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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

Shiner beer hops into its 100th year


SHINER, Texas - By all accounts, Shiner beer shouldn't have made it this long. The Spoetzl Brewery ferments its brew in a one-stoplight town that's not on the way to anywhere, and much larger regional brewers long ago succumbed to consolidation and the muscle of national brewers.

For years, Spoetzl limped along with cast-off parts from other breweries and lingered on the brink of shutting down. But today, at 100 years of age, Shiner beers are more popular than ever, and it is the oldest and largest craft brewer in a state where people cling fiercely to their beer and to all things Texan.

"It's the classic little guy story," said Mike Renfro, author of Shine On, a book about the brewery. "They managed to overcome some pretty incredible odds."

Before Prohibition and easy interstate travel, the nation was dotted with small regional brewers, but only a handful have survived.

For example, August Schell Brewing Co. and Stevens Point Brewery, maker of Point beers, sell primarily in the Midwest.

In Texas, there's just Shiner now, and it's growing. The brewery now produces 400,000 barrels a year, 10 times what it did 20 years ago, and distributes to 39 states, selling particularly well with ex-Texans and Texas-themed restaurants, company officials say.

The beer industry went through a series of consolidations in the 1960s and 1970s. The big Texas regional brands, Pearl and Lone Star, were acquired by Illinois-based Pabst Brewing Co. Spoetzl stayed independent, surviving mostly because of a loyal following among Austin drinkers.

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