Well, someone at Shiner must have finally wised up and realized this whole craft beer thing isn't going anywhere. Because for the first time in 103 years, the Spoetzl brewery in Shiner has not one but two ales in their portfolio.
After the moderate success of its Double Wheat Ale -- Shiner 102 -- in 2011, it seems Shiner has decided that maybe, with a dream and some hope, the public might actually drink something other than lagers. Who woulda thunk it?
All kidding aside, the new ales rolling out from Shiner mark an important shift by one of the largest craft brewers -- yes, beer nerds, Spoetzl is still technically classified as such -- in the country.
After finding Wild Hare to be perfectly enjoyable (albeit surprisingly tame despite the name), I was quick to wonder about Shiner's newest offering, FM 966. Billed as a Farmhouse Provision Ale, one wonders how long the marketing team at Gambrinus debated whether to release a Shiner beer with the frightening -- not to mention polarizing -- word "Saison" printed on the bottle. Nevertheless, here we sit with a Saison from the little brewery in Shiner. Again I ask, who woulda thunk it?
Upon pouring the golden, slightly hazy beer, a noticeable funk nose becomes apparent -- which is as welcome as it is surprising. It's a tart and bright smell, with biscuit malt followed by the vague hint of rose water, all of it finished with just a slight hint of Belgian esters. If nothing else, it at least smells complex.
But forget all that. What's it taste like? There's good and bad, I suppose. The good news is that the FM 966 is a supremely enjoyable, simple beer. I enjoyed having a couple bottles of back to back. It's light and simple, with crisp, clean, slightly spicy notes that work well as it warms. It's not going to shock anyone -- even your Miller Lite-drinking grandfather.
The bad news, then, for those of you 120 beers into your plate at Flying Saucer is really just the same. It's a very small, composed beer with a little funk just at the very end -- an interesting hop profile dominated by the Golding hops that run right through the middle of the beer. It reminds me of another beer, but after several days, I still can't quite put my finger on which one. And that's the beer in a nutshell, really. It's a bit vague and it reminds me slightly of a lot of different beers, but in the end there isn't very much distinct that's going on. Personally, however, I enjoyed the beer because it was so different in its good-natured simplicity.
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To Shiner's credit, the FM 966 is still a great step. It's also an interesting second ale from a company that, by rights, has no need to make anything but the lagers -- much less a Saison -- they've made for the past century. How the public reacts to it remains to be seen, but with the word "Shiner" on the bottle, I don't think it's going to have much problem.
And as a parting thought, let's look at one other word on the bottle: "Farmhouse." Which other Texas brewery has that word very prominently on the bottle? Could we see Shiner Bock drinkers asking for bottles of Jester King a year down the road? Once again: Who woulda thunk it?