At a Glance:
Beer: Shiner Winter Ale
Pros: Soft dark chocolate malt flavor with just a hint of wheat’s edge
Cons: Not sold everywhere…
The Bottom Line: If you’ve got a hankering for a bold sweet malty brew with a flavor bigger than the Lone Star State itself, head on over to Shiner Winter Ale country!
No God-fearing, boot-wearing, pickup-driving, two-stepping Texan would ever be caught drinking those watery bland brews from corporations in Missouri or Wisconsin, no matter how many low-down lying commercials they pollute our airwaves with. Miller and Texas are “Texas bred”? Hah! Those kind of low-down lies are lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, and no sane Texan believes otherwise. No sirree! There’s just one genuine Texas brew — that’s Shiner.
Now I know perfectly well that nine out of ten dentists surveyed thought Shiner just meant Shiner Bock, but let me assure you that there’s a raft of other fine brews bearing the Shiner mantle, and the only one with a flavor as big as the Lone Star state is Shiner Winter Ale.
Now let’s just us pop open one of these bad boys and get down to serious sippin’!
Appearance: Very dark brown color with some deep ruby highlights — I’d estimate the color to be close to 20 SRM. Carbonation is lower than I expected, and the beer didn’t kick up much of a head when I poured it in the glass. It looks very much like a porter or maybe a Munich-style dunkles.
Aroma: Sweet aroma of honey and molasses with just a bit of light toffee. No off aromas and nothing that tells me anything about the yeast or hops.
Flavor: The first thing that strikes me about this beer is that it tastes fundamentally like a dark lager — not like a dunkelweizen (more analysis on this in the style section). The beer feels like it’s brewed to normal gravity (I’d guess it’s a 12 plato beer), and it has a very soft, rounded mouthfeel to it. Very malty and smooth, but with just a hint of lightly citric sharpness to let you know that there really is some wheat in the brew. I wouldn’t expect much hops in a beer like this, and they’re not there — just enough to balance, but not to get in the way of the complex array of lusciously competing malt flavors.
The label says that this is supposed to be a “dunkelweizen,” which is a dark wheat beer from southern Germany. American mainstream brewers have such vivid imaginations!
A true German dunkelweizen will usually have an assertive aroma and flavor of cloves or banana that comes from using a hybrid yeast strain that is different from that used in normal lagers and ales. The wheat flavor will also be easily spotted — beers made with lots of wheat typically have a bit sharper flavor, sometimes with almost a citric edge to it, compared to the softer more rounded flavor of a beer made with malted barley.
Shiner Winter Ale does not taste anything like a German dunkelweizen — there’s no yeast signature and the rounded, soft flavor tells me that it probably doesn’t have a huge percentage of wheat in the grain bill. It’s still an excellent beer, with a flavor that reminds me of a German dunkles with just a hint of wheat flavor thrown in for complexity’s sake. Shiner Winter Ale tastes like it’s made with a standard lager or ale yeast, and its smooth texture makes me think it’s actually been filtered and lagered. Shiner Winter Ale is certainly a fine drinkin’ beer, and I’d be happy to drink it all year round, but this Sir, is no dunkelweizen!
I bought the beer in season at one of Houston’s largest liquor stores (Specs). I purchased a sealed case from the walk-in cooler, so there’s no chance that it was light-damaged. The bottles were in good condition and the beer smelled and tasted fine (no obvious handling problems).
If you call yourself a “beer geek”, you probably know about the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner Texas. This is one of the few remaining classic American regional breweries — once a staple of every community in America, but now the province of only a few lucky communities. Shiner has a reputation among Texans as the last surviving real Texas brewery. Shiner is the Texas equivalent to Pennsylvania’s Yuengling Brewery — another American classic.
Shiner is a fun brewery to get to know. They welcome locals and travelers to stop by the brewery for a tour and a free glass of beer (weekdays only), and they host special events, like concerts and bashes. Their web site has info on these events, as well as more info about the brewery’s fine lineup of cool brewskis.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for the fine folks in Shiner, and this beer reinforces that respect. In my opinion, Shiner Winter Ale is the very best of Shiner’s product line. It’s bolder, maltier, and more robust than any of their other beers. If you’re accustomed only to watery mainstream beers, then you’d probably be better off trying a bottle of Shiner Bock or Blonde. But if you have an adventurous palate and enjoy great beers, then I strongly recommend giving Shiner Winter Ale a try.
Okay, so it’s not a dunkelweizen. Big deal. Shiner Winter Ale is still the best brew Shiner makes, and it’s definitely one of the boldest, biggest tastes to come out of a mainstream brewery. I like it, and I’ll bet you would too.