centennial hops for traditional IPA bitterness.
“We’ve started making 25-barrel batches instead of our normal 145 barrel runs” says brewer Colin Klingemann. Making smaller batches allows brewers to experiment with new styles and ingredient combinations without the “what if it doesn’t work” worry. These still represent a pretty hefty quantity of beer: 775 gallons or over 6,000 pints, which means there’s plenty available for customers who happen to visit the beer garden when a particular keg is tapped.
Klingemann is excited about the new brewing opportunities and shared some of what’s to come. The 7.2-percent ABV Art Car with Peaches is making a return soon, and there will also be a version of Art Car IPA aged in WhistlePig rye whiskey barrels. There are also some rumblings of a peach Saison aged in bourbon barrels that tastes just like peach cobbler.
Saint Arnold has released a large number of barrel-aged beers over the years as part of its Bishop Barrel series. Coming soon are some aged in tequila and chardonnay barrels instead. For the brewery’s silver anniversary next year, there will be a special 25th Anniversary beer aged in Old Forester barrels.
Executive chef Ryan Savoie has been with Saint Arnold since 2013 when he was hired to run the new kitchen inside the brewery. Before the beer garden, the goal was to make one daily lunch special. The beer garden food menu has over 40 permanent options and Savoie is excited about the chance to work on a larger scale. Judging by the first few weeks, Houstonians are happy as well. Savoie says that the kitchen sold over 180 pizzas in the first two days of business. With toppings like teriyaki pork belly, beer can chicken, bratwurst, brisket, and even the vegetarian Major Mushroom pizza featuring six different ‘shrooms and truffle oil, the brisk sales are hardly a surprise.
There’s plenty more than pizza though. Savoie’s shareable plates, salads, sandwiches and entrées are just as impressive as the award-winning Saint Arnold beers that he’s personally paired them with. Options like the Fresh Gulf Shrimp Risotto; Shrimp & Crab Cakes, Fire Emoji Chicken Sandwich and Texas Hot Fried Chicken — chicken thighs coated in a duck fat “Fire Emoji” sauce and served with Raclette mac and cheese — are just the beginning of what Savoie has planned. Once the kitchen has graduated “from surviving to thriving,” his focus is turning to beer bread for sandwiches and a beer pizza dough.
Breweries and beer gardens may not come immediately to mind as serious foodie destinations, but Saint Arnold’s certainly is. Top breweries constantly work with fresh ingredients, focus on quality, and are constantly thinking outside the box — all priorities that are just as important in executing great dishes. On the west coast, Stone Brewing Co., Ballast Point Brewing Company, and Rogue Ales have some of the highest rated restaurants in their respective cities, and Savoie can accomplish the same feat in Houston.
The outside area is dog-friendly, so grab your pup and experience Houston’s newest iconic destination.
Josh Armendariz is the beer and cocktail writer at Houston Food Finder. He can often be found on a stool at your favorite bar, sipping a hoppy craft beer and talking about the Astros with anyone who’ll lend an ear. Follow him on IG @drinkwithjosh.