Saturday, November 01, 2008

Small Towns of Texas - Shiner

We've moved into our home for November, a park on the Guadalupe River named Huaco Springs. It's one of a number of parks and canoe/tube rental facilities along the river, and during this time of year, is fairly quiet. The river is low this time of year, and because of a year-long drought and near-record low water at the Canyon Lake reservoir, may remain low for some time to come. What's nice about this park is that the sites are large and they're set up so that you can either back in or pull in for a view of the river. We chose to pull in, and it's nice to have a river view through our "picture window". It's still in the 80s each day here, which allows us to sit outside in the evening and listen to the water rushing through the rapids. The river is very pretty, with large cyprus trees along the banks and Cormorant and Heron visiting to look for fish. It's nice here now, but we wouldn't want to be here in the summer when the "toobing" is taking place; this is a large campground and their "quiet time" rule doesn't start until midnight. We'll be here for the month, then head a bit north to Blanco State Park.
One of the enjoyable aspects of our lifestyle is exploring small towns. A few days ago we visited Shiner, whose welcome sign that announces it's the "Cleanest little town in Texas" just might be correct. It's the home of Shiner Beer, a legendary beer here in Texas that is now being sold throughout the country. It's not surprising that there's a brewery here; the population is over 50% Czech and German, and in 1914 the locals, who yearned for a beer like in the "old country", hired a brewmaster named Kosmas Spoetzl. They've been producing great "craft" beer ever since. Having been on the Budweiser and Coors brewery tour, this one was a bit different - the entire operation consists of 60 employees, and only one of the seven beers is made at a time. The day of our tour, Shiner Bock, the biggest seller, was being produced. The tour didn't take very long, and afterward we were treated to our choice of three four-ounce tastes (the holiday brew, made with pecans and apricots, was very, very good). The Shiner story is one of those feel-good stories; it's presence has contributed to the local economy, they have a loyal group of employees (one retired after 60 years on the job), and they seem to enjoy what they do. They even close on weekends so that employees can be with their families. The little town is also special with manicured lawns, neat houses, and picturesque parks (complete with bandstand). This is an area of many small Czech and German communities, and each town has a large church or two. In shiner, the Saint Cyril and Methodious church dominates the skyline. It's one of the 15 "painted churches" listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, all of Czech or German heritage. Having grown up in Northeast Ohio, I somehow thought that all the Czechs settled in that area - I'm still amazed at how many are in Texas, and how many bakeries advertise "kolache". In fact, we bought a dozen on our trip to Shiner, and the poppyseed were incredible.
Occasionally we'll come across something really clever; on the road to our RV site we came across this mailbox. Come back and see us as we continue our search for the perfect kolache!

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