When you think of “Texas” and “bock,” you probably think of Shiner, the iconic dark lager brewed in the town of that name since 1913.
Shiner (pop. 2,100) is a company town, home to the Spoetzl brewery, producer of Shiner Bock; the town and its beer are inextricably linked.
So in October, it looked pretty odd when three billboards appeared around town featuring a large can of Houston-brewed Crawford Bock. The billboards ostensibly promoted the local Shiner Music Festival, although the beer can and its retro Houston Astros label art dwarfed the concert info. Signage at the concert proclaimed, “There’s a new Bock in Shiner.”
Crawford Bock, it should be noted, is a product of Karbach Brewing Co.—owned since 2016 by Anheuser-Busch InBev.
This campaign on Spoetzl’s home turf prompted it to write a letter of protest in the Shiner Gazette newspaper (and to have its public relations team reach out to journalists around the country, to let them know all about it).
The “new Bock in Shiner,” the letter says, “is not the 110 percent independent and family-owned Shiner Bock. Our beers proudly wear the Brewers Association’s ‘Certified Independent Craft’ seal on our labels—something an A-B–owned beer will never be able to do.”
The letter notes that the global beer company bought Karbach as “part of A-B’s larger scheme to acquire craft breweries around the United States and use its huge plants to produce the former craft beers they now own. A-B does not want you to know that Karbach is produced at the formerly craft Karbach brewery and at its large, low-cost A-B plant in Houston.
“This is a huge company with deep pockets seeking to force its way into our town.”
The letter also says that A-B has tried to imitate Shiner Bock before, as with ZiegenBock and Michelob Amber Bock. “But they can try again. It won’t be the first time some local Texans faced unbelievable odds. We’ve got pride on our side. We are proud of our beer, proud of our independence, proud of our heritage, proud of our authenticity, and proud to be in Shiner, Texas.”
Crawford Bock didn’t appear until 2019, just before the first pitch of baseball season. A-B’s Karbach released it in partnership with the Houston Astros.
So the Crawford Bock is new, yet it does look familiar—and not just because of the label art. It is a smooth, dark lager of 4.5 percent ABV and 15 IBUs, while Shiner Bock is… a smooth, dark lager of 4.4 percent ABV and 13 IBUs. One interpretation would be that the Crawford Bock is a sincere form of flattery.
How did it become the main sponsor of a festival in Shiner Bock’s own town? Apparently, that happened when Spoetzl, which has supported the local Lions Club’s Shiner Music Festival for years, decided not to be the main sponsor in 2019. That opened an opportunity for a new top sponsor, so the organizers went to local beer wholesaler Del Papa, a 110-year-old company that primarily distributes Anheuser-Busch products in 17 Texas counties.
“I got a call from Del Papa Distributing in Shiner, Texas, a few months back, and they asked if we’d partner on their sponsorship of the Shiner Lions Club’s Shiner Music Fest,” says David Graham, Karbach’s brand manager. “Shiner Music Fest has a rich history in the area and one that is important to the community, so we were happy to sign on and support the event with Crawford Bock for the occasion.”
Spoetzl spokeswoman Eleanor Judge says that Shiner Bock was a sponsor this year and has sponsored the festival for many years. The festival’s website, meanwhile, lists Crawford Bock as the “copper kettle sponsor,” apparently the top level of support. Shiner Bock is listed below among four other companies as “keg sponsors.”
Spoetzl’s parent company is San Antonio–based Gambrinus Company, which also owns Trumer of Berkeley, California. In 2018, according to the Brewers Association, Gambrinus was the country’s sixth largest craft-brewing company and 15th largest beer company overall, although its BridgePort Brewing Company in Portland closed in February 2019.