Friday, April 15, 2011
Jimbo, he of the House By the Parkway, informs us that Shiner Bock, the semi-official beer of the Helen Blogtoberfest and the Hysterics at Eric’s, is now “situated and celebrated in New Jersee.”
I can’t blame Jim for being excited. I still remember how ecstatic I was when another Texas beverage became available in the Northeast for the first time. The beverage in question was Dr Pepper. I loved the stuff, which tasted like it might have been the bastard child of Coca-Cola and Sunsweet prune juice. Its occasional advertisements in Life magazine would serve only to tantalize and frustrate me, however, for I could only get it when we made our annual pilgrimage to South Florida: It was completely unavailable up North. All that changed in May, 1968 when Dr Pepper went national. Huzzah!
But let’s get back to Shiner Bock, shall we?
Shiner Bock - once a seasonal beer that is now produced year-round - is a fine brew with far more character than popular mass-market beers. But it was not always so.
When I first moved to Texas - this was in 1974, when the last of the dinosaurs were laying themselves down in their carboniferous beds to become future oil deposits - there was a handful of local (i.e., Texas-based) breweries that made products unique to the Lone Star State. There was Lone Star, famous for its long-neck glass bottles. There was Pearl. And there was Shiner, from just down Interstate 10 in Shiner, Texas.
When you went to the ice house for a few beers and a game of dominoes, you drank a Texas beer... if you knew what was good for you. Only problem was, those beers all tasted like piss. Or at least what I imagine piss would taste like. And Shiner, sad to say, was the pissiest of the lot. Yeef!
Why there were no decent beers in Texas back then, who can say? It was surprising, given the large proportion of Texans with German or Czech roots, that the best-known products of the state - beer-wise, anyway - were such crap. Nevertheless, that was the situation on the ground at the time.
But Shiner’s lager, clearly not their strong suit, had a brother - a seasonal bock beer which became very popular in Austin, home to a burgeoning arts and music scene. And meanwhile, Shiner’s Texas competitors were swallowed up by larger national brands. Both Lone Star (which still calls itself “The National Beer of Texas”) and Pearl ended up being owned by Pabst Brewing Company, makers of the infamous Pabst Blue Ribbon. (Shiner was acquired as well, but by Gambrinus, a Texas-based outfit specializing in smaller regional and craft brands.)
There’s good news. Despite the dominance of Anheuser-Busch and Miller (both of which operate huge breweries in numerous locations throughout the state), those regional and craft beers have done quite well in the Land of the Lone Star. Shiner is just one example.
I haven’t had a Lone Star or a Pearl in years, though the names still evoke a certain Texan nostalgia for me. But Shiner Bock actually tastes good, so I when I drink it I can not only enjoy my memories of life in Texas, I can luxuriate in the knowledge that some things do get better with time.