Now Brewing at Saint Arnold's: Weedwacker and Divine Reserve 10
Saint Arnolds's Brewery, at 2000 Lyons, is known for its steady release of fine local beer, but it's also known for its exclusive limited-run beers designed to keep Houston's beer lovers titillated.
Photos by John Seaborn Gray The tasting hall at Saint Arnold's Brewery
Last Thursday, I went to Saint Arnold's for the first time to investigate its latest such limited-edition beer, dubbed "Weedwacker." Its brewing process is identical to Saint Arnold's popular Lawnmower style, with two key differences: It's made with a very old strain of German hefeweizen yeast, and it's not filtered, which kicks the alcohol-per-volume up a couple of points. These differences are simple, yet all-important.
I met up with Saint Arnold PR guy (and Houston Press blogger) Lennie Ambrose, who immediately set me up with two tasting glasses, one full of Lawnmower, the other with Weedwacker. (If they make a third batch along these lines, what will they call it? Hedge Trimmer? Soil Aerator? Hopefully not Fertilizer...) It's easy to tell the two apart visually; Lawnmower is clear, bubbly, and retains an even, mellow orange color. Weedwacker, on the other hand, is cloudy, yellowish, and foamy.
I sat down in the crowded tasting hall and started in with a sip of the Lawnmower. It was familiar, malty, easy-going, and quite delicious. I already knew all of that. I tried a sip of the Weedwacker, and it was like night and day. The yeastiness is intense, and, like in a hefeweizen, lended citrus-y overtones to the beer. Well... overtones, in the same way a Hershey bar has "chocolate-y" overtones. It's more or less inundated with powerful flavor from the word go. A curious thing happens to me when I drink an especially yeasty beverage: I start getting a headache. It's almost like pound cake. The first few bites (or sips) are wonderful, but as I keep going, the fullness of the flavor becomes too much for me to handle. That happened to me toward the end of my first glass of Weedwacker. I'm not saying it'll be too much for everybody. Some of y'all are gonna love it, especially if you like yeasty, nut-punching beers like Shock Top and La Fin du Monde.
Left: Lawnmower. Right: Weedwacker. Not Pictured: Stumpgrinder, Cherrypicker.
The debut of Weedwacker wasn't the only thing going on that day at the brewery, however. It was also the very first day of the brewing process of the tenth in Saint Arnold's popular line of Divine Reserves. We watched as one of the Saint Arnold employees gave a brief tour around one of the brewing tanks, raising his voice to explain the origins of the beer over the machinery's roar. Like Divine Reserves 3, 5, 7 and 8, this one is based on the recipe of the winners of the Big Batch Brew Bash, a home-brewing contest held by Houston beer enthusiasts the Kuykendahl Gran Brewers, or KGB. A KGB member happened to win this year; Chris Landis walked away with Best In Show for his English barleywine, a complex, malty, slightly sweet type of beer known for being much less bitter than typical American barleywines.
A quick chat with Landis and his brewing partner Bill King revealed an interesting fact: This particular Divine Reserve has a name.
Not an official name; it won't appear on the label or anything, but if you're a big fan of the Divine Reserve series, you will shortly be able to consider yourself one of the elite few who know. The name: Gustav, after the hurricane from 2008 that nobody in Texas remembers, since he was eclipsed a mere three weeks later by his crazy cousin Ike. Why Gustav? It was during that particular hurricane that this English barleywine was first brewed. Hopefully, some finished brewing in time to be enjoyed during the Ike power outages. That was definitely a good time to have good beer on hand.
One of the tanks noisily brewing Divine Reserve 10 as the tour guide shouts over the din.
Saint Arnold's is aiming to launch Gustav toward the beginning of this November.
A little bird told me that kegs of Weedwacker will be appearing at the following establishments over the next week or two, until the whole batch is gone forever.