Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The McBone Beer Journal; Shiner Bock

One of my absolute favorite genres of literature is that which can be found on the sticker on the neck of a bottle of beer.  The writing ranges from pompous to poetic, from banal to beautiful. The space is by definition small and the word count limited.  How to tell the story of a beer in 50 words or less, a sort of beer haiku?  I've never tried it myself, but it can't be easy.

Shiner Bock is brewed in Shiner, Texas and has been since 1909.  It's neck label reads as follows:
Handcrafted with small-town pride in Shiner, Texas.  Since 1909, the 'little brewery' has been the source of every drop of Shiner Beer.  We hope you enjoy this beer with the same passion that went into brewing it.  Prosit!  Bock Beer Traditionally was brewed in Germany to celebrate the arrival of spring.  Shiner Bock combines its old-world, Bavarian heritage with the ingenuity of American handcraft brewing for a smooth, rich, always satisfying taste.
So what do we know without ever tasting a sip?  There are many positives to take away.  We know that Shiner Bock is over 100 years old and has clung to its roots as a small batch brewery. We also get a little historical tidbit about bock beer in general, proving that a bottle of beer is, if anything, educational.  I also love the merging of old world and new in each bottle of Shiner. Inspiring.  A reminder that Beer can save the world.
Sadly, this label devolves into hackneyed beer jargon with words like  'smooth' and 'satisfying.' I mean, if you want to tout yourself as a small brewery, why turn around and start speaking Budweiser? And I'm very suspicious of the quotation marks that surround the phrase 'little brewery,' which lead me to believe that the brewery was once small, but is no longer.  The presence of this beer way up in West Lafayette, Indiana suggests that, just maybe, the little brewery has fattened up a bit since 1909.  
Still, I'm intrigued, and the bottle is so handsomely labelled with its heroic and mighty-horned ram that I am compelled to crack open and pour.  Out flows a gorgeously deep, dark amber-tinted brew with no head to speak of.  My mouth waters in anticipation of heavy caramel notes, the big toasty maltiness evident in the color.  Alarmingly, however, there is very little to nose in my glass.  I snort with desperation, but detect only the generic waft of the weaker lagers of the world.  And, alas, a long gulp leaves me searching a little too hard to find these flavors.  Not that they are entirely absent, as subsequent sips reveal, but I was expecting, I don't know, something more.
Disappointing?  A little.  This is an understated beer.  Too understated maybe, but there are subtle but undeniably present hints of caramel, and maybe an ever so slight earthiness from whatever hops were infused here.  Bold?  No.  I would call this a versatile beer, a dependable, all-weather beer, one that is almost robust enough to go with a winter stew, yet crisp and refreshing on sweltering day.
Promise unfulfilled is the story of this Shiner Bock from label to last sip, and it thus earns itself a very pedestrian 2.5 McBones.

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