Beer Journal

A quasi-daily examination of beer and things related to beer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brewery Visits 2010: Spoetzl Brewery

Living in Texas and educating oneself can be a dangerous and counterproductive activity. The more you learn, the more you discover reasons to hate your home state. Part of me, though, is resistant to hate all things Texas. I still enjoy the concept of the Alamo and get excited when I see the Lone Star flag. I still find amusing the “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “It’s bigger in Texas” slogans, though their time has come and gone. One lasting Texan item which hasn’t yet lost its luster is Shiner beer.

Most everyone’s first Shiner beer is their most famous line, Shiner Bock. Originally brewed during Lent as a seasonal, Shiner Bock is now over 80% of the beer produced. The ram on the label is due to the heavy German influence from the original brewmaster, Kosmo Spoetzl. “Bock” is ram in German.

My wife and I made the visit to the brewery as part of a wider week-long vacation and it was the first stop of the trip. Shiner is a tiny town about an hour from San Antonio and two hours from Houston. Passing through the town, there is little else in the area but the brewery, though we weren’t complaining.

The parking lot (an unpaved patch of dirt) of the Brewery is located against a stream across from the main entrance. The front yard is almost pastoral with massive oak trees and benches in the shade, hotter than hell the day we visited, it was a welcome sight. In contrast to the lawn, Spoetzl Brewery is an imposing structure, industrial and factory-like in appearance. The hard lines of the silos and smokestacks are only broken by the gentle wave of the roof over the entrance to the gift shop.

The tours began at 10, 11 and 1:30, and, it being 10:15, we had time to comb the shelves of the gift shop looking for swag. Upon arrival we were handed a sample of one of available beers on tap: Oktoberfest, Hefeweizen, Bock, Black, Blonde and a seasonal, today, 101. Along with our sample cup (about 4 oz.), we were handed 3 wooden tokens, redeemable for samples. I hit the Black first, my favorite of the bunch. From the tap, Shiner Black is incredibly robust and full-bodied. I double-took the first sip and thought someone had snuck a Guinness into the line of taps. I was very impressed. From the Black, I tasted the 101 and, let me reiterate, I LOVE this beer. Great tasting Czech-style pilsner. I so hope they give this seasonal the same treatment as the Black Lager, we should all be so lucky. Then the call went out that the tour was starting outside the gift shop entrance.

The tour guide, Dotsy, was a no-nonsense 16-year employee of the brewery. She set the pace and tone of the tour from the beginning, there would be no pictures, no cell-phones and do NOT think of touching the copper. For all her rule-making, she was an incredibly warm person with a ton of information about the brewery and a penchant for cracking jokes with her audience.

The tour itself was a little shorter than I would have liked. First stop was a hall lined with pictures of Kosmo and several employees from the past 100 years. She gave us a brief overview of the local history, the brewing of Shiner beer, and the future plans of the company. From this room, our guide took us upstairs to a large room dominated by several massive copper kettles. she described the automated processes used for transporting the ingredients from this place to that, but, honestly, it was too quick to really catch much information. Our next, and final, stop was a windowed-room that overlooked the bottling floor. Having worked in several industrial packing plants, I wasn’t surprised by the view: bottles slinging by on conveyors, greasy men in stained shirts gawking up at our blank stares, the

constant rattle and buzzing of machinery. Shiner Bock was the brew of the day, if you are curious. And with that, the tour was over.

We went back to the gift shop to finish off our samples and land some souvenirs. I had an Oktoberfest (so-so) and an experimental combination of Black and Blonde (kudos to Sam Cook, the friend who suggested it via facebook). We dropped close to 60 bucks in the gift shop but walked out with a full bag of Shiner merch.

The tour left me with three bullet points.

1. Shiner beer is growing. Our tour guide made this clear, pointing out the construction of beer holding tanks, as well as mentioning the statistics of the growing number of Shiner consumers.

2. The gift shop was great. Along with the free beer and super-courteous tour guide, the prices were really reasonable on a variety of products. Stickers as cheap as a dollar, hats and shirts all around 15, it was a great place to spend some money on Shiner-branded merchandise.

3. Dotsy is no photographer (proof below). However, she made the tour great. Can’t thank her enough. She is a credit to the brewery. She was interesting, informative, and humorous.

I am happy to report, that during the research of this article, I discovered that if you google image search "Shiner 101", I am on the first page.


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