One does not mess with Texas or Texans, or with the things the residents of the Lone Star State hold dear. In recent decades, along with the Dallas Cowboys, beanless chili, salty barbecue, big blonde hair, and breast implants, a beer with a yellow label has come to symbolize Texas. It's Shiner Bock, from the little town of Shiner -- not 60 miles from where I sit right now, lest you think I'm some damnyankee (always one word, just like y'all) from Wisconsin dissin' another regional brew.
One doesn't mess with those Texas icons, either. It does no good to tell a Texan that the jalapeno, the cayenne, and the serrano are chiles, he'll still misspell the word 'chili.' But, then, most of those who spell it correctly aren't much interested in the Texas version, anyway. It does no good to point out that the best barbecue joints in the country are in Memphis, Texans won't listen -- he'll keep payin' $13 for two slices of Wonder Bread, a pickle, an onion slab, and ten ounces of brisket covered with equal parts ketchup and salt. It does no good to mention that half the country roots for ABC (Anybody But the Cowboys); he will still pray to St. Landry every Sunday afternoon. And last, but not least, it does no good to tell him that Shiner Bock just ain't all it's cracked up to be. It was brewed in Texas and that makes it taste better!
Now you can go ahead and lecture me all about the brewing process and fling about words like 'wort,' 'fermentation,' 'pasteurization,' and 'krausen.' I already know those words -- I brew my own beer on occasion. You can summarize the long history of the eastern European (Slovak, Slovenian, Hungarian, Czech, whatever) immigrants to central Texas; it don't mean jack -- my mother's a Scot and I couldn't distill a good single malt to save my skin (but that doesn't stop me from drinking them)!
What you can't tell me is that Shiner Bock is a top-notch beer. It's not. No way, no how -- not while there are real bocks on the market. Shiner is too thin, too weak to call itself a true bock. It lacks the character to stand on its own, tasting more like Michelob Dark (do they still sell that swill?) than a classic German Bock. True bocks are dark and malty, with only the slightest suspicion of hops. A complex version of bock will bring you flavor notes of molasses and an almost winey mouth feel -- a flavor sensation that remains on your tongue for a moment after the liquid itself has gone. Shiner? well, it's more like a dark version of an American Lager, sort of what a Budweiser Dark might taste like. It's thin and crisp -- too crisp for a bock -- with a hint of malt and (like most American beers) not the slightest hop note. Twenty-five years ago, when they were still just a regional midwestern beer, Stroh's sold a bock version around Easter time -- Shiner's version reminds me a great deal of that lasting taste of the Detroit River (I mean that nostalgically, by the way).
This is not a top-shelf beer, and -- if it were brewed in Oklahoma or Arkansas -- would probably not enjoy the popularity it has in the Lone Star State. All things considered, though, there is something to be said for loyalty to your roots; so if you love Texas and all things Texan, do yourself this favor. Set your Shiner aside for the moment and try a classic bock instead. You'll find a rush of flavor in the dark, creamy brew that will leave you wondering -- as do I -- why Shiner is held in such esteem, when there's better beer out there.