If you lamented the retirement of the limited-edition Shiner 99, the Munich-style helles lager that Spoetzl Brewery released back in 2008, you're in luck: This is a very similar beer.
It's not what I expected from a winter beer: fairly clean and crisp in comparison to most of the rock-heavy, high-alcohol things we often expect to give us a fuzzy blanket against the chill. But then, that recent freeze notwithstanding, we don't really have winter in Texas, do we? Instead, this is a "Dortmunder Style beer," first brewed in 1842 by coal miners in Germany, according to Spoetzl brewer Jimmy Mauric: "We just finished the Holiday Cheer, a darker, heavier, festive beer, and fading into the spring, we wanted something kind of intermediate," he says. "It's got the malt profile of a helles but more the hop character of a pils. It's kind of in-between those two products."
Speaking of Shiner, keep an eye out in February for 101, its new pilsner. Shiner is having fun with its new marketing campaign – the brewery sent me a poster written completely in Czech.
Real Ale Phoenixx Double ESB
I didn't have high expectations, as the ESB (Extra Special Bitter) style doesn't usually get me too excited. But I'm really liking this. The first thing that hits you is the heavy malts, but it's no doppelbock – very quickly you start to notice strong, floral hop notes cutting their way through the thick malt jungle, clearing a path that you'll want to explore again and again.
"We wanted to brew more of a medium-strength beer for winter that was hoppy," says brewer Erik Ogershok. "We wanted to make [it] like a hoppy, strong English beer. ... It's English ingredients, English hops ... but it's hopped to American levels – it's over 50 IBUs [international bittering units]. The label says ESB, but that's not really fair; it's more like an English strong ale, but hoppy."
Phoenixx isn't new – Real Ale Brewing Company's been selling it draught-only for four years now, but this is the first time it's been available in bottles. (Props to the label designer for the homage to the old Trans Am Firebird logo.)
Neither of these beers made my head spin (in the taste sense, not the alcohol sense; the Phoenixx is 7.2% alcohol by volume), but they're solid enough that I'll buy more. I'd grade both a high B and worth your money.
Lee Nichols blogs about beer at www.i-love-beer.blogspot.com.