I have a whole case worth of beers I want to talk about, so let's crack the top on this one.
I do two kinds of beer reviews: the local ones that I seek out and buy for myself, and the more wide-ranging brands that the promo folks send for my consideration. Just like screeners for TV shows, but more fun. I will say up front when I'm talking about a free beer, and this is one of them.
Shiner FM966 Farmhouse Ale is a new beer by the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner Texas (I had to look it up: it's south of I-10 between Houston and San Antonio). This 104-year-old brewer's German roots mean it focuses mainly on lager beers, but this is only their second ale, after last year's Wild Hare Pale Ale. The "Farmhouse" style is more or less Saison, which had its roots in beer brewed on the farms of Wallonia in French-speaking Belgium. The style is typically brewed in the cool spring to serve farmhands during the hot summer months, so this beer is named after the Texas state Farm to Market highway that serves Shiner.
It's a pale ale which can show a lot of fruity esters as the weather warms up. Commercial versions like this will forgo the funk or possible sourness of wild yeast, but usually the style will still be a pale ale with extra wheat in the grist, some haziness, and more carbonation than most bottled beers. The info sheet says this was made with Sterling Golden hops for bittering, then has a late addition and dry-hop with Meridian, a new hop variety from Oregon described as adding notes of lemon, tropical fruit, or even mint. Bitterness is a low 20.7 IBU and alcohol is 5.9% abv.
For a mass-marketed saison, it acquits itself pretty well. There's a general malty smell, then after a first sip some bubblegum ester comes into my nose. The beer pours a golden, clear filtered color under a thick but fizzy head in my Duvel glass, with column of bubbles that keep on coming. The taste has that complex savory quality from wheat malt and what tastes like a Saison yeast, though it’s most likely Shiner’s house strain. No bitterness, just enough to counteract the normal malt sweetness. Many saisons will have some yeast in the bottle for refermentation, but the Shiner version doesn't. Most large quantity brewers choose to filter their farmhouse beers to avoid too much variation in taste. Definitely not a lawnmower beer, but rather for after chores and before dinner.
FM 966 is a spring seasonal, but it should be available in most well-stocked beer stores. It has also been on tap at a few outlets in this area.