This Historic Texas Brewery Is Now Making Spirits
Shiner debuts a vodka, gin and corn whiskey, with aged spirits on the way
Ask a non-Texan to name three significant Texas icons, and they’re likely to say the Dallas Cowboys, Matthew McConaughey and Shiner Bock beer. The latter has held sway inside the state since the brewery opened in 1909, and in the past couple of decades, it has become synonymous with Texas beer, even as the local brewing scene has heated up. Now, the historic brewery is expanding its purview with a new distillery and a just-launched portfolio of spirits.
“We’ve been talking about doing this for a few years now,” Jessica Michalec, the Head of Distilling Operations, tells InsideHook. “Beer is the base for all spirits, so we were already halfway there. Our brewing capabilities let us make the transition naturally.”
A fourth-generation Shiner native, Michalec has worked at the Spoetzl Brewery for over seven years. When the team began thinking about starting the distillery, they contacted a local Shiner museum historian and uncovered a rich history of distilling in surrounding Lavaca County. Turns out, the locals were making liquor before and during Prohibition, as corroborated by sales receipts for stills and firsthand accounts of bootlegging operations at area farms. So the newly formed K. Spoetzl Distilling Company wasn’t bringing distillation to the town of Shiner — they were revitalizing it.
Shiner commissioned a copper pot still and two rectifying columns from a Scottish stillmaker, and they built the distillery in an old cellar, which sits beside the brewery taproom. Everything they make begins its life as Shiner beer — all spirits start as brewed mash before distillation — so the brewery’s character is included in each batch. As an ode to the past, each batch also passes through a copper collection vessel called a grant, that was designed by Shiner’s legendary brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl in 1947.
The vodka is made from corn and barley, and it’s distilled twice in the pot still before moving through both column stills. The first column has three trays, and the second has 20, so if you count each tray as a mini-distillation (which Shiner does), the vodka is distilled a total of 25 times. The spirit comes off the still at 190 proof. It’s filtered through carbon, chill-filtered and blended with the same artesian water as the beers before it’s bottled at 80 proof. The vodka is easygoing, with notes of sweet grains and mild, creamy vanilla.
The London Dry-style gin starts out as the vodka, but it’s brought down to 100 proof and then distilled again through the pot still with a vapor gin basket containing juniper, Rio Grande Valley grapefruit peels and other botanicals. It’s a solid swap for your usual London Dry, and it works well in simple cocktails like the Gin and Tonic.
Shiner has also released an unaged 90-proof whiskey dubbed Shiner Shine. It’s made from a blend of corn, rye and malted barley and is copper pot distilled. It’s unmistakably grain-forward, and anyone who’s tasted whiskey straight off a still will recognize the sweet mash aromas and flavors. This same liquid is in barrels now and will be released as the brand’s bourbon in about two years, at which point it will have more structure and be imbued with additional flavors from its time in oak.
Michalec says more spirits are coming down the road, including a rye whiskey and a Scotch-style single malt. That will give Shiner a formidable lineup to compete with the growing spate of Texas craft distilleries.
Eventually, Shiner spirits will hit store shelves and more markets, but for now, you can find the vodka, gin and shine at the K. Spoetzl Distilling Company in Shiner. Purchase a few bottles to take home, or take a tour of the facility and then hang out in the tasting room, where you can sip cocktails on tap. Of course, any smart pilgrimage will also include a visit to Shiner’s brewery next door, as well as the recently opened Spoetzl BBQ Co., which serves meat by the pound, sandwiches and all the sides. You’ll need something to soak up those drinks.
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