By Staff Blogger Tom Cramer
Images by Tom Cramer
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to Austin Texas for the first time and stayed with family. When they asked if there were any special things I wanted to see or do, a visit to Jester King Brewery was high on my list.
To be honest, I’m still not a big fan of farmhouse style ales. During my time in Belgium back in the 90’s, I tried a lot of different styles, and my least favorites were saisons, bieres de garde, gueuzes and sours. Being a craft beer enthusiast, it’s been impossible to ignore how popular some of these styles have become in recent years. And if you travel a lot or have ever dabbled in trading, I’m sure you’ve heard of the offerings from De Garde, Crooked Stave, Hill Farmstead and Jester King.
I believe the first beer from Jester King I ever heard of was called Black Metal. I googled it, and landed on the Jester King website. It is described as a Farmhouse Imperial Stout. I’d never heard of such a thing. I explored the rest of the site, and was intrigued that they were in Austin - and the description of “an authentic farmhouse brewery… in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.”
This was something I had to see, and I got my wish on the Friday after Thanksgiving. My 4 year old great niece Eloise was not as excited by our destination as I was, and campaigned hard to go to Chick-Fil-A because they had an indoor playground.
When we entered the grounds, the first thing I noticed was that there were multiple sections of parking, and there were a lot of cars. I had no idea how much land they had.
What a great setting, and it was very family friendly. It didn’t take Elosie long at all to find other kids to play with, and she forgot all about Chik-Fil-A. Success!
We got in line to try some Jester King beers on tap, and to enquire about tours. Turns out we were just in time for the 5 pm tour, and that it wasn’t only allowed, but encouraged to have a beer in hand during the tour. Knowing a 4 year old wouldn’t be interested in the tour, my nephew Joe’s wife Jill decided to hang back and get some pizzas ordered from Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, which is right next door.
The tour was fantastic. It was given by Jeffrey Stuffings, President and founder of Jester King. He did an excellent job of explaining the concept of Jester King; a brewery that is inseparable from the land on which it is located and the people making the beer. A true farmhouse brewery.
Jester King uses water from a 700 foot deep well on the premises, and as many grains and fruits as possible from Texas. They have recently purchased an extra 58 acres surrounding the brewery, so they can begin making it into a working farm and grow more of their own ingredients.
They still need some things from other states, likecherries from Michigan, and hops from the Pacific Northwest. While I’m not sure cherries will ever grow in the Texas Hill Country like they do in Michigan, Jeffrey told us of a hop strain indigenous to the Southwest (neomexicanus) that they are going to experiment with.
The tour was in three stages, ending with their coolship, where Jeffrey explained spontaneous fermentation with wild airborne yeast, before taking questions (I wish I snapped a pic of the coolship.)
At the tour’s end, he was gracious enough to invite anyone who wanted to stay and ask him further questions, or just talk beer. The one thing that came through loud and clear was his integrity and passion for what he is doing, which I respect immensely.
While I was dying to get to meet him in person, it was time to get back to the others and have some pizza, which was very good. If you ever get a chance to go to Jester King, I highly recommend it.
And, I must say that I enjoyed the Jester King beers I tried – there’s hope for me yet!