Saint Arnold is one of the official Patron Saints of brewing. Isn’t it interesting that some branches of the Church embrace this aspect of human innovation and others degrade the very notion? I think it is. Of course, Saint Arnold Brewery has picked up on this aspect of Catholic dogma, naming their operation after the Roman Catholic Saint. They come in with 15 years of existence, hardly a glimmer in the stream of things, but maybe a substantial amount of time in the recent influx of craft breweries.
But it seems that they want more than their brewery to last. They have a recycling program that lures the drinker to bring recyclable brewing material for brewery swag. This is a most ingratiating state of affairs in the context of an increasingly ecologically minded public. At any rate, it seems that they want to be here to stay as a brewery and as a planet. But this Houston based brewery may have to admit to mission control that they might have a problem.
In my mind, their brews are singularly indistinct. I’m not in the business of bashing breweries, especially of the craft variety. First off, I need to thank my brother-in-law for picking up nine varieties of their beer on which my assessment is based. Fortunately, there are a few more bright spots in their line-up that help me to be able to think better of them. However, my experience of their brews was of the more negative orientation. So, don’t expect my hearty approval of their products. I will add that there are some things that are worth a try.
As I said, I drank through nine of their beers, which gives me a good canvas on which to paint what I think is an accurate portrait of Saint Arnold. Here are the beers that I tried, which will be from “weakest” to “strongest”:
Texas Wheat, Summer Pilsner, and Lawnmower Kolsch style all measured in at 4.9% ABV. All of these fall below the “typical” 5% ABV associated with the semi-standard level of the macro fiends. But what about the taste? Well, the Texas Wheat was a typical American Wheat that could maybe not be counted among the ranks of, say, a Boulevard Wheat, Pyramid Haywire, or one of the other ubiquitous and vapid version that are so predominate. But for what it’s worth, I would take even a Widmer’s Wheat over the Saint Arnold variety. It is increasingly true that some of these craft brews are simply lost in the ranks of the sheer number of other brews of this type. For my part, I prefer a German Wheat beer for it’s clove or banana and ability to refresh. Even so, this wheat is entirely forgetable and not nearly as good as even the most common varieties.
As far as the Kolsch goes, I’d say the same. Schlafly or numerous other kolsch styles beers are a much better choice that Saint Arnold’s variety. I won’t even delve into the German, Austrian, or whatever other world of kolsch beers.
Saint Arnold’s Summer Pilsner held a little more promise. It is refreshing but lacks a good hops bitterness and slight graininess that would be more appropriate for the style. Some more hops and a little more grain would have gone a long way to make this beer, which was too thin, a very nice pilsner style beer. So, for the 4.9% beers, I couldn’t give a hearty recommendation (or a mild one, for that matter).
Moving onward, I’m afraid that there might not be a lot of hope for a couple other beers. The Brown Ale, which was a 5.3 percent offering, kept within the style guidelines but could have used a little more caramel punch and a touch more bitterness. Again, I can only say that it’s somewhat indistinct and is easily lost among much better varieties.
I won’t say too much here but their Oktoberfest was, by far, the most deplorable beer that they had to offer. It is the worst Oktoberfest that I’ve had. I think it was too thin, not an insurmountable obstacle. The worst aspect of it was a marked diacetyl quality that I couldn’t get past (sort of bad nutty). This was the one and only beer of theirs that I, literally, poured down the sink. A sink worthy beer, indeed.
Next, I had their Spring Bock. This one wasn’t too bad. Perhaps it was a little bit light-bodied for a bock. Is that the message behind calling it a Spring Bock? Who knows? What I do know is that it was much better than their Oktoberfest. It weighs in at 6.4% ABV.
Elissa IPA, named after a ship, was one of the brighter spots in the Saint Arnold line-up. On their site they talk up this beer as being hoppy in character, dry hopped, etc. Actually, I found it to be fairly restrained compared to many of its American counterparts. In fact, it seemed far more British in character…a fact which normally makes me very happy. This was a genuinely good beer that I’d drink on a regular basis. One of the downfalls to the brew was that the dry hopping, or lack of extra filtration, left some hops in the bottom of the bottle. It reminded me very much of home-brew in that sense.
What would Christmas be without trying their Christmas Ale? As many of you know, it’s almost aphoristic for a Christmas beer to be spiced in one way or another. It seems, however, that Saint Arnold avoided the temptation to spice it up. Kudos on that front. The beer itself was the third best among their line-up. I did enjoy the residual sweetness, hops spiciness, and full body. I can say that this one is worth picking up.
Last, but not least, is their Divine 9 Reserve. At 11% ABV this is certainly the biggest beer that I had from Saint Arnold. In fact, it’s 1% higher than anything they’ve brewed to date. The real oddity was that the Christmas beer was not spiced while this one had a big spiced character. I’m generally not a fan of spiced or pumpkin ales, so you can see that when I found out it was a Pumpkin Imperial Stout, I was not too enthusiastic. Most of the time, these pumpkin beers end up being vegetable toned and over-spiced. Yet, I can say without guile or exaggeration that this beer is genuinely good. I enjoyed drinking several of these ales in a few day period. The nose and taste are mix between ginger snap cookies, pumpkin pie, and banana bread. The vanilla qualities are a nice addition to a beer that really comes together well. Divine 9 is sweet and has a slight alcohol boozy bite, which is quite enjoyable. I’m bringing two bottles home to age for a couple of years. I expect the spice to recede and the flavors to keep melding.
Overall, I think the brewery is much better at bigger stuff. I don’t know if that has to do with the ability to hide some flaws that are not so easily hidden in smaller beers. Of course, the Pilsner was clean, so far as it goes. The real issue appears to be some aspects of recipe design (see Summer Pils above).
I have no doubt that Saint Arnold’s Divine series will continue to get better. However, I’m reluctant to recommend much of their line-up to beer lovers. Furthermore, there are much better beers for those bridging out into the craft world. As an aside, my father-in-law, a recent entrant into the craft brew fray, didn’t enjoy several of the brews. He is already become more discriminating about which craft brews are markedly better than others. Saint Arnold does not stand out in this respect. Go big or go somewhere else if you want to buy some of their beers.