I’m sitting at a picnic table on the grounds of Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, sipping a cold one that tastes like a Texas summer and thinking about all of the beers that have been swilled on this oak-shaded expanse of grass.
A lot, I’m sure.
Kosmos Spoetzl, a brewmaster who immigrated here from Germany, founded this brewery –– a cluster of bright white buildings in a charming small Texas town ––
in 1909. Today Spoetzl churns out 6 million cases of beer a year, of which about 70 percent is Shiner Bock, a dark American lager.
That bock was once a seasonal brew, sold only around Easter.
But after the Austin music scene discovered it in the 1970s, it became so popular that the brewery started making it year-round.
“Today it’s beloved by hippies and country folk alike,” Tom Fiorenzi, Spoetzl’s director of brewery operations, says of the bock.
The Ruby Redbird I’m drinking, made with a splash of grapefruit and a kick of ginger, goes great with the plate of barbecue now sitting in front of me. I picked it up at Spoetzl BBQ Co., which opened last month on the brewery premises. The sausage tastes best, the brisket could be more tender, and the pulled pork adds a little zip to the montage of meat. The restaurant does coleslaw right, without all of that soupy mayonnaise.
In a few minutes, I’m going to check out another new offering here in what feels like the beer, booze, and barbecue lover’s version of Disneyland – a distillery tour washed down with a paloma made with Shiner vodka instead of tequila.
The Cleanest Little Town in Texas
I made the trip to Shiner, which a billboard at the city limits proclaims is “The Cleanest Little Town in Texas,” to do a little exploring. The town, population 2,127, is located about halfway between Houston and San Antonio.
Honestly, I came for the beer, which I’ve always associated with true Texas bars and backyard gatherings.
“Shiner for a Texan is like a warm blanket,” says Tom Fiorenzi, director of brewery operations. “It’s been around 115 years and you know what you’re going to get.”
The brew traces its roots to the German and Czech immigrants who settled in Shiner more than a century ago. They missed the suds they drank in the Old Country and began using the town’s artesian water to make beer the old-fashioned way.
Today you can buy Shiner in all 50 states, plus Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Now company officials hope that Spoetzl’s new line of vodka, gin, moonshine, and bourbon will prove just as popular.
Tour the brewery
First things first. No visit to Shiner is complete without a tour of the brewery.
Here at the Spoetzl Brewery, you’ll find a dozen or more varieties on tap at any time, from the famous Bock to the Ruby Redbird I’m enjoying, to the feisty TexHex IPABruja’s Brew IPA, which, according to the website, is “forged with fire, magic and sin.”
A 45-minute tour through the brewery gives you a behind-the-scenes peek at how it’s made. You’ll learn about how Kosmos got things rolling, stroll along an elevated walkway that offers a good view of the production and packaging lines, sniff a jar of fresh hops (which are stored in an undisclosed location) and sample up to three 16-ounce beers.
Tours cost $25, and it’s best to make reservations in advance, because group size is limited.
Company officials began dreaming up the idea to make distilled spirits here at Spoetzl about five years ago.
They reconfigured some unused space in the brewery, repurposed old beer storage tanks and ordered equipment from far-off Scotland. Now they’re writing the next chapter in Spoetzl’s story.
“We shook the dust off and brought it back to life,” says Jessica Michalec, head of Spoetzl’s distilling operations.
Lavaca County, home of Shiner, has a long tradition with adult beverages. Crafty residents looking for a revenue stream began making moonshine during Prohibition, and according to local lore, hid it in underground caves around the county.
Today, the distillers at Spoetzl use beer as the base alcohol to make gin, moonshine, vodka, and bourbon. The lineup of distilled spirits may eventually expand to include straight whiskey or rye.
“We’re taking craft beer and turning it into craft spirits,” Michalec says. “And because of our brewing capacity, we’re already set up for it.”
“Every product that we will make will come from beer that we’ve crafted in our brewhouse,” Michalec says.
Spoetzl Brewery officials hope to start offering distillery tours and selling bottled spirits later this spring. In the meantime, belly up to the bar for a cocktail. (Bourbon aficionados will have to wait a little longer; it must be aged for two years before it’s ready to drink.)
You can tour the distilling operations, too. Make reservations online before you go.
Beyond the brewery
If you make the drive to Shiner, don’t stop exploring after you’ve visited the Spoetzl Brewery.
For a deeper dive into the Shiner’s history, drop by the Edwin Wolters Memorial Museum, 306 South Avenue I. There you can peruse an old-time country store, look at dinosaur bones, check out a display of antique dolls, peruse musical instruments and see tools once used by farmers in the area.
The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Shiner is home to one of Central Texas’ famous painted churches, too.
The Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, at 306 South Avenue F, features vaulted ceilings and interior murals, including one depicting angels floating on clouds. The original church at the site dates to 1890, but it was damaged by a tornado in 1892. A larger church was built in the 1920s, and that building was restored in 1954. Berlin-trained artist Edmond Fatjo painted the murals shortly thereafter.
If You Go
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Austin to Shiner, which is located at the intersection of Texas Highway 95 and Texas Highway 90.
Eat & Drink:
Try barbecue and beer at the Spoetzl Brewery, 603 E. Brewery Street; open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Or drop by Friday’s Famous Fried Chicken at 122 Fifth Street.