Words and photos by Ben Wilson
The pub is pretty noisy tonight; there’s a party going on. High gain, high decibels, but it’s nothing to do with me. One of the waitresses, a friend of mine, is sitting across the table, looking bored. She’s the perfect model for a sketch; detached, made up, just the right amount of otherworldly beauty with a hint of cynicism. Epicanthic folds and an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, riddled with indecipherable emotions. I love subjects like her; she makes you feel her story.
The story. Right. And Jester King? Jester King is nothing like this place.
I’m in Addison, on the north side of Dallas, on a Texas winter’s night. This equates to temperatures in the 60s. There was a rainstorm earlier. Last year at this time, I was in New York, dealing with Hoth-level temps, bad attitudes and worse drivers. The drivers really haven’t changed. They’re almost as aggressive in Dallas as they were in NY, but at least people give each other a little bit of following distance.
Right. Jester King.
See, it’s easy to get lost; to think about other places and other times. Jester King is just… one of those special places. A place that seems outside of time, in it’s own dimension. Like Jolly Pumpkin, or Cantillon. An apt descriptor, really. We’ll get to that part.
Down in the hill country, west of Austin, there’s a brewery, on a ranch, nestled amongst the oak trees. Situated atop a natural aquifer–with, apparently, the right amount of salts to get a perfect, slightly tart, slightly hoppy, slightly malty profile–Jester King makes beers. Some would say sour beers. Not… exactly. Not just sour. Balanced.
You drive down a backcountry road to get there, and as you go, you see the countryside change. There are hints of the southwest desert, hints of the Oregon outback, and a lot of solitude. Distance. Freedom. You, your Jeep (you don’t drive a Jeep? I’m sorry. We can still be friends. Lots of my friends are wrong, all the time), the road; just a wide open, purely American vista, where you can breathe. And then you see it. The sign for Jester King: a barrel with horns. And a gravel road. The experience is reminiscent of rolling into the Ommegang brewery; open fields, lots of people, and picnic tables.
There are differences, of course. Jester King is a small distro brewery, and it has strong hints of Southern Gothic, chandeliers hanging from oak trees, stone buildings, and a delicious smell of wood-fired pizza. The pizza is a different business, but cooperative. There’s an indoor bar and an outdoor bar, and a bottle shop.
When I first emailed Jester King, I didn’t expect to get a response from Jeffrey Stuffings, the man himself. I’ve only experienced this level of friendliness coupled with humility a few times before; Ommegang, Troegs, Genesee, some others. Despite the fact that brewers are super cool, down to earth people, you get some snobs. Early success gets in the eyes, and suddenly a small success means that you’re better, above average, and you don’t give two shits about the drinkers.
But the whole time, I heard direct from the source. And while Jester King is a small distribution brewery, the rep is huge. They’ve done
collaborations with the best in the business, and their product–his product–doesn’t take second fiddle. J welcomes the road-weary with open arms, and in this case, the road-weary end up hanging out with him and Jensen (who brews for Pure Project, in San Diego, CA). Jensen is yet another super cool guy who can talk shop with the best of ‘em. Haven’t had his beers yet; soon, man. Soon.
When I say open arms, I really mean epic bottle share. Taking the tour this time around, I got some wicked good photos; especially of the coolship loft. Cantillon, widely recognized as the best (don’t give me that about blah blah being better. Naff off, Cantillon kicks ass) in the
lambic business, has a ballin’ coolship setup a lot like these dudes; stained glass windows, oak ceiling, trouble lights, and a million little touches that bring in the wild bugs of the hill country, and inoculate the beer chilling in the giant copper coolship. The hill country only gets around 14 nights a year that are actually cool enough to use this thing, but damn, son, do they put it to good effect.
What brought me here was the release of Spon: a blend of spontaneously fermented Geuze that’s a blend of all of their spontaneous geuze worts (plural of wort) since the inception of the brewery. Six years of brews. This is truly, definitively, a founder’s edition.
But J doesn’t just bring out Spon; no, he pulls moves worthy of the big JC, and brings out some of the best beers that I have ever. Had. In. My. Life. We drink oyster-mushroom flavored beers, with a slightly saline component; we drink beers that taste of peach sake, without any sake in the mix; we drink beers that taste like wine grapes, without the addition of grape must. We drink the Kvass, we drink the Spon, we drink the cedar-aged IPA, we drink the low ABV beers and the high, and none of it is so strong as to require major changes in the logistic plan. One of the best parts of drinking wild beers: rarely are we ever talking imperial strength. Jester King does make Black Metal, though; a better-than-10% wild Imperial Stout, so don’t think that they pussyfoot around.
But low ABV aside, we all hang out for a good long time, because this place is just damn cool. The environment, the feel, the energy. Let me explain. The first time I was here, there was a super funky gypsy-esque couple playing flute and accordion, giving this place the coolest vibe. The second time, I’m drinking some of the best beers I have ever tasted in my life. And the second time, this time, I don’t make the mistake that I did the first time. I buy bottles. Plenty of bottles. Still have some in the cellar, at the time of writing.
Spon is a spontaneously fermented gueuze style beer, with a good measure of tart and some funky, uniquely delicious notes. Some of them have a strong phenolic component, some have a citrusy awesomeness to them. Overall, they’re just like all the rest; palate-blowing, and worth your time. I recommend.
Kvass is a beer made not from malt, but from bread. Technically, that makes it twice fermented. Regardless, it’s a delicious, delightful concoction, with malt hints and a slight tart component.
I would love to enumerate all of the other beers, tell you what everything tastes like, but let’s be honest; it was a whirlwind of amazing beers, and I cannot properly do them justice. Let me put it to you like this; you would travel to Belgium just to drink Cantillon, if you’re a serious beer snob. Most of us would. Cantillon has been around for 117 years.
Jester King has been with us for 6, and it is close, oh so close. In quality, in spirit, in overall damnable friendliness. Just imagine what another 111 years can do.
Don’t wait that long, though. Seriously.