Beer isn’t all that’s rolling off the production line at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner these days.
The independent Texas brewery best known for Shiner Bock, a staple at Texas juke joints, has added a line of distilled spirits to its offerings—and opened an on-site barbecue restaurant to boot.
“Why stop at beer?” says Tom Fiorenzi, director of brewery operations at Spoetzl, which churns out 6 million cases of beer annually and now is producing vodka, gin, 90-proof moonshine (dubbed Shiner Shine), and bourbon.
Adult beverages are a long-standing tradition in Lavaca County, home to Shiner, population 2,127. German and Czech immigrants who yearned for the suds of the old country used the town’s artesian water to start making beer more than a century ago. Kosmos Spoetzl, a brewmaster from Germany, famously founded the Spoetzl Brewery in 1909.
“We still use some of his brewing methods today,” Fiorenzi says. “Shiner for a Texan is like a warm blanket. It’s been around 115 years and you know what you’re going to get.”
About 70% of the brewery’s production is Shiner Bock, a dark American lager that was originally made seasonally in the spring. Austinites fell in love with the bock, and it became part of the local music scene in the 1970s, putting the beer maker on the map. Shiner is now sold in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and Mexico.
“It’s beloved by hippies and country folk alike,” Fiorenzi says.
Brewery officials hope they can replicate that success using house-made beer as a starter for distilled spirits.
The idea for a distillery started brewing five years ago, following a trend that began when Garrison Brothers Distillery opened the first Texas whiskey distillery in Hye in 2006. Last January, Spoetzl reconfigured some unused space at the beer plant to make room for a distilling operation. They put beer storage tanks that hadn’t been used for two decades into service, brought in more equipment from Scotland, and began preparing for what they hope is 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 operation.
She calls this new branch of the business a nod to Lavaca County’s boozy history. According to local lore, entrepreneurial residents surreptitiously cooked moonshine in stills during Prohibition. A film shown to visitors on the brewery’s tour mentions a nearby cave supposedly once used to store hooch.
Regardless, it turns out that beer comes in handy if you’re trying to make liquor.
“You have to have a base of alcohol to make spirits,” Michalec says. At Shiner, that base is beer. “We’re taking craft beer and turning it into craft spirits. And because of our brewing capacity, we’re already set up for it.”
Although bottles of the liquors won’t be on sale until later this spring (the target is Memorial Day weekend), brewery visitors can buy cocktails made with Shiner craft vodka, gin, or moonshine. (The bourbon needs to age for two years, so whiskey lovers will have to be patient.) Tours of the brewery’s distilling operation also include samples of the spirits.
The lineup of distilled spirits may eventually expand to include straight whiskey or rye.
The liquor isn’t the only change. Over at the brewery’s new barbecue restaurant, Spoetzl BBQ Co., neon beer signs glow on the wall behind a cafeteria-style line. Brisket, sausage, and pulled pork is sliced and weighed to order. The menu also includes sides such as potato salad, coleslaw, and beans.
Customers can eat at picnic tables beneath oaks on the brewery’s sprawling grounds or settle in beneath a covered pavilion. The eatery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Together, the new restaurant and the new line of spirits means a trip to the brewery isn’t only for beer lovers. (Also of note: a nonalcoholic brew is in the works.)
“We’ve slowly let the secret out and everybody seems really excited,” Michalec says of the brewery’s expanded offerings. “We’re not taking anything away from our beer, and we’re being just as crafty with spirits, while paying tribute to everything we built. We hope to be just as successful and add to the Shiner brand.”