To me, Shiner Prickly Pear is as synonymous with summer as a scoop of Blue Bell ice cream or a float down the San Marcos River. The golden lager, which debuted in 2012 as part of a limited-edition series, is made with Citra hops, two-row barley malt, wheat, and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. This signature ingredient—the state plant of Texas—is what gives the beer its distinct tartness.
My preferred way to drink Shiner Prickly Pear is on its own, ideally while in a tube on the river, but I’ve also paired it with burgers and carnitas and even ice cream (come to think of it, maybe Blue Bell and prickly pear need to talk). In my mind, it’s inextricably linked to good times around a campfire and quiet moments on the back porch, fireflies buzzing overhead. It’s just the right balance between sweet and sour, and the all-natural fruit flavoring isn’t overpowering like others on the market. The beer just feels like summer.
So, in 2017, when Prickly Pear was removed from the rotation entirely, I took it personally. I had to suffer through only one summer: it returned as part of the Texas Heat Wave variety pack, along with Hill Country Peach Wheat and Mango Kolsch, in 2018, and Cherry Limeade and Sea Salt & Lime, in 2019. But you couldn’t buy it on its own, which meant that in the standard six-pack, you got only two bottles of Prickly Pear, and, well, that just wasn’t enough. They’d be gone in one sitting.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. More than once in those years, I cleaned out a Kroger creating “Build Your Own Six-packs” composed entirely of Prickly Pear. And I wasn’t the only one who went to extremes. Friends recounted how they staked out the beer aisle waiting for a new shipment to arrive. When it did, it was like a mirage in the desert—there one minute, gone the next.
Normally, I’m a generous host, but the Shiner-imposed shortage turned me into a hoarder. Anyone who came to our house received a stern warning. The purple-and-green bottles in the fridge were off-limits. When Labor Day rolled around, my rationing increased in preparation for the long, Prickly Pear–less winter ahead.
Then, in December 2019, a glimmer of hope emerged as I found myself hundreds of comments deep on a particularly divisive post on Shiner’s Instagram account. The message “A classic could return at last!” appeared alongside three longnecks: Prickly Pear, Strawberry Blonde, and Sea Salt & Lime. The caption, for better or for worse, encouraged followers to vote for their favorite in the comments section.
Threats were made, expletives hurled. Prickly Pear was touted as the best barbecue companion, the best shower beer after a long day of yard work, and the best drink for floating the river. From coast to coast, and as far away as the United Kingdom, came hundreds of comments and cactus emojis. Reinforcements were called in. “Mama NEEDS Prickly Pear,” typed one woman, tagging two friends and imploring them to vote.
For some, it was love at first sip (“Prickly pear was the first shiner I ever had and have been in love ever since 😍”) or a symbol of their love (“It’s the beer that my now husband and I bonded over when we first met 4 years ago”). There were testimonials detailing the agony of devotees in its absence. “I cried for a week when you didn’t bring it back!” lamented one commenter. As a last resort, a man said, he’d considered trying to brew it himself.
But perhaps there was no better statement than this: “Prickly. Pear. Because, Texas, d—it.” In that moment, I knew I’d found my people.
When the dust settled, Spoetzl Brewery announced that Prickly Pear six- and twelve-packs would again grace shelves in 2020. We had gotten our wish. Then the pandemic happened. Forget cracking open a cold one with friends: we sipped Prickly Pear in isolation.
Now, with hot vax summer upon us, it seems only fair that we should be able to toast to the end of a hellish year and a half with an endless supply of Prickly Pear. Instead, we are reminded of this truth: the beer gods giveth and the beer gods taketh away. Prickly Pear no longer has stand-alone seasonal status, and it’s relegated once again to a variety pack. Why, Shiner, why?
“There’s only so much room on the shelf, so much beer that we can put out,” says Nick Weiland, Shiner’s senior brand manager. “We’d love to make every single beer available to our fans all the time, but unfortunately we can’t.”
There are a number of factors at play. “Sometimes a beer will specifically go into a variety pack because it adds to the range of styles and makes that a pack people want,” Weiland says. This year, buyers might pick up the Texas Heat Wave for Prickly Pear and end up falling for the new Agua Fresca. It’s a sensible business move, but, like a close encounter with the spiny armor of the beer’s namesake, this decision cuts deep. Prickly Pear die-hards will not be placated.
Still, I wondered why Prickly Pear hasn’t become a year-round staple, like previous summer seasonals Ruby Redbird or Sea Salt & Lime. Sales data is proprietary, Weiland says, but I crunched the numbers on that Instagram post, and Prickly Pear received almost three times as many votes as Sea Salt & Lime.
“There’s not necessarily a specific threshold, like, ‘Okay, if we hit an exact number of cases sold, it turns into a year-round beer,’ ” Weiland explains. Sometimes the beer meets a certain need, as was the case for Ruby Redbird. “At that time, there wasn’t a light, fruity, easy-drinking style in our year-round portfolio, and it fit the bill.”
Allow me to make my closing argument: Prickly Pear is that perfect bridge between Cerveza de Verano, Shiner’s agave-infused Mexican-style lager, and the fruit-forward, low-cal varieties like Ruby Redbird and the dewberry Weisse ’n’ Easy. It’s not as malty as the Wicked Juicy IPA, and it’s more substantial than a hard seltzer. And Prickly Pear isn’t bound to one season either. I can personally attest that it tastes just as good with Thanksgiving leftovers. Lastly, I like what the prickly pear itself represents: a wild, rugged, tougher-than-nails native that preceded the Hill Country peach or Poteet strawberry. Because, Texas, d—it.
“If that contingent out there really loves it enough to evangelize and get the rest of us on board, we’ll make it,” Weiland says.
Spread the word. It’s time to end the drought—permanently.