I had the opportunity to speak to Brock Wagner, Founder of Saint Arnold’s Brewing Company, about the process of brewing, the business of brewing, and how they got started.
Please excuse any typos, below is a hasty transcript.
Jay Curry: And we’re back. Hello Texas. Welcome to Texas Business Radio. We’ve got a great program going today. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed it so far. We’re talking beer and beer is big business in Texas. We’re going to get into another dandy story here in a moment. But before we start, let me remind you that if you’re in your car or you’re just sitting back and having a good Texas beer. Just relax, you can go to Texas business radio and every minute of our program is right there in high definition video. You’re going to love it. If you want to connect with us #TBR on Twitter. We check it. Get it as soon as you get it. Send it to us or you can call us 24 hours a day. That’s right call us in the middle of the night. It’s all right. We’ll get the experts. We’ll get the answer and we’ll get it on the air for you. Our phone number is 844-814-8144. Got it. If you didn’t write that down go to Texas business radio and you’ll find it. All right. We are talking beer and we’re having some fun and we have in the studio right now is Brock Wagner, brewer and founder of Saint Arnold Brewery. Or is it just Saint Arnold?
Brock Wagner: Saint Arnold Brewing Company.
Jay Curry: All right, fair enough. Brock Thank you. Welcome to the program.
Brock Wagner: Jay thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jay Curry: So, tell us what is Saint Arnold all about.
Brock Wagner: Really we’re about beer and it’s about our passion for beer. You know I started the brewery in 1994. I was a home brewer and this is what happens when your hobby gets out of control. I realized that I wanted to do what I was passionate about in life. And I always knew I wanted to have my own business but it was really putting those together that… when the epiphany came that I need to open a brewery and Texas was a wasteland of beer back then. There was a lot of beer being sold and consumed. But it was all light beer and I thought this is going to be great. Craft beer is kind of coming on. It’s 1994. I’ll start brewing this beer and all these Texas beer lovers are going to just start drinking it. I discovered that was not actually the case.
Jay Curry: Takes a little work, doesn’t it?
Brock Wagner: That yeah that there was no market for craft beer in Texas in 1994. So there was a lot of education. Fun and high jinks ensued.
Jay Curry: So, when we were talking earlier you were saying something like it took you 12 years to become an overnight sensation or something like that.
Brock Wagner: Yeah, we were, thats very much the case. I mean when I started in 94 it was tough going and we grew the first three years and then we were flat for about seven years and then we started to grow in the early 2000s and that’s when after 12 years we became an overnight success.
Jay Curry: That’s not an abnormal trend was there something particular that, that gave you the break out. I mean many times companies will start and kind of get it going and get it figured out. But it takes years. And then there’s suddenly just a wham, a big breakout.
Brock Wagner: I get asked that question a lot. And simple answer is No. I think what it was is sticking to being true to ourselves, doing the same thing over many years. It just takes a period of time, especially when you have no marketing budget. You’re just trying to get into people’s psyche and make people aware of you. And there’s a day when you kind of get over that hump and you achieve that critical mass and people’s brain and suddenly they start buying your beer. And that’s what happened for us.
Jay Curry: Now of course America is known for its beer drinkers and there’s a major difference between, oh, the average American beer drinker drinking a Budweiser light or Coors or something. And the craft beer that you specialize in, that has become so popular now. Can you kind of talk to us about the differences there?
Brock Wagner: Yeah, it’s huge differences. I mean really if you look at the history of beer over the last 50 years in this country. You know up until kind of the early 90s, you know, if you said beer to people. There was one thing that came their mind and that was light beer, you know. And if he said what kind of beer do you drink? That meant do you drink Bud, Miller or Coors, and really the only differentiation between those beers had to do with their marketing. Craft brewers really moved into the void, the flavor void that existed there and started brewing beer with, with flavor, all the different styles. You know there are more styles of beer than, you know, anything else that I could possibly think of. So the flavor differentiation is amazing. Today if you ask somebody what kind of beer do you drink? They’ll think that that means well do you drink IPA, culsh, helis, pills, bach, hefavism. So, I think craft brewers have successfully changed the way Americans think about beer.
Jay Curry: Yeah. When you talk about light, you’re really talking about a pilsner. You’re not saying like Bud Light. You’re talking about a lighter beer was kind of the American deal.
Brock Wagner: Oh no, I was. I’m talking about Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light.
Jay Curry: You are, okay.
Brock Wagner: That’s what it used to be. And today I mean if somebody says to me that they want a lighter beer. Well, I’m going to suggest our fancy lawnmower beer, 05:00 pills. But those beers are so much more flavorful than the mass produced you know an adjunct.
Jay Curry: The whole concept of crafters. Let’s get some flavor going. Let’s get some robustness into the beer.
Brock Wagner: Yeah I think there’s sort of two sides to craft, craft brewing. There’s the beer side, which is really important the flavor. I mean that, that’s something I’m really passionate about. But I think the other part of craft beer that is so appealing to people is the involvement in the community the, the local nature of it. The connection that the customer has to the actual brewery.
Jay Curry: That leads right into my next question. Which is, we’ve talked a little bit about beer in general and craft versus light and stuff. But let’s talk more about Saint Arnold. You’ve got quite a reputation. A well known, well liked, really growing, your in what? Texas and Louisiana.
Brock Wagner: Yep.
Jay Curry: They are all over Texas?
Brock Wagner: All over Texas, all over Louisiana. And our plan is to grow expand and sell our beer in Texas and Louisiana.
Jay Curry: But that’s really not your objective right. Your objective was…
Brock Wagner: Ours, our mission is to build community through our passion for beer.
Jay Curry: Right.
Brock Wagner: That is our mission and it’s actually been our mission since we started. And yeah people ask me sometimes you know what advice do you have for somebody starting a business. And I say write a mission statement and really think about that. Because you know it’s one of the things that I think people hear that you’re supposed to do at a business class or something. And go that’s… I’m going to do it because I’m supposed to do it. But it doesn’t really mean anything. That is why I am sitting here opposite you today and because so many breweries that started in the 90s didn’t make it.
Jay Curry: Just thought it was a good idea. They didn’t put the plan to write out what their mission was. Another thing I get from you though Brock is a passion. I mean you don’t you need to be doing what you’re passionate about.
Brock Wagner: Absolutely. I mean if you’re, if you’re doing what you’re passionate about you’re going to work so much harder because it’s fun, it’s not work. And that’s that’s another one of the keys I think to success in small business is it’s hard work. Blocking and tackling is what gets you there. Everybody wants to come up with a great idea. Ideas are cheap. You know the hard work, that’s what what gets you there. And then you know I would tie it into the mission, which is hard work towards a very focused purpose. That is what will help get you to the finish line.
Jay Curry: Now we just have a little bit of time left. Talk to me a little bit about the Saint Arnold community. I mean that this is a big deal to you as to build a beer community.
Brock Wagner: It is and I’d say we lovers I guess. Yeah. And we actually have I would say a couple of communities. One is my coworkers which is the most incredible group of people you’ll ever meet. You know one of my, one of my tests is I’ll only hire somebody who I want to have a beer with. Because I’m probably going to have a beer with you. Nothing worse than having beer with somebody you don’t want to. But the other critical part is our customers and our customers. They really look at St. Arnold. I mean I may look at the ledger and say oh yeah I own the stock Saint Arnold. But really our customers view it as their brewery and that connection and bringing people together. That is what I think makes us work and that keeps us going and it’s great fun because our customers they feel that connection. They go out and they help sell our beer for us.
Jay Curry: So I would think that what you’re saying is if you want to learn about beer come down to the San Arnold’s operation have a good beer, enjoy yourself and learn what it’s all about. Right?
Brock Wagner: Yeah. I mean we do tours or six days a week we’re open for lunch you know Monday through Saturday. People have a great time. We’ll take you around the brewery. Show you how we make the beer. You’ll get to meet our people. We do a lot of special events. You know our anniversary party is coming up in June. We, you know, we always have stuff going on. And again we do things that we love like are our involvement in the art car parade. That wasn’t a business decision first. It was a decision of this is what I love this is what I want to do. And then afterwards I tried to rationalize a business purpose and that’s kind of how we do everything.
Jay Curry: That’s great. So if somebody wants to get a hold of, a hold of you and learn about and come down and visit you what do they do?
Brock Wagner: You know probably the best thing is go to our Web site. Which is saintarnold.com. Make sure you spell out the word saint.
Jay Curry: And it’s singular?
Brock Wagner: Singular right. St. Arnold. Yes. And we have all the information of everything we got going on. And we always have a lot going on.
Jay Curry: All right. Brock thanks for joining us. We’ve been listening to Brock Wagner the brewer and founder of Saint Arnold’s Brewery. Folks don’t go anywhere. We’re going to stop for just a few seconds. To pay some bills but we’re talking beer and we’re having fun. So we’ll be right back.
Sponsored in part by:
Jay W. Curry
Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.