Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the oldest craft brewery in Texas, is expanding to Florida's Gulf coast this month. Expect to see the brewery's Fancy Lawnmower Beer, Elissa IPA and Christmas Ale on tap at bars and restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee counties on Nov. 20, according to Saint Arnold founder and brewer Brock Wagner. Six-packs will follow later.
In a phone interview, Wagner, who started the brewery in 1994 and named it after the patron saint of brewers, said Lakewood Ranch's Gold Coast Eagle Distributing (one of their Florida distribution partners) was key to the Florida expansion. Saint Arnold will be rolling out from Pensacola to Naples, according to a news release. To cover the rest of that area, Saint Arnold has also partnered with Coastal Beverage Ltd., Great Bay Distributors Inc., Lewis Bear Co., Peace River Distributing, Pepin Distributing Co., Suncoast Beverage Sales and Tri Eagle Sales.
"We are extremely excited to add St. Arnold to our craft portfolio," Devyn Dugger, sales director at Gold Coast Eagle, wrote in an email.
"At Gold Coast Eagle, we are brand builders, not brand collectors. When we introduce a craft brand to the market, we are looking to grow that brand in partnership with the brewery. Saint Arnold shares that vision, and we look forward to a great future with them."
Wagner said Saint Arnold had been looking at Florida for some time. The brewery has been growing slowly; for their first 16 years they only sold in Texas, Wagner said. Now, they are also in Louisiana and Colorado, with the Sunshine State as their next stop. But neighboring states should not get their hopes up.
“This isn’t a first stepping stone on going to Georgia and South Carolina," said Wagner, noting that the Sunshine State has many things in common with the Lone Star State.
“Florida was as close to Texas, location-wise and culturally, as anywhere in the country,” Wagner said.
“They both have their own culture and history completely separate from the South.”
Wagner, said Saint Arnold would not be flooding the market with beer. Instead, he takes a long-term view on expansion.
"We want to be selling beer in Florida five years from now," he said. To do that, Saint Arnold needs to build a community in the areas it serves, he said. "I feel that's what beer's about: community."
“We have to be able to create that community and that takes people, and people on the ground,” he said. To that end, they will be using their local distributors to help guide their decisions on when to roll out bottles and which of their many beers to bring here.
I asked about Saint Arnold's plans for other parts of Florida. Wagner said they want to get established on the Gulf coast before growing elsewhere, so all the beer geeks in South Florida will have to be patient.
I haven't tried Saint Arnold's beers, but have heard good things. Beeradvocate.com users give their beers an overall average score of 3.81 out of 5, based on more than 6,000 reviews. The beers have also received a bunch of awards; their Summer Pils just won a silver medal and their Weedwacker won a bronze at the Great American Beer Festival.