Jester King Craft Brewery

Chuvashian Inspired Farmhouse Ale with Victory Art Brew in Russia

10 August 2016

This week, I had the privilege of traveling to Russia with my brother/co-founder Michael Steffing and our production manager Averie Swanson to brew with Victory Art Brew in the town of Ivanteyevka outside of Moscow. We set out to make a beer inspired by the farmhouse ales of Chuvashia, located 400 miles to the east.

Exploring old farmhouse brewing traditions from around the world is something we find very interesting. It’s fascinating to learn about how people throughout the centuries have harnessed their surroundings to make beer that’s tied to a place and time. It’s something we try to do with our own beer, which creates a natural curiosity about how others have done it before us. I’ve heard others say that “beer is people”, and I fully believe that. It’s a window into their lives, surroundings, and time period, and it brings them together. For our beer with Victory Art Brew, we tried to capture part of Chuvashian farmhouse brewing tradition and incorporate it with our own place and time.

Chuvashian farmhouse ale is part of homebrewing history and culture. We’re not talking about widely available commercial beer. Rather, we’re talking about people using what was available in their surroundings to make beer in their kitchens. Chuvashian beer was prepared by taking a large earthenware pot called a “korchaga” with a hole on the side near the bottom. The korchaga was lined with rye straw, and the hole was plugged with dough. Cold water and malt were added to the korchaga, and the top was sealed with more dough. It was placed in a stove overnight for 16-18 hours. The next day, the korchaga was removed from the stove, and the hole near the bottom was unsealed to collect the wort (unfermented beer). Additional hot water was used to rinse the remaining sugars from the grains. The wort was then placed in a wooden container for fermentation without being boiled.

Hops were not added directly to the wort. Rather, they were boiled in a separate vessel with water, then strained to create a hop tea. This hop tea was then added to the wooden vessel containing the wort. A yeast starter called the “kulaga” was then added to the wooden container. A ceremony was performed at the time of the yeast addition to “raise the specters”.

After the primary fermentation, the beer was either consumed or combined with other ingredients like honey, herbs, or berries. The beer then underwent additional fermentation in the wooden vessel for anywhere from one week to one year. Finally, the beer was served in wooden buckets accompanied by prayer.

In our case, we lined the bottom of the mash tun with wheat straw and mashed with Russian pale ale malt and rye and wheat flakes.

We then rinsed the mash and moved the wort to the kettle, but did not boil. Rather, we boiled 1kg of Chuvashian hops in a separate pot for one hour.

We strained the hops from the pot and added the hop tea to the wort.

We then chilled the wort to fermentation temperature using a heat exchanger. The wort was then racked into oak barrels that formerly contained Crimean wine and was pitched with our mixed culture of brewers yeast, native yeast, and native bacteria from Jester King.

After the wort ferments in barrels for quite some time, it will be refermented with Russian honey.

Brewing with Victory Art Brew was truly a wonderful experience. It was honestly a little intimidating for us to travel thousands of miles from Texas to a land none of us had ever visited before. We could not have been made to feel more welcome. The people of Victory Art Brew, especially the proprietors Eugene Tolstov, Doug Zent, and Denis Kovalev, were incredibly kind and made us feel right at home. It was an absolute pleasure to brew with them, and we look forward to having them to Jester King sometime in the future to brew a version of Chuvashian-inspired beer in Texas!

Jeffrey Stuffings
Jester King Brewery


Introducing Jolly Pumpkin / Jester King Space Waves

3 August 2016

We’re very excited to introduce Space Waves — our collaboration with Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, Michigan! Space Waves is a blend of farmhouse ale brewed with lime salt, and barrel-aged sour beer refermented with Michigan cherries.

It’s no exaggeration to say that brewing with Jolly Pumpkin and Ron Jeffries was a dream come true and a significant milestone for Jester King. Even appearing in the same sentence as Jolly Pumpkin, let alone collaborating with them, is a surreal experience for which we are extremely grateful. I’m not shy at all to say that Jolly Pumpkin is Jester King’s greatest influence.

About ten years ago, I had my first beer from Jolly Pumpkin, and my life was changed from that point on. I had no idea what beer could be prior to experiencing it. It was like I tried something from a different planet. Not long afterward, I began experimenting with mixed culture fermentation as a homebrewer, trying to make something at least 1/100th as good as Jolly Pumpkin. I listened to Ron Jeffries’ interviews on The Brewing Network over and over again trying to decipher the imaginative nature of his philosophy and approach. Bam Bière and Calabaza Blanca became pinnacles for me. The ethereal nature of the beer, coupled with its reversion from modern, industrial brewing process, elevated it to magical status in my mind. As I sat in an office cube years ago, I’d occupy my time staring at the whimsical label art and allowing my mind to be transported to far away places inhabited by swashbuckling cats and treasure chests filled with golden elixir. As I hope you can tell, Jolly Pumpkin is really personal and important to me, and has occupied a significant portion of my life.

As time progressed, every opportunity to be in anyway connected to Jolly Pumpkin has been a milestone for Jester King. For instance, getting advice from Ron Jeffries about barrel selection, pouring Luciérnaga and Oro de Calabaza at our first ever Funk n’ Sour Fest, having Jolly Pumpkin come to Texas, and most recently collaborating with Jolly Pumpkin are all major events for us. People have asked me before why Jester King has never made a beer with Jolly Pumpkin, and the honest answer is that I was too afraid to ask. Well, it ended up working out, and now we have. I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Space Waves is an ode to the pioneering nature of Jolly Pumpkin, its ethereal approach to brewing, and its founder Ron Jeffries. I think the label art for the beer by Josh Cockrell captures this sentiment. Our own “Captain Spooky” — Garrett Crowell — helped create the recipe. We took some of Ron Jeffries’ favorite flavors – bitter and salty — and combined them with the character we get from refermented Michigan cherries in our Montmorency vs. Balaton.

Space Waves was brewed at Jester King on April 14th, 2016 with well water, locally malted barley from Blacklands Malt, raw Texas wheat, hops, and lime salt. We fermented it in stainless steel with our mixed culture of brewers yeast, native yeast, and native bacteria. A relatively large dose of hops in the boil was intended to keep the bacteria in our mixed culture at bay, at least for a little while! We then blended it with Montmorency vs. Balaton, our barrel aged sour beer refermented with cherries at a ratio of about twelve to one (farmhouse ale to MvB). We packaged it on May 31st, 2016, then let the blend naturally referment in bottles, kegs and casks for another two months prior to release.

At the time of packaging, Space Waves was 5.6 percent alcohol by volume, 42 IBU, 4.3 pH, and had a specific gravity of 1.002 (0.5 degrees Plato). It will be released at our tasting room at 4pm on Friday, August 5th, 2016. It will be available by the glass, as well as at bottles to go (750ml/$14) with a limit of four per customer per day. About 3,000 bottles are available. Aside from special events and the portion of the batch we send to Jolly Pumpkin, we don’t anticipate Space Waves seeing distribution.

We really hope you enjoy this beer, which was very special for us to make, and I believe represents a major milestone for our brewery.

Jeffrey Stuffings
Jester King Brewery



Introducing Even More Jeppe

28 July 2016

We’re excited to introduce Even More Jeppe, our second collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing! Even More Jeppe follows the same path as its predecessor — World’s Worst Twin. For that beer, we attempted to mimic the flavors and aromas of one of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin’s favorite coffees, without actually using any coffee in the beer. Here, we sought to mimic the flavors and aromas of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc without using any grapes.

If you’re not familiar with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, it’s known for having flavors and aromas reminiscent of bell pepper and tropical fruit. Our effort to mimic these flavors involved taking farmhouse ale fermented in oak barrels with our mixed culture of brewers yeast, native yeast, and native bacteria, blending the barrels, then adding dried elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin hops to the blend. Elderflowers were selected to impart the bell pepper notes and Nelson Sauvin hops were selected to impart tropical fruit character.

Creating Even More Jeppe was an exercise in patience. The base beer took about one year to fully mature in oak barrels. The barrel aged blend with dried elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin hops then went through a few different phases. Initially very pleasant, the blend morphed into something that, in all honesty, I’d describe as having aromatics of cat pee and garbage. After another eight months of re-fermentation in the bottle, the beer finally transformed into something that I believe has explosive aromatics of tropical fruit and a beautiful, balanced acidity. What was once a beer I was afraid would never see the light of day is now something I’m really excited to release.

I’ve written this many times before on our blog, but our beer is alive and ever changing. Every beer from us is teeming with living microorganisms that slowly alter the flavors and aromas over time. We’ve learned over the years how to attempt to gently steer the microbial momentum of our fermentations through variables like time, temperature, fermentation vessel (stainless steel or oak), and hopping rates. But we’re never in complete control. A blend of really great tasting barrel aged beer with dried elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin hops that ends up smelling like cat pee and garbage isn’t really a shock. Mixed culture fermentation is a lot of fun for exactly this reason! The element of the unknown is intriguing. When we released Audio Palette, we quoted music scholar Justin Scheibel, who opined that our beer lies somewhere between the intentional and avant-garde, and that embracing natural variation outside our control is an element that breathes authenticity, originality, and relevance into what we do. I fully believe this, and embrace natural variation, despite even false assertions claiming we only engage in the randomness of mixed culture fermentation because we’re incapable of more intentional processes (i.e. pure culture fermentation).

The art for Even More Jeppe was of course the work of our in-house artist Josh Cockrell. Josh has created the label art for every Jester King beer ever, and has done the creative writing for almost all our labels. In this case, the name “Even More Jeppe” is a playful take on Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus, with our friend Jeppe lovingly crucified to Sauvignon Blanc grape vines. I can feel the hate mail being sent our way as I write this ;)

Even More Jeppe was brewed with raw, Hill Country well water, malted barley, malted wheat, raw wheat, flaked oats, and hops. It was fermented in neutral oak barrels with our mixed culture of brewers yeast and native yeast and bacteria for about one year. It was then blended, and dried elderflowers and Nelson Sauvin hops were added. It was then naturally re-fermented in bottles and kegs for another eight months, and allowed to fundamentally transform as I mentioned. The impact of bottle re-fermentation / natural conditioning often gets overlooked. I believe bottle conditioning to be just as critical to our flavor and aroma development as the time our beer spends in a stainless steel tank or oak barrel.

Even More Jeppe is 6.0 percent alcohol by volume, 20 IBU, 3.3 pH, and has a finishing gravity of 1.002 (0.5 Plato). It will be released at our tasting room at 4pm on Friday, July 29th. Supply is limited. We only have eight 50L kegs for glass pours and 1,000 bottles to go (750ml/$22). The bottle limit is one per customer per day. Aside from special events and some cases we’re sending to Jeppe, no Even More Jeppe will be available outside of our tasting room. This weekend, we’re also excited to have Evil Twin Freudian Slip, Lil B, Soft DK, Ashtray Heart, and Yin available.

Jeffrey Stuffings
Jester King Brewery


Jester King Packaging Team

27 July 2016

You may not know this, but we package all of our beer by hand. We’ve done it this way ever since we bottled our first beer in early 2011. No, packaging by hand doesn’t make our beer better. Natural re-fermentation in bottles, kegs, and casks sure as hell does, but the act of bottling by hand does not. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that we have an amazing team of hard working, dedicated, people who package our beer by hand week in and week out in a non-temperature controlled environment with a consistently great attitude. These people deserve a lot of credit for our beer. There’s absolutely no way we’d have had any success at all without them.

We work the same, simple setup for every packaging run. One person de-palletizes bottles, one rinses, one fills, one caps, one dries, one labels (if we have labels ready on bottling day), and one stacks them in cases or cages. It takes a crew of six or seven people a full day to package out 20 to 30 barrels of beer. You can see it all in action here. We’re not a large brewery, and we only package around 2,500 barrels per year. But this work adds up immensely, even for a brewery our size.

Our friend Tyler Malone of The Second Shooter recently photographed one of our packaging days. I think he did an incredible job capturing the nature and spirit of packaging at Jester King. Check out his work below, which is a much greater ode to the beating heart of Jester King Brewery than anything I could write.

Jeffrey Stuffings
Jester King Brewery


2016 Atrial Rubicite Release

19 July 2016

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As we announced yesterday, we’ll be releasing 2016 Atrial Rubicite this Friday, July 22nd. Atrial Rubicite is our barrel aged sour beer fermented with our mixed culture of native yeast and bacteria, then refermented with raspberries. Between primary fermentation, extended barrel maturation, and refermentation with fruit, Atrial Rubicite takes around one year to make. This is our sixth blend ever. It’s 5.1% alcohol by volume, 14 IBU, 3.2 pH, and has a finishing gravity of 1.006 (1.5 Plato).

Here are the details for the release. It will be available at our tasting room in bottles and on draught starting at 4pm this Friday. We have 4,000 bottles available (500ml/$20). The bottle limit is two per customer per day. Outside of special events, Atrial Rubicite will only be available at Jester King and will not see distribution. We’ll be releasing the following quantities on these days:

Friday, 7/22 at 4pm — 1,500 bottles & four 50L kegs
Saturday, 7/23 at Noon — 2,000 bottles & six 50L kegs
Sunday, 7/24 at Noon — 500 bottles & two 50L kegs

We also have a special, local culinary surprise for Saturday afternoon! We hope you enjoy this year’s blend!


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