My father, like most men of the 1970s and 1980s, had his bar. Ducky’s Tavern was a neighborhood dive – the faded t-shirt in my closet says “Ducky’s Tavern. Where the elite meet” – but it was his dive. Actually, it was our dive because from as early as I can remember, I spent my Saturdays at Ducky’s with him. I used to sit on the bar and drink orange soda and keep score updates for football games on the chalkboard.
It was the bar where I held the pinball and shuffle bowling records for years. Ducky’s was where I learned invaluable life skills. At about age six, I learned how to play five-card draw and bet the line in football. A year or so later, I learned how pour a proper draft beer.
Ducky’s was a blue collar bar with blue collar beers on tap. Men with calloused hands that worked shifts at the nearby chemical processing plant spent their Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays there. Those calloused hands scratched my scalp as they rubbed my head, either as a sign of affection or for good luck after placing a bet with one of the village bookies haunting the bar. They gripped short pilsner glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schaefer or rocks glasses of Jack Daniels and Cutty Sark, looking to escape their world for however long that day’s visit would last.
The dark brown hue catches the light nicely, refracting a garnet red through its mostly transparent body.”
Those blue collar beers are still out there, but they usually get lumped in with the pile of macrobrews like Budweiser or Miller Lite. Legacy names like Schlitz, Old Style, Stroh’s, Schaefer, Natty Boh and Rainier (among others) are all owned by Pabst Brewing Company (Blind taste a PBR and a Schlitz and see if you can find the difference). The rest, like Yuengling and Gambrinus’ Shiner beers, fall into the Brewers Association craft definition.
The Spoetzl Brewery opened in 1909 to serve German and Czech immigrants settled around Shiner, Texas, a railroad boomtown once dependent on ranching and manufacturing. Unable to find the German lagers available widely in their respective homelands, the townfolk opened their own brewery and Kosmos Spoetzl took charge (he had been trained as a brewer in Germany prior to emigrating).
Shiner beers were exclusive to Texas for much of the 20th century, only expanding beyond a 100-mile radius of the plant in the 1960s. Ownership changed hands a number of time before the San Antonio-based Gambrinus Company acquired it and embarked on a national distribution program (you can find it in 43 states and the District of Columbia).
Spoetzl leads with its Shiner Bock, which comprises more than 70% of its annual output. The bright maize-gold label accented by German blackletter is the unmistakable calling card of this beer, while a ram’s head adorns its tap handle.
It does not take a hard pour to produce a head with this beer, but the foamy top will not hang out long. The dark brown hue catches the light nicely, refracting a garnet red through its mostly transparent body. It’s a fairly still beer, no bubble stream and foam dissipates into the beer with little lacing left behind. The aroma is light and bready with hints of sweetness, and the flavor follows the nose here pretty well. A slight bit of hop bitterness kicks things off, but quickly gives way to the sweet, bready malts that dominate.
Shiner appeals to me because it’s extremely easy-drinking and, at 4.4% alcohol by volume, highly sessionable. It’s not as crisp as Founders’ All Day IPA or Stone’s Go To IPA, session beer gold standards, but it’s just as easy to plow through five or six of these without much effort.
The other reason I like Shiner Bock is its versatility in the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite cooking beers because it is sturdy enough to not fall apart in a braise or frying pan and, once the alcohol cooks off, it imparts a full, rich malt sweetness. In a marinade, the Bock penetrates meats with a pleasant but not overpowering beer flavor, and pairs nicely with aromatics that might be used in the blend.
It’s certainly not the best beer you can buy, nor is it the best bock on the market. Instead, celebrate Shiner Bock for its contribution to the proud legacy of the American blue collar beer and the men who created and drank them.