Ask for a Shiner in any Texas bar and you're almost certain to get a Shiner Bock without any need to clarify, despite the array of other brews offered by the Spoetzl brewery under the Shiner name. In fact, Shiner Bock is so synonymous with Spoetzl that many casual beer drinkers may not even be aware that it offers other varieties.
I find this strange, because, at the risk of being accused of treason, Shiner Bock is by far my least favorite Shiner beer. But it shouldn't be so surprising. Shiner's version of a bock is a very accessible, drinkable beer with just a bit more sweet maltiness than your average macrobrewed lager. It's a safe, consistent and nonthreatening choice, so it stands to reason that it would outsell the brewery's other, more flavorful offerings that scare off people accustomed to the Bud Lights of the world.
Which got me thinking about other breweries best known for their most basic, crowd-pleasing products -- the beers that I (and, I suspect, many other beer lovers) find to be the least interesting. With the help of fellow beer-loving Dallas Observer colleagues Kelly Dearmore and Daniel Hopkins, I present Breweries Whose Best-Known Beers Are Also Their Least Interesting.
Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner Bock
Brewed since 1913, Shiner Bock is without question the flagship beer of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. Perhaps its popularity is due to it being something of a compromise between fuller-bodied German-style bocks and the light-bodied lagers preferred by many Texans, who like a cold and refreshing beer to fight off the heat. Whatever the case, Shiner Bock is a mediocre beer from a brewery that offers far better brews, such as its Black Lager, the peach-and-pecan-flavored holiday Cheer or the excellent, rich doppelbock 100 Commemorator.
New Belgium Fat Tire
This amber ale is a middle-of-the-road example of a middle-of-the-road style. But if selling this beer by the truckload keeps New Belgium around, I'm all for it. Anything to support a business that in turn supports arts in its community -- especially when that business also offers superior brews like the 1554 Enlightened Black Ale and the lovely Tripel.
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Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn Lager
Brooklyn Lager is a great example of a drinkable lager, with a nice hop presence that gives it far more personality than the average beer of its style. Brooklyn's brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, is one of the craft beer industry's greatest advocates -- and a great guy, judging from the chances I've had to talk with him. But Brooklyn makes far better beers than its signature lager, such as the phenomenal Russian imperial Black Chocolate Stout, the fantastic strong saison Local 1 and the beautiful dark Belgian-style Local 2.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Let's give credit where credit is due: If it weren't for Samuel Adams and the enduring popularity of the company's Boston Lager, the craft-brew industry would be a vastly different scene -- and probably an even smaller part of the beer market. Brewmaster Jim Koch coined the term "extreme beer" (for better or for worse), pushes the envelope with brews like the 27-percent ABV Utopias and gives homebrewers a chance at fame with the LongShot contest. Yet his most popular beer is also his least interesting. Like Brooklyn Lager, Boston Lager is an above-average lager, though on the malty rather than hoppy side of the spectrum. But it's not nearly as memorable as other Sam Adams offerings such as the awesome Imperial Double Bock.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
I hesitate to include this one, as it is an enormously influential touchstone of American pale ales. Yet, Kelly and Daniel both mentioned it in separate conversations -- and I'll have to admit, it's pretty far down the list of Sierra Nevada beers that I'll order at a bar. Perhaps that's because it's been around so long -- and spawned so many hop-heavy West Coast imitators -- that I take it for granted. Whatever the reason, I'm far more likely to order one of their porters or stouts -- or, when possible, special limited-edition offerings like the Fritz and Ken's 30th Anniversary Stout.
The historic San Francisco brewery's Steam is a trademarked term for a method used in the late 19th century in California to ferment lager at higher temperatures. Innovative and unique, perhaps, not to mention crisp and refreshing. But Anchor makes far better beers like its rich porter and Old Foghorn barleywine -- not to mention its holiday seasonal Our Very Special Ale, year after year one of the most consistently great and anticipated beers.