Jester King Craft Brewery

Our New/Old Batch of Noble King

17 December 2015

Our beer goes through a lot of changes — some good, some bad. It’s a living thing, teeming with a host of microscopic life that’s outside our immediate control. As you probably know if you follow our brewery, we ferment our beer with a mixed culture of brewers yeast and native microbes (yeast and bacteria) harvested from the land and air around our brewery. Fermenting with a mixed culture presents a lot of challenges. There is a reason most breweries don’t do it. When you work with a mixed culture, the results become a lot less predictable. We don’t know for certain if a new fermentation will last weeks, months, or years. We wait, observe, smell, taste, and eventually, the beer will tell us when it’s ready.

When fermenting with a pure culture, by contrast, it’s possible to know almost exactly how long it will take to make a beer and what it will taste like when it’s finished. Consistency and predictability are paramount in most breweries, and pure culture fermentation allows this to happen. This makes sense in the context of growing a brewery and selling a large volume of beer. Predictable fermentation times and results help brewers to know when to schedule the next batch, distributors to know when to pickup the beer, and customers to know when the beer will be available for sale, and more or less, exactly what it will taste like. Repeat this process over and over, and a brewery can grow by leaps and bounds, enter new markets, and attain regional or national status. In other words, pure culture fermentation has given rise to the international proliferation of beer as we know it today, and that isn’t a bad thing. We’re just of the opinion that somewhere along the way, a piece of the uniqueness and individuality that differentiated one brewery from the next was lost along the way. Idiosyncrasies, surprises, and peculiarities in beer are what motivate us, and ultimately, we’re looking to make something that’s a unique reflection of the land, time of year, and people at our brewery. Mixed culture fermentation, with all its pleasant and unpleasant surprises, is at the heart of this goal.

So what does this philosophy mean in terms of our latest batch of Noble King? Well, the beer initially surprised us — not in a good way. After being brewed in early March of 2015 and packaged by April 1st (somewhat appropriately), the beer had some off-aromas that we used words and phrases like “chlorine” and “shrimp shell” to describe. It was palatable beer, but not something we’d tie our reputation to and release. Rather than dumping it down the drain, we knew the beer would change with time because it’s alive and teeming with microbes that would take the beer down different paths over the long run. Now, after eight months since packaging, the beer has indeed changed to the point where we’re excited to release it! Among other attributes, the nose has become quite funky, and a nice, quenching acidity has developed.

This batch of Noble King won’t present like previous versions did at the time of release. The herbal hop aroma and relatively clean fermentation profile associated with younger Noble King is long gone. Funk and sourness are more prominent as mentioned. This batch is testament to one of the mantras we have around the brewery, which is “give it more time”. The mixed culture of microbes, not always, but often have a way of resolving a beer in the long run. This aspect of our beer making has resulted in our “new” batch of Noble King being released over nine months after it was brewed.

Noble King (batch 17) will be released this Friday, December 18th when our tasting room opens at 4pm. A portion of the batch will see distribution in Texas, and some of it was packaged in green bottles.


Our First Coolship Test Blends

8 December 2015

Recently, we evaluated our first ever test blends of 100% spontaneously fermented beer. The blends were a product of three year old, two year old, and one year old barrel stock. By “spontaneous”, we mean that we did not pitch yeast for fermentation. Rather, the wort was fermented by the native yeast and bacteria captured as it cooled overnight in our coolship. We’ve been making 100% spontaneously fermented beer for nearly three years now. We started back in February of 2013 and have continued every winter ever since. This coming winter will be our fourth coolship season, with the only difference being, this winter we will both brew and blend.

We’ve been slowly building up stock over the past three years, and we’ve now reached the point where we have enough mature beer for blending. In preparation for our first blends, we’ve been doing a number of blending experiments, with which there has been no set formula or scientific precision. Rather, the blends are a product of feel, intuition, and our sensory experience tasting and smelling the beer. The various “vintages” provide a lot of fun and interesting beer to work with. The diversity of flavors and aromas from various barrels filled at different times has been quite surprising, intriguing, and has left us a little mystified, often not knowing the “why” behind the way a fermentation has progressed.

We think this is where the fun and artistry lies with beer making! We take somewhat peculiar satisfaction with not being the “brewmaster”. Rather than rigidly controlling every aspect and variable of the process so as to achieve a predetermined outcome, we’re intrigued by creating a set of circumstances where microorganisms can express themselves in a relatively unknown way, and the results can literally run the gamut between eye-popping elation and vile despicableness. We don’t engage in unpredictable fermentations for the sake of being unpredictable, but rather seek to intentionally create an environment where factors beyond our immediate control can achieve results that we as brewers could not have contemplated in advance. Again, this is where the fun and excitement in beer making lies for us. We’re also drawn to the singularity of the results — meaning that each batch of beer is inextricably linked to a particular time and place, never to be precisely reproduced. Time, temperature, wind, and microbial momentum — among other things — combine to create a set of circumstances that take the beer in interesting directions, once again, outside of our immediate control.

Anyhow, philosophy aside, we’re excited about our first test blends! Frankly, it’s astounding to us that beer we made without actually pitching yeast has ended up being some of our very favorite. We’ll begin packaging our spontaneously fermented beer this winter in bottles, kegs, and casks, then allow it to naturally referment over the course of several more months. Ultimately, if all goes well, we should release our first 100% spontaneously fermented beer sometime in 2016.

Streaks of yeast on the side of the bottle after horizontal conditioning

Our first bottle pour of 100% spontaneously fermented beer


In Remembrance of Steve Anderson

30 November 2015

We were very saddened to learn of the recent passing of Steve Anderson. Steve was one of the pioneers of Texas brewing, and most recently was the Brewmaster at Big Bend Brewing Co. He led an amazing career and was one of the nicest, most down to earth persons we’ve ever encountered in the brewing industry. We learned a great deal from Steve, especially during Jester King’s startup phase when we were struggling to make the transition from homebrewing to professional brewing. Steve was very generous with his time, and was happy to welcome and help newcomers to the scene like us. We were very saddened to learn of his passing and will miss him.


Black Metal Release

5 November 2015

This Friday, November 6th, when our tasting room opens at 4pm, we’ll be releasing our latest batch of Black Metal.

Part of the excitement for us in making beer is embracing natural inconsistencies. We ferment with a host of microorganisms — a mix of brewers yeast and native yeast and bacteria — outside of our immediate control. When we relinquish total control or mastery over the fermentation, the results become a lot less predictable. Again, this is part of the fun and excitement for us! Rather than seeking to achieve the same standard over and over, we like to create an environment for our beer where natural variation can occur, and then observe the beer as it changes over time. This is what we mean when we say that our beer is a “partnership with nature”. We exert stimuli on the fermentation, and nature responds in its own way.

One of the ways in which nature responds is through natural variations in temperature. Because we’re brewing inside of an old machine shop made of red iron and corrugated metal, the temperature inside our brewery is quite dependent on the time of year. In the winter time, fermentation temperatures drop quite low (50s and 60s Fahrenheit), and in the summer, they rise quite high (80s and 90s). Through experience, we’ve learned that during the colder months of the year, the lactic acid producing bacteria in our mixed culture tend to be more dominant. This is somewhat counterintuitive, because the common wisdom is that bacteria thrive at higher temperatures. While this is objectively true, we’ve found our yeast to be slow and stagnant when the weather is cold, thus allowing the bacteria to out-compete it, producing a substantial amount of acidity or sourness.

This was the case with our prior batch of Black Metal fermented last winter. The beer became progressively more sour as it slowly fermented in stainless steel from October of 2014 to March of 2015, while the temperatures were cool and cold. Our latest batch, released tomorrow, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It was fermented from June to September of 2015, when the temperatures were quite hot. The yeast was more active, and the bacteria seem to have had less impact on the flavor profile. As a result, the latest batch is much less tart than the previous one. The latest batch also attenuated faster and farther than the one prior.

All of this goes to point out that our beer is unique, not just to a particular place, but also to a particular time. Every beer we make will be the sole product of its time and location, never to be precisely reproduced again. As we said, we approach brewing as a partnership with nature. We exert influences on nature, without rigidly mastering or controlling it, and nature responds in its own way with variable results. Again, we find these natural variations quite fun and exciting, and they motivate us to brew! We hope you find them interesting (and enjoyable) as well.


Introducing Bruery Terreux / Jester King Imperial Cabinet

3 November 2015

We’re very excited to announce Imperial Cabinet — our collaboration with Bruery Terreux! Imperial Cabinet is a barrel-fermented farmhouse ale inspired by a New Orleans classic cocktail invented in the 1880s called the Ramos Gin Fizz. As is often the case with our collaborative projects, it was fermented with a blend of microorganisms from Bruery Terreux and Jester King, so as to explore the the interesting and unpredictable directions that mixed culture fermentation can take a beer.

Designing the beer around the recipe for the classic cocktail was a lot of fun! The grist consisted of a high percentage of unmalted wheat and rolled oats to mimic the creaminess of the drink. Higher alcohol (8-9% abv) was another starting point, and gin botanicals (rosemary, lavender, juniper, and cubeb pepper) were added to the boil. Dried orange blossoms were also added to the boil, as the cocktail recipe calls for orange blossom water. A roughly year-long, mixed culture fermentation in oak barrels with yeast and bacteria from both Bruery Terreux and Jester King, helped promote tartness and acidity in the beer. In the cocktail, the tartness comes from lemon and lime juice. During the final few weeks in oak, we added orange peel, lemon zest, lime zest, and vanilla beans. The citrus peel and zest further plays upon the characteristics of gin. There’s some controversy about whether the original cocktail recipe called for vanilla, but we thought it was a tasty addition.

Imperial Cabinet was brewed at The Bruery in Placentia, California in November of 2014. It then spent ten months maturing in oak barrels prior to refermentation in the bottle. Imperial Cabinet is 8.3% alcohol by volume. The name “Imperial Cabinet” comes from Imperial Cabinet Saloon, where the Ramos Gin Fizz was created by Henry C. Ramos. The label art was created by Jester King’s in-house artist Josh Cockrell.

We here at Jester King are thrilled with the way Imperial Cabinet came out. We’d like very much for beer drinkers in Texas to be able to taste it too! Unfortunately, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission code makes it very difficult for small, out of state breweries to sell their beer in our home state. Texas charges brewers about $7K every twenty-four months to sell both “beer” and “ale”. The result of these massive licensing fees is that many small, artisanal brewers bypass Texas for other more friendly markets. Afterall, why would a small brewer pay $7K to sell its beer in Texas, when it can just sell it in another state? The way the system works, it tends to be the larger brewers seeking to expand their national footprint that end up coming to Texas. When we sent beer earlier this year to Oregon for the Craft Brewers Conference, it cost us $10. If an Oregon brewer wants to send its beer to Texas, it costs $7K. This isn’t right, is anti-small business, needs to change, and is why Imperial Cabinet will not be sold in Texas.

Regardless of our frustrations over the highly-regulatory beer laws in Texas that routinely hurt small brewers and are propped up by the large distributors in our state, it was a joy working with The Bruery. During Jester King’s startup phase, The Bruery was a great inspiration. We were encouraged by how they successfully started a brewery without having to make an IPA, a blonde ale, and an amber ale, but rather excelled at challenging palates and creating new flavors through their skill, creativity, and willingness to experiment. Thanks to Patrick Rue, founder of The Bruery, for hosting us at his impressive facility, and to brewer Andrew Bell for helping shape a collaboration beer we’re truly thrilled with! Cheers!


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