Faith can be a dangerous intoxicant in business. In a sense, you almost have to be drunk with it to get anything off the ground. You at least need a healthy buzz to quell the voices of caution in your head (and from well-meaning friends) telling you to play it safe. But eventually “you’ll never know unless you try” becomes a cliché that haunts you until you do.
So here we sat sipping a glass of Gotlandsdricka, an ancient Viking ale brewed with smoked malt, juniper berries and gale (I went to culinary school and even I don’t know what that is), freshly poured from a gravity keg in a craft beer laundromat talking about how life is full of surprises. Nowadays, Jester King most certainly does not have to sell most of their beer out of state. In fact, according to Jeff, 85% of their liquid produce is sold every weekend directly to customers at their brewery tours.
Weekends at Jester King have turned into a weekly pilgrimage for many devoted fans seeking an escape from crazy Austin traffic and a taste of something deeply connected to the land that results from a process that refuses to be rushed. But it hasn’t always been that way. Cultivating a family friendly environment that flies in the face of traditional American macrobrew culture has been work. Jeff still grimaces as he recalls a painful episode when they first started out. A couple “booze crews” party buses pulled up filled with college kids bent on having a weekend they couldn’t remember and before the day was out they had started a brawl on the patio. “It was so embarrassing” Jeff admits. “We had to kick everybody out and close down for the day.” Luckily for all of us, the craft beer community has been quick to show the “drink to get drunk” crowd the door.
Weekend tours haven’t been the only thing requiring intentionality. According to Jeff, the risks involved with trying to harness a wild microorganism to produce the desired result have been frustrating at times. “We probably dump more beer than any other brewery.” As they continue to add layer upon layer of natural processes attempting to culminate in delicious complexity the results don’t always taste like success. Combine that with a beer list that rarely sees the same beer brewed twice and you have the essence of educated guessing. “We’ve had a batch of Noble King in barrels for about 18 months now that isn’t where we want it to be. We’ll give it a little bit more time but we’ll probably end up tossing it.” Sacrifices like that, however, have paid off. Jester King is in the beer media so regularly that they’re practically a no-brainer for anyone putting together a list of top breweries you ought to know about by now.
But long before anyone in the beer world knew who they were or even had a working definition of “farmhouse ale” Jeff, Michael Steffing, and Ron Extract had a pretty dialed in picture of what could happen when you connect with the land around you and allow nature a little more elbow room to work its magic.
And believe me when I say that’s a good thing. Cheers.