When Is an Ale Not an Ale?

When it’s a lager, of course. Let me explain.

Speaking with Jaime Jurado of the Spoetzl Brewery in Texas about the company’s new Czech-style lager, known as Shiner 101 and being bottled pretty much as I type these words, he suggested that I might also be interested in their winter seasonal, Fröst. I agreed, and since I was going to be in Miami for the Cheers Beverage Conference, suggested that the samples be shipped there instead of to my home office across the border in Canada.

So yesterday morning, in between prepping for my beer tasting seminar and wrapping up a magazine article, I pop the cap of a bottle I had nicely chilled down and proceeded to make notes on the beer. I found it to be very much in the Dortmunder style, as advertised on the label, with a little sweetness up front, firm, faintly flinty maltiness and a dry, engaging finish. Even the colour, a deep gold, seems right for the style.

But wait! What’s this on the neck label? “This classic golden ale was first brewed in Dortmund, Germany, circa 1842.” Ale? Surely not! But there it is again on the main label, right beside the “12 fl. oz.” and again in the back label copy, “…pour yourself a frösty glass of this refreshing seasonal ale.”

Colour me confused.

A quick email to Jaime resolves the issue, though. I had forgotten the obscure and ludicrous Texas law that requires all beers of above 5% alcohol to be labelled either “ale” or “malt liquor,” and the Fröst is 5.5%. As much as “Dortmunder ale” rings hollow to the ears, I agree, “Dortmunder malt liquor” would be ten times worse!

Regardless of what the label says, though, this is certainly one of the finest examples of its style I have yet tasted, and were I residing in Texas right now, I would indeed “serve (it) cold” and “serve (it) often,” as the lettering on the silver cap advises. Hell, I might even send a bottle or two to my representative in Austin to remind them of the stupidity of some of the state’s beer legislation.

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