A Sunday stop in Shiner, Texas was a pretty quiet and solitary time until the Spoetzl Brewery opened. Shiner, a rural town of 2,000 people is a little stop on a backroad between Houston and San Antonio. Our search for a place to sit and have a coffee went unfulfilled. We finally settled on a game of cribbage at a picnic table under a shade tree in front of the brewery.
The Spoetzl Brewery resides on a park-like property just north of the town center. I can easily imagine that a big part of the working population works here. The facility mixes the old and new into a handsome, gleaming white plant that contrasts nicely with the green trees and lawns that front it. The brewery dates to 1909 when the Shiner Brewing Association was formed by a group of German and Czech immigrants in the area who presumably were in search of a better beer option. Originally, their bock beer was brewed to provide nourishment for Lent and was only brewed in the Spring following European traditions. As the brewery grew, they found themselves in need of a new brewmaster and connected with a man named Kosmos Spoetzl, a Bavarian-born and trained brewer who had honed his craft at breweries in Egypt and Canada. He was attracted by the climate and the option of an ownership stake in the brewery and by 1915 he was running the show. The brewery was renamed the Spoetzl Brewery although the beer continued to be branded as Shiner.
Prohibition was imposed in 1918 so Cosmos made soft drinks, near beer (some say beer too), sold ice, and worked construction to stay in business. During that time, his wife passed away and he nearly gave up and moved back to Bavaria, but his daughter Celie convinced him to keep at it. Kosmos and “Miss Celie” are reverently spoken about during the history portion of Shiner’s slick brewery tour. Following Prohibition, the brewery concentrated on the market within 100 miles and did quite well with that. Kosmos is described as a country peddler, driving the backroads with cold beer to offer and often accompanied by a hobo band. The band is a tradition that still exists today.
Shiner remained a small regional brewery into the 1960’s when the Spoetzl family sold their controlling interest. The company passed through the hands of a couple of Texas-based syndicates before being purchased in the late 1980’s by the privately held Gambrinus Company of San Antonio. Under Gambrinus, there has been considerable growth and Shiner Bock was repositioned as a premium offering. Gambrinus seems like a very marketing-oriented company – they were the major player in the US behind the growth of the Corona and Moosehead brands and they got into brewing through the acquisition of Shiner, Pete’s Wicked Ale, and Bridgeport Brewing (both Pete’s Wicked and Bridgeport are now defunct). Gambrinus also has a collaboration with Trumer Brauerei (Privatbrauerei Josef Sigl) in Salzburg, Austria whereby they brew Trumer Pils at their brewery in Berkley, California.
Shiner is now the fifth-largest craft brewery in the US. About 70 percent of their beer is sold in Texas but they distribute to all 50 states and into Mexico as well. Shiner Bock is the largest selling bock beer in the US and is definitely their mainstay. They operate a small-batch brewery inside their production facility to brew seasonals, special releases, and test recipes. I was blown away by the variety of beers there were to taste from this facility within a facility. They seem to be having a lot of fun in there. I must have tasted twenty different beers and came away understanding there is more to Shiner than their well-known bock.
Related stories on Prime Passages: Texas Hill Country Hikes & Beers – Beery Austin – German Tradition in the Lone Star State – Out in Luckenbach Texas, There Ain’t Nobody Feelin’ No Pain – Texas Six Pack – other Texas stories