Welcome to Add to Bar Cart, where Cool Material’s writers and editors recommend the spirits that they’re enjoying most right now.
It never made sense to me that more breweries don’t have small distilling operations attached to them. Roughly speaking, you have to make beer to make whiskey–whiskey wash is even sometimes called distiller’s beer–so why wouldn’t craft brewers siphon off a bit from some of their more interesting brews to distill into unique spirits? Then I started looking into the requirements for distilling operations and found out there’s a litany of regulations, restrictions, and zoning law surrounding spirit production, most of which your stereotypical moonshiner wouldn’t be able to surmount to take their operation legitimate.
Still, the principle is sound. A distillery has to go through most of the same steps as a brewery, breweries just take their product to market a step or two earlier than a distillery does. Adding distilling capabilities to a brewery is a logical next step, especially in a drinking culture that’s rediscovering its love of cocktails and spirits. The market share value of spirits in the United States surpassed beer for the first time in 2022, after all. Spoetzl Brewery, the producers of Shiner Bock and its family of lagers, blondes, IPAs, and fruited beers, took that logical next step and have recently started producing spirits.
For those who aren’t familiar with Spoetzl and its Shiner products, I’d contextualize it by saying it’s like the Yuengling of Texas. The company’s not quite as old, but they’re both family owned companies, they both survived Prohibition, they’re both distributed (close-to) nationwide, and they both have their own rabid regional followings.
My impression of the company was always a generally pleasant one. I’m not from Texas, or the South in general, so I don’t have any regional pride for the beer. I more respect the company for putting out a consistently good product. It could have easily changed their recipe to something cheaper to produce and then coasted off their reputation, or sold out to a much bigger company and turned its deep local roots into a marketing strategy rather than a factual description.
When Spoetzl announced it was putting out a few spirits, I was curious. I assumed they’d be good, what I wasn’t sure about was if there’d be enough about each to set them apart from everything else out there.
How Shiner Spirits are Made
The facility is in one of the brewery cellars and the commissioned distilling system comes from Scotland. It is a copper system with a pot still and rectifying columns, a best-of-both-worlds arrangement that combines the tradition of pot distillation with the modern advancements of columns and plates. The whole thing is overseen by distillery manager Jessica Michalec.
The new distillery being in the same complex as the brewery is a good sign. Sometimes these ventures are done by people licensing the name or splitting off from the main group. Being in the same building means it’ll be easier for the production teams to communicate and hopefully means some of the staff is splitting its time between the two.
The spirits are made using the same malt and water as Shiner beers, so you at least know it starts from a good place. The distillery side also uses a collection vessel copper grant designed by Shiner brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl in 1947, which the company claims helps to refine each batch before it gets to the still.
What Shiner Spirits Taste Like
In big, broad strokes, these spirits are exactly what I would expect from the facility responsible for Shiner beers. The beers have always been solid, respectable, and crowd pleasing. They won’t inspire passionate diatribes about the nuances of craft beer. They also won’t give you a hangover halfway through your third one or burn out your palate with two pounds of hops. They’re the beers that, when you see them in the cooler at a party or on tap at a local bar, tell you whoever’s hosting respects you as a guest or customer.
With that in mind, my tasting notes Shiner Vodka and Shiner Shine start in similar places. They’re both good. It’s clear that they were made by a team that knows what they’re doing and cares about the product they’re putting together. They’re not the greatest versions of either product to ever grace anyone’s bar cart, but they’re also leaps and bounds above the kind of rot gut people kept foisting on me in college. I don’t think they’ll become anyone’s house bottle, but they’re well-deserving of a regular guest feature.
Individually, there are some interesting things worth noting. There was a little more sweetness to the vodka than I was expecting, though it’s still a clean drinking spirit without much in the way of residual taste or burn. I got mild notes of malty sweetness and extremely light touches of black pepper. Vodka is a neutral spirit. The production method destroys or strips most of what gives other spirits flavor, so saying that I didn’t taste much or get a bad burn off it is to say that this is a rock-solid vodka.
The moonshine (though not technically moonshine since it is, in fact, legal) has a distinctly malty flavor, which I like. It’s made with a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley. Other than the missing hops, it really does taste like they put a bunch of Shiner beer in the still and let it rip. It’s also very light without much in the way of lingering taste. The moonshine’s main accomplishment is to get me excited for the aged version that should be coming out in the next few years.
Shiner Gin is easily the best of the three. The best gins I’ve had recently have gone hyper local with their botanicals, and Shiner’s is no exception. The mandatory juniper content is Ashe juniper, a variety native to northern Mexico and the central U.S. I don’t find the spirit nearly as bitter as I’ve found some traditional gins, which is a huge plus. The other specific callout in terms of ingredients is Rio Valley Grapefruit, which you can pick out once you know it’s there. The gin sips well on its own and in a gin and tonic, which bodes well for its potential in other cocktails.
Why You Should Add Shiner Spirits to Your Bar Cart
I don’t get the impression that this is a case of the brewery trying to make a quick buck. If they wanted to do that, they would have released some pandering IPA or fruited sour or sold a stake of the company to AB InBev. It seems to me that Spoetzl is expanding because they have the interest, drive, and capability, which is how most people get started in production regardless of size. These are good products made by a proven company for the right reasons.
You also get a conversation piece. For one thing, the bottles are attractive. For another, everyone knows Shiner beers, not everyone knows Shiner spirits. You’ll have an excuse to geek out with your friends and pour a few samples. You could even talk about how it’s a logical next step for a brewery to expand into spirit production. Then you could be boring like me and divert into zoning law and explosion proof pump covers.