The old ideals of brewing seasonally and using local ingredients have long been replaced by year-round brewing and consistent beers, even at the famous and classic Belgian farmhouse breweries, thus removing that essential seasonal element. At Jester King, just outside Austin, Texas, they’ve brought those fundamentals back and are making them mean something genuine again; this is one of the only breweries where the terms “seasonal” and “farmhouse” mean anything substantial and real.
To Jester King, the words “farmhouse” and “seasonal” mean beers that grow uniquely in a particular time and place. Land, air, and the changing seasons dictate the beers they make and they have no interest in seasonal trends; when an ingredient is ready, they’ll brew with it and then when the beer’s ready, they’ll release it. Everything has its own timeframe, which is managed by nature’s calendar and not a release schedule.
Jester King—The Ultimate Farmhouse Brewers A Genuine Approach To Seasonal Brewing Photo Gallery
It’s a holistic approach and much more detailed than my simplified distillation of their philosophy. Central to it all is their yeast. This was captured and cultivated from the land on which the brewery sits (a 58-acre/23-hectare ranch) by picking herbs and fruits, and by allowing the different microorganisms to flourish or fade away. That mixed culture of yeast and bacteria has been evolving since they first started using it, always moving in different directions, and also changing with the seasons: in summer, when it’s warmer, the yeast is worked harder and produces more fruity esters and spice; in winter, the yeast is more chilled out and that allows the bacteria to produce more acid. It’s a natural, seasonal variation, which the brewery embraces.
Jester King’s use of hops is particularly fascinating: every beer they produce includes a proportion of aged hops, which the brewers store in a barn located on their ranch for a few years to allow them to dry fully (theoretically these hops should give no bitterness, yet beers brewed with only the old hops come back with a recorded IBU). The hops are a flavor element in Jester King beers—although rarely a prominent one —and instead fulfil the additional role of being a “lever” in the beer; the antibacterial properties of hops can change a beer’s profile by manipulating its microbial properties. Simply: more hops means less acidity. The hops are also a gatekeeper for good and bad bacteria, allowing the good through and removing the bad, where they later combine with the acidity and pH level to repeat the process of removing any less-good bacteria.
They use as much Texas grain as possible. They have their own well water, which has a high mineral content. It isn’t necessarily flawless brewing water, but it’s the water they have and so that’s what they use.
They have an orchard (peaches, plums, and blackberries to begin with, more to follow) and farm their land. The fruit is important, as they change what they brew depending on what’s just been harvested. And while all the beers vary, they also all come from the well-attenuated, hop-bitter, and yeastforward school of Saisons and pale Belgian ales, which gives them a consistent base.
There’s also a coolship in the brewery that they can use from December to February when the Austin air is cool enough to brew spontaneously fermented beers. They began this project in 2012 and started releasing these beers—called SPON—three years later, using the traditional production method of Gueuze and producing something similar and reminiscent of the classics, but with a unique flavor profile that gives more lemons, tannins, fruit pith, and leather.
The majority of the Jester King beers are sold on site and that’s how they want it to be: drink beers with a flavor that is a unique reflection of the place and time, in the location in which they were brewed. The space is also spectacular, being set in so much quiet, rural, rolling ranch land. There’s a pizza restaurant next door, too. You’ll see as many kids and dogs running around as you’ll see beer geeks repeatedly running back to the bar—and this bar has numerous drafts, the latest releases, guest beers, wine, and cider, plus a large bottle selection, some of which, like SPON, is only available in the brewery and has to be drunk there.
Jester King have reinvented the idea of farmhouse beers and seasonality, and made it mean something once more. To drink their exceptional beers at the brewery and to be surrounded by the nature that shaped those beers is a special thing.
Jester King manage to produce seasonal beers that do justice to the brewery’s stunning rural backdrop.
WHAT: Jester King Brewery
HOW: Ideally, you need a car to visit, but that means having a designated driver. You can use ride-share apps in Austin (but not Uber at the time of writing) and it’ll cost between US$3050 each way. The brewery bar is open on Fridays (4-10pm), Saturdays (12-10pm), and Sundays (12-9pm). There are often brewery tours, so just ask at the bar (www.jesterkingbrewery. com).
WHERE: 13187 Fitzhugh Road, Austin, Texas 78736, USA