It may sound like a pastry platter, but the Spoetzl sampler is actually a six-pack of beer that I picked up during a run to the grocery store the other night. It contains six different beers from the Shiner family of beers.
The sampler contained one bottle each of Shiner Bock, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, Shiner Prickly Pear Lager, Shiner Kosmos, Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale, and Shiner Premium.
I do not know of a beer that causes more people to get angry than Shiner Bock:
The beer is not generally regarded as being true to style, so beer snobs tend to turn their noses up at Shiner Bock. Okay, but not being “true to style” would describe about what 90% of American craft brewers are doing at any one time. You’re almost forced to put a style name on whatever beer you sell, short of calling it beer, and the beer snobs can find some way to denigrate it in terms of adhering to old world standards of style. What, this beer does not use hops blessed by three virgins on vernal equinox? How dare you call this beer!
The other problem that the beer snobs of the world have with Shiner in general is that it is not part of the new wave craft brewers. Rather, Spoetzl was a regional brewer that managed to survive prohibition and the consolidation that followed prohibition—like Yuengling or Leinenkugel’s. These regional brewers sort of pivoted in the late-80s/early-90s to become craft beer like. At the end of the day Spoetzl is an independent brewery that is smaller than New Belgium, which consistently ranks as one of the darlings of the craft beer movement.
Anyway, Shiner Bock drinks really easily. If you have actually ever had one of these beers fresh from the brewery or close to it on a hot day…well, you would understand why people down in Texas drink it so much. Light in alcohol (4.4% ABV) and bitterness (13 IBU) this copper colored brew goes down smooth. Okay from a bottle, it is light years better on tap. I do not know why, but some beers are just that much better on tap.
Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale is the first true ale brewed by Spoetzl:
It’s hard to imagine that in this day and age of American craft beer that there was a brewery waiting until its 103rd year to brew up a pale ale. But here is such a brewery and here is such a beer. For a first effort it is pretty good, if not exactly earth shattering. The American pale ale is probably the most innovative style of beer in the world right now. There are brewers making pale ales in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago. So, a basic, well-executed pale ale is sort of a non-entity.
That being said, it is also refreshing to taste a well-executed pale ale that does not try and get too cute. Other than the name, there is nothing cute about the beer. It drinks a little more bitter than its rating would suggest (32 IBU). The alcohol level (5.5%) however seems to be spot on.
Like the previously discussed Shiner Bock, there is something to the style of Shiner beers that strips away some of the pretension and goes about pouring drinkable beers that people enjoy. Consider it the table wine versus pretentious bottled wine type argument. People talk about vintages of certain wines all day long, but most people actually drink table wine every day. It’s hard for me to say that something from Texas is lacking in the pretentious department because I feel that entire state is a manufactured edifice to the artifice that is Texas.
Shiner Kosmos Reserve is named after the founder of the brewery Kosmos Spoetzl:
The description of this beer is that it is a “hop jacked” lager, which I take to mean it is more hoppy than the traditionally lightly hopped lagers that Shiner generally brews. It’s actually a little hard to place this beer. A little time of the morass that is the internet leads to the argument about whether or not this is a modified or relabeled Kolsch, which I could definitely agree with based on my tasting of the beer.
I actually think this beer is a great example of why we just need to do away with the rigid hierarchies of beers that seem to define how people talk about beer, myself included. Even when we get down to talking about what seem like the simplest demarcations—ale versus lager—there are exceptions and departures. What do I say about a California common or steam beer that uses lager yeast at ale temperatures? Is it an ale or a lager or something completely different? Ugh!
Shiner Bohemian Black Lager is another example of hard to define:
Brewed on the 97th anniversary of the brewery, Bohemian Black Lager pours dark—as the name would suggest—but has a mild aroma, almost like a dry stout. It definitely drinks like a lager with a crisp mouth feel and clean finish, but the dark color and aroma from roasted malts keeps taking my mind back to stouts and porters. It’s like a dark beer for hot summer days.
Shiner Prickly Pear is a different beast:
I have had beers that have incorporated prickly pear as an ingredient in the past, most notably New Belgium’s Prickly Passion Saison. Normally, I find this to be a gimmick ingredient because you get no sense of it whatsoever over the hops or malt of the beer.
However, with Shiner Prickly Pear you actually notice the cacti at the strangest moment: in the aroma of the beer before you take a drink. It actually smells sweet, but that sweetness is not imparted in the flavor of the beer which comes across more like a normal light lager. It was kind of off putting at first because I thought that my tongue wasn’t working. Was it worth it as an ingredient? Not really because there is no lasting flavor of note that makes you want to seek out Shiner Prickly Pear.
Shiner Premium, what should I say:
For all of the praise that I heaped on Shiner Bock, I am going to kick this beer in the shorts. Honestly, it drank like Busch Light. Sorry, it drank like a better Busch Light. Does that make it Bud Light? I realize that there is a time and place for the American pale lager, but does a small brewery in Texas really need to produce something that is coming out of vats in Golden, Milwaukee, and St. Louis in unimaginable quantities?
I fail to see the logic in allowing this beer to survive in the lineup.
If you get a chance, especially if it is hot day and Shiner Bock is on tap, give the offerings from the Spoetzl Brewery a chance.