Shiner Bock used to be one of my go-to beers. This was early in my drinking life, and I think the perceived cachet of a Texas Beer was part of the allure. Though my tastes have changed significantly, largely leaving Shiner behind, the brewery still holds a special place in my mind. Near the end of an all-day barbecue tour around central Texas a year or so back, a frosty mason jar of Shiner at Louie Mueller's in Taylor was exactly what I needed to shake off the dust of the road, reminding me that beer is about more than the nerdiness of these columns. It was cold, crisp, and refreshing, and I didn't care one bit about whether or not it was a "true bock," or any of the other typical quibbles.
Of course, there are lots of times when I do care about those things, or I wouldn't be doing this. When I saw Shiner Wild Hare sitting on the shelf at Disco Kroger, I decided to put it through the Brew Blog ringer. The last time I tried a new Shiner beer, it just reinforced my general disregard for the brand. This was a bit different, but in some odd ways.
Wild Hare pours a clear, vaguely yellow-orange amber. A one-inch head reduces to a very sudsy cap, leaving moderate lacing. I must admit, the first whiff I got was kind of exciting. I actually wrote "whoa" on my tasting notes. A Shiner with noticeable hops is a rare thing, indeed, and this one had them right up front. Pine, orange, and a hint of tropical fruit predominated, fresh and vibrant and full of promise. A malty ribbon wove through those aromas, offering dark bread and caramel contrast.
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The first thing that struck me on tasting Wild Hare was that it seemed surprisingly tart. It's a gentle but noticeable quality that manifests more as freshness than outright acidity, and it provides a nice framework for the beer. Few Shiner beers have caught my attention right out of the bottle, so I took that as a good sign.
After that initial surge, Wild Hare is well-balanced between biscuity malt and dried tropical fruit hops. For all its balance, though, nothing really comes forward. It's almost like it's perfectly balanced so as to be perfectly inoffensive. Neither the hops nor the malt is particularly prominent or flavorful, almost canceling each other out in their attempt to get along. Ultimately, the beer seems to be trying so hard to be broadly appealing that it ends up not having much to set it apart. I can find rounded, biscuit-rich, malty beers that blow it out of the water; we shouldn't even have to discuss hops; and there are lots of "missing link" brews that unite the two species.
Wild Hare is a perfectly respectable, very drinkable beer. Whatever that means. I enjoyed drinking it, and would probably drink it again. There are some nice things going on in there, and I consider it perhaps a step in the right direction. At the same time, it's almost like two steps in different directions, leaving you awkwardly straddling the line from which you started, not really getting anywhere.