A koozie in the gift shop at the Spoetzl Brewery demands, “Eat Meat. Drink Beer.” That pretty much sums up any good journey to Shiner, a town about 80 miles southeast of Austin that’s home to roughly 2,000 souls and the famed brewery that produces iconic Shiner beers.
For the meat, options abound along the route to Shiner. For lunch, consider a stop in Lockhart for some of Central Texas’ best barbecue. There’s Smitty’s Market, where the line starts right next to the open pit and the ’cue is served on sheets of paper, old-school style, like all the best Texas barbecue. (Smitty’s also serves Shiner beer, but the eatery only takes cash, so come prepared.)
Other celebrated Lockhart options include Black’s Barbecue and Kruez Market. There’s also City Market (it’s cash only here, too) and Luling Barbq, literally across the street from each other in the town of Luling.
The beer part of this adventure, naturally, happens most deliciously in Shiner. Czech and German immigrants founded a brewery here in 1909 after discovering artesian water. Bavarian Kosmos Spoetzel bought the operation, named it for himself, and continued using traditional methods as its brewmaster from 1914 to 1950. Today, Spoetzel is one of the largest independent craft brewers in the country, selling beers in all 50 states and Mexico, every drop of it brewed here.
That water is key, says Jimmy Mauric, current brewmaster.
“Beer is 93 percent water, so the local water makes Shiner special,” he explains. “The water is pristine, not chlorinated, and we use the well water only for our beers and seltzers.”
Other ingredients used at the brewery include roasted barley malt grain, a special blend of hops, and three types of yeast, including two proprietary strains. For its seasonal beers, the brewery sources special ingredients, like peaches and dewberries, locally as much as possible.
A tour of the brewery is a must. Tour packages start at $15 for guests 21 and older, $10 for guests younger than 21, and run approximately every hour, from 11 am Monday through Saturday and 1 pm Sunday. The last tour is at 4 pm every day.
You’ll be treated to a history video, a stop by a kitchen where the guide explains the beer-making process, a peek at shiny copper fermenters, and a wall of caps from all retired employees since the company started recording keeping. Plus, you’ll get a brief visit to a mock fermentation tank to check out a creative video on that process and the tiny yeast that power it.
A viewing deck overlooks the massive bottling line where the iconic brown bottles travel on moving conveyor belts, piling up like traffic on I-35. The last stop is a classic honky-tonk-style bar, walls covered with historic photographs and a display case of the different seasonal special beers the brewery has released throughout the years.
The tour ends with beer tastings — which you will definitely crave by this time — and visitors can purchase a pint (or two) of their favorites while enjoying a respite at one of the onsite picnic tables on the sprawling lawn outside.
Other local must-visit stops include Howard’s, at 1701 N. Avenue East, which looks like the typical corner gas station convenience store in every small town, but actually offers many wonders, including beers on draft and a charming biergarten out back that often features live music.
Choose from several hundred beers at Antiques, Arts and Beer, each served with complimentary peanuts and popcorn. The historic 1911 building features tin and barnwood walls, art and antiques, and, out back, a pet-friendly covered deck.
Shiner’s Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church is worth a photo stop. The red brick Romanesque Revival-style church, dedicated in 1921 and listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, features a dramatic altar backed by a painted mural, statues, and stained-glass windows. Take a look inside, and feel free to offer up a prayer of thanks for Shiner beer.