Three things define a craft brewery. 1. The brewery can produce no more than 6 million barrels annually. 2. The brewery must be independently owned. 3. No corn or rice can be used in the process.
I learned all this during a recent tour of St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston, Texas.
When you enter the brewery, you are greeted by this image of St. Arnold, who is the patron saint of breweries. Way back in the late 500’s A.D., St. Arnold discovered that people who drank beer were healthier than people who drank only water. The fact that the water was contaminated with sewage may have had something to do with that, but nonetheless, dear Arnold encouraged people to imbibe liberally.
After you greet St. Arnold, you walk upstairs, and for an $8.00 fee, you receive four tokens, redeemable for four full-size samples of their beers, a souvenir glass, and an informative and entertaining tour of the brewery. (Good deal, in my estimation!) I don’t know if it is always this busy, but on the day I was there, the place was packed!
While you are sipping beer and waiting for your tour, peruse the murals on the wall, humorously depicting St. Arnold during the beer making process.
So, this is what I learned on the tour. St. Arnold’s Brewing Company is nineteen years old and is the oldest craft brewery in Texas. Which goes to show craft beers haven't been around all that long. They produce about 50,000 barrels a year, which sounds like a lot, but actually, it’s a small brewery. They focus on quality.
First, barley is malted – they stir it, dry it, roast it (levels of roasting determines flavor). Then crush it and mix with water at 150 degrees, called a mash. This converts the starch to sugar. Then they separate the liquid from the solids and send the solids to pig farmers and compost folks. They boil the liquid and add various types of hops at various points in the brew process. This also determines flavor. The mixture is sent to a whirlpool, spinning out particulates. Then the liquid is cooled. Next step is to add yeast, to begin the fermentation process. But what kind of yeast? Well, is it an ale or a lager? The difference (I did not know this prior to the tour) is that ales use yeasts which ferment at warmer temperatures and lagers use yeasts which ferment at much cooler temperatures, giving the beer a crisp clean finish.
During fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar, creating CO2 and alcohol. The beer is filtered and packaged into either kegs or bottles. And kept cold at all times, both while stored and shipped. And hopefully at the store. And certainly at your home. And never ever use a frosty mug! Craft beer, while chilled, should not be consumed at an overly cold temperature for best flavor.
I’m pretty picky when it comes to beers. I prefer a sweeter dark beer. My favorites at St. Arnold’s were Santo and Brown Ale. What’s your favorite beer?