10 February 2010

Beer Week: Shine On: 100 Years of Shiner Beer

Shiner Beer is a true American success story. Founded by a group of German and Czech immigrants in a small Texas town a hundred years ago and driven by the fascinating Kosmos Spoetzl, the brewery survived Prohibition through the usual creative methods*, made it through the great blanding and conglomerating of the 50s-70s, and has emerged as a distinct and respected beer producer with a devoted regional and national following.

I was introduced to the modern flagship beer Shiner Bock back when it first hit Memphis. Dad had enjoyed it in Texas, and it hit a few local bars in bottles and draft around the time I turned 21. I liked Shiner Bock because, unlike the cheap Southpaw and Red Dog I'd drink with my friends, it had actual flavor and wasn't just something cold to drink with pizza. And it was around $5 per 6-pack, not an expensive beer by any stretch. Later on I tried a few more of their beers, and enjoyed the specialty brews that appeared in the leadup to the 100th Anniversary in 2009. (I considered attending the centenary celebration, but got tied up with other commitments.)

Speaking of that... The book in the picture is Shine On: 100 Years of Shiner Beer by Mike Renfro. It's a big coffee table book about the history of Shiner, ending with a school yearbook-style gallery of the current 55 employees. Frankly that's one of the most amazing things about this book: fifty-five smiling workers, all wearing their work shirts with their nickname on a patch. Many of them have been their for decades. "The brewmaster, Jimmy Mauric, he's been there 30 years, starting from the bottom, unloading sacks of corn and hops at age 17, and working his way up." You don't see that much these days.

The book contains a wealth of old photos and oral history, and is written in a casual Texan vernacular that I found refreshing. It's not hokey or forced, but rather a very honest way of telling the story. Renfro lives in Dallas and provides an authentic, local perspective.

I had to take a picture of the book next to one of the beers. Shiner Bohemian Black is a re-release of the 97th anniversary beer with a new label. 4.9% abv, 18 IBUs. It's got a dark roasted coffee aroma and flavor, medium bitterness, with a light finish. Similar to Guinness in that it looks far stronger than it tastes. In fact, despite the color this is a relatively light and refreshing beer that goes well with pizza, BBQ, burgers, and all sorts of other good grub that folks eat down here.

Are you a fan of Shiner? You might also be interested in my reviews of Shiner Helles and Shiner Kölsch.

*There are hundreds of amusing stories of how various wineries and breweries survived the brutal repression of the Prohibition years. Shiner sold a lot of ice. If you knew someone at the brewery you could show up on the right day and get two or three cases of "ice" if you wanted. A team of snitches was employed in surrounding towns to alert the brewery to the revenoors. In case of inspection, the tanks were dumped into the nearby stream.


Ikal 1150 Wines of Argentina said...

Schwartzbier is one of our favorite treats in Germany and we're happy that shiner is making one right here in Texas. Black, but not heavy like Guiness!

Benito said...


I think everyone has the exact same reaction to black lager/Schwarzbier the first time: "Wow! This is light and refreshing!"

I tend to prefer darker beers, but even within that category there's a wide range of body, flavor, and alcohol content.


The Wine Commonsewer (TWC) said...

Great write up.......

I have never had the pleasure of Shiner beer.

fredric koeppel said...

I've never tried the beer, but thanks for a fascinating piece of American brewing history.

Benito said...

TWC & Fredric,

Shiner Bock is a good place to start and is pretty easy to find--just look for the yellowish orange label. It's similar to Newcastle Brown Ale.

The other main products (Blonde, Hefeweizen, Fröst) seem to come and go at odd times if you're outside of Texas.

The history of Shiner is very interesting and often amusing. Back around the founding Kosmos would drive around in a Model T selling beer like it was ice cream.


Joe said...

I was all ready to ask if you'd tried the Kolsch, then you go and drop a 5-year-old review on it. Damn, you're good.

I haven't seen it in years...know if they're still making it? I love that it's technically an ale with many properties of a lager. Because of this, I can homebrew it (since I have no "lagering fridge").

Benito said...


I'm finding increasingly that I can dig something up from the archives for all sorts of things. I'm trying to behave myself in other blogs' comment sections so I don't sound like an old timer. :)

As far as I know they're not making the Kölsch or Helles anymore. Some other defunct or seasonal Shiner beers, from the book: Märzen, Bavarian Amber, Dunkelweizen, Kosmos Reserve Lager, Summer Stock, Winter Ale, and Holiday Cheer.

There's also a Shiner Light I haven't tried, but if it's designed to appeal to light beer fans, I'm not particularly interested. Reviews of all these and more at Beer Advocate.

Shiner has a fun Facebook fan page, lots of contributions from lovers of the beer. I haven't been following it long, but it should be an easy way to find out about new beers rolling out.