Home Brewing

Kevin Noonan

, Food & Drink

The makers of Shiner beer set down roots in a little Texas town 110 years ago, and the brand has thrived ever since

 

It lacks the nouveau appeal of most other craft brews. In fact, it seems almost pretentious to call Shiner a craft brew. It has too much tradition and has gone through too many changes to be grouped with some fancy, expensive brew made by some trendy brew pub.

Shiner, which started as a small, local brewery in the middle of nowhere, Texas, more than 100 years ago, is still a small, local brewery in the middle of nowhere, Texas, even though it has become a national brand and continues to thrive in a saturated market.

Theirs is a story of history and geography.

Shiner is made at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, and has been around since 1909, which makes it the oldest brewery in the Lone Star State and one of the oldest independent breweries in all of the states.

Shiner (pop. 2,069) is a one-stoplight town at the crossroads of Rtes. 90 and 95 in Lavaca County, about 60 miles east of San Antonio and even closer to neighboring towns like Gonzales, Yoakum and Halletsville. It was named after Henry B. Shiner, who, in 1890, donated 250 acres for a railroad right of way.

In the late 1800s, large parts of central and eastern Texas were settled by Czech and German immigrants, who brought their own culture, music, food and, of course, beer with them to America.

Those Czechs and Germans missed the hearty beers they had known and loved back in the Old Country, so what became Shiner Brewery was founded by a group of local businessmen in 1909, and they hired Herman Weiss as the first brewmaster. Five years later, that job was taken over by Kosmos Spoetzl, who plied his craft in his native Bavaria before immigrating to Texas because he thought the warmer weather would be good for his fragile health.

Old photo of the Spoetzl Brewery. The K stands for Kosmos, the brewmaster who came to Texas from Bavaria. Photo courtesy of Spoetzl Brewery

Spoetzl took a grassroots approach to making and marketing his beer—he loaded iced-down kegs in the back of his Model A Ford and drove around the county, offering drinks to thirsty farmers and tradesmen. In fact, he would sometimes leave a cold beer sitting on top of a fence post so the farmer could quench his thirst after he got done plowing the north 40. Spoetzl held his job for almost 50 years, until he died in 1950.

Eventually, Shiner became a well-known regional brand in East and Central Texas, but it wasn’t until recently that it expanded to other markets, including Delaware.

Woody Chandler is very familiar with Shiner beers, but, then again, he’s familiar with just about every beer ever brewed. Chandler is better known by his unofficial title of The Beer Monk, because he’s traveled the globe sampling more than 13,000 brands of beer. (See more about Chandler on pg. 27.)

“Shiner makes good beer and they’ve been around such a long time because they do it the right way,” he says. “I’ve reviewed 28 of their beers and really liked almost all of them. They’re an old-fashioned brewery and they’ve been doing this for a long time, and that’s why they’ve built such a good reputation.”

Chandler says his favorite Shiner brews include the seasonal Holiday Cheer, Bohemian Black Lager and a newer brand, Ruby Redbird. But he wasn’t so keen on another brand, Light Blonde.

The current brewmaster at Spoetzl is 51-year-old Jimmy Mauric, a Shiner native who started working there as a 17-year-old bottle washer and worked his way up to the top job, which he has held since 2005. Mauric—who married a Shiner girl and raised three Shiner kids—took a few minutes recently to talk by phone to Out & About Magazine about himself, his town and especially his beer.

O&A: You started out as a bottle washer and worked your way up to brewmaster. How did that happen?

Mauric: In a small brewery you have to wear many hats and I wore just about all of them. I washed bottles and ran forklifts and unloaded box cars by hand and, basically, everything and anything that needed doing. Back then, I even ran a city route [for deliveries], which was more involved than it sounds, since Shiner had probably 24 bars for a population of 2,069—we had more bars than grocery stores. It was a great way to learn the business, from the bottom up.

O&A: Did you always have ambitions to be brewmaster someday?

Mauric: When I started this, I did not envision being where I am. I had no idea where the road was going to lead me. Then, as each year passed by, I realized I was doing what I love because I’m from Shiner and the beer is named Shiner and everybody here takes a lot of pride in that, and I did, too. And after a while I was like, “You know, I really enjoy this and I’m going to do everything I can to keep moving up the ladder.” So, I kept chucking away, and here I am.

O&A: How do you learn to be a brewmaster? It’s not like you can go to a normal college and major in making beer—drinking it, perhaps, but not making it.

Mauric: I was fortunate to learn from the best—John Hybner, who was the brewmaster here for decades. I interned under him for 27 years, and eventually became assistant brewmaster in 1992. Then, when John left in 2005, I became brewmaster. John Hybner really knew the business and he was always willing to share his knowledge with others, including me. And then I went to the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago [a school that teaches the brewing arts] and even went to night school in Victoria and San Marcos, which is like a 100-mile round-trip drive. But the lessons I learned from John Hybner are the ones that have really stuck with me.

O&A: And what was the greatest lesson you learned from John Hybner?

Mauric: He kept it simple—it’s all about the beer and the quality. That’s one thing he instilled in me that I’ve never forgotten: You can’t cut corners. You do it right and you do it right the first time. And we’re 110 years old, so we’ve been doing something right here for a long time.

O&A: Shiner started as a regional beer in Texas and was only sold within a few hundred miles of the brewery. How did you expand your brand?

Mauric: A big part of that came in the 1970s, when we moved into Austin and became popular with the college crowd there. That’s when we added Shiner Bock to our traditional Shiner Premium and that really took off and became a cult beer of sorts with the college kids. We gradually started to sell Shiner all around the country and now we’re available in all 50 states and produce 500,000 barrels a year.

O&A: How have you survived in this era of trendy craft beers, when so many older, traditional breweries haven’t?

Mauric: Because we are a craft beer—we were craft before craft was cool. When the big wave of craft beers hit in the 2000s, we were like “OK, we’ve done this. If people want these kinds of beers, we can give them that as well as the beers they’ve loved for years.” For more than 100 years, we had made just two beers, the Shiner Premium and the Shiner Bock, which we started in the 1970s. We just adapted.

O&A: Do you feel pressure to keep up with the ever-changing marketplace?

Mauric: Absolutely. We see the changing market – there are more than 7,500 breweries out there, and they’re all competition and they all make great beers. We’re not sitting back and we’re not scared of the competition. We enjoy creating new beers while holding onto the beers that have kept us in business for more than 100 years.

O&A: Do you see a danger in too much of a good thing and a time when the market will simply be oversaturated by craft beers?

Mauric: It’s oversaturated now, because there are so many damn beers out there and most of them are very good. But at some point, it has to hit a ceiling and there has to be some pushback. Right now, everyone is jockeying for shelf space, but there’s a limit on how much shelf space there is.

O&A: How will Shiner survive in that marketplace?

Mauric: We’ll just continue to do what we’ve always done, which is produce great beer and adapt to changes when we have to adapt. Quality counts, and as long as we remember that, we’ll be OK. And we’ll never, ever forget where we come from, and that’s Shiner, Texas.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.