While I was recently in Austin, Texas, my wife and I did a brewery tour of sorts. We took a day trip to Shiner, TX, where we saw the Spoetzl Brewery where Shiner is made, we visited Hops and Grain Brewery in Austin, Austin Beerkworks in Austin, and, most importantly, we visited one of the strangest and most beautiful breweries I have ever bared witness to. Situated on top of a mountain in the Texas hill country sits Jester King, a traditional farmhouse style brewery preserving the farmhouse style of brewing that has become somewhat of a lost art in this day an age. It’s not uncommon for the Jester King beer that you’re drinking to have been aging for nearly a year before it’s poured into your glass, but that’s far from the oddest thing that separates this place from all the other breweries in Austin. Jester King, as a whole, is like a mad scientist when it comes to beer, and with so much experimentation, they’re not afraid to tell you that a lot of the time, they don’t get it right. I appreciate a brewery that is upfront and honest about producing beer that may not be good or even palatable. Although, on the flip side of that, some of their beers are amazing and also amazingly handcrafted to reflect the exact intention and vision that brewers had months ago when the beer was made. With all this being said, I recently found out that Jester King is distributed in Birmingham and, honestly, this is something that everyone needs to take advantage of. I found one of the beers that weren’t available at the taproom when I was there, the Wytchmaker Farmhouse Rye IPA, so I brought it home. I chilled it for the whole day and cracked it open; here are my thoughts:First of all, before we move any further, I mentioned that the brewery was beautiful, but that description really doesn’t do it justice. See for yourself: The property was gorgeous and the sunset that was beginning as soon as we got there was really the icing on the cake. The employees were super friendly and the tour was really informative as well. One of the craziest things that Jester King does differently than a lot of places is their use of a Cool Ship on cool Texas nights. Basically what the Cool Ship does is it holds the beer in a shallow stainless steel vessel, about 2 feet deep and about 12 feet squared, over night. While the beer is in the Cool Ship, the brewers open up the barn doors of the brewery and create a wind tunnel-like draft so that while the beer is resting in the Cool Ship, wild yeasts and bacteria can fall into the beer and literally have the Texas Hill Country add its own flavors and aspects to each Jester King brew. This is the type of stuff that gets beer nerds like myself excited. No one does this, and I mean no one, but anyways, back to the beer.
When I opened this beer, there wasn’t much of a noise, but as I continued to open the bottle, the beer started to foam over and exploded through the top. I wasted about a third of the bottle, but I’ve come to expect this, because the last bottle I drank did the exact same thing. The beer poured with about three finger widths of foam and a very hazy golden color. The smell is strong in the way of Brett yeast along with some citrus and grape, which probably comes from the fact that a lot of their beer is aged in old wine barrels. Another cool thing about Jester King is that they do not filter their beer so until you drink it, the beer is still fermenting with the yeast in the bottle. I bring that up because the Wytchmaker I drank was bottled in July of 2013. Here’s a great way to think about their beer: if I were to take two bottles of the same beer, drink one tonight and save the other, the other bottle would taste completely different in two weeks. That’s mind-blowing to me, and I love every bit of it.
The first taste that you get is pretty funky. Let’s be clear though, Farmhouse style beers are mostly sour beers, so when I saw that Jester King made a Farmhouse style IPA, I knew it would be something odd. At first taste, you pick up a lot of funky, spicy notes, but it’s not something that would turn most people away. There are some soft citrus notes along with some pine that you pick up on in the background. Midway through you start to get a lot of earthy notes, like grass and wheat, and in the end, you start to get some hints of citrus peel with some fruity bread notes as well. The overall flavor is pretty tart, much like white wine, but not as dry though. The citrus aspects give this one a nice mouthwatering quality that adds to the drinkability of the beer. As it warmed up, you could definitely pick up on some flavors of alcohol that made the back of my throat burn slightly. One thing I didn’t really get a lot of were the rye notes that I was expecting to shine through. Even as the beer warmed slightly, I still never got any of that classic rye flavor I was anticipating, but that’s okay because I don’t really like rye all that much.
Mouthfeel was superb on all levels. Since the bottle foamed over immediately after I opened it, I was expecting the beer to be like champagne and extremely carbonated, but I was wrong. It actually had a great, velvety mouthfeel that complimented the flavors nicely. Like I mentioned before, the citrus added a nice drinkability aspect to it and made it very enjoyable. Had that citrus not been there or replaced with the rye, I wouldn’t imagine being able to drink it as easily because of the tartness.
Overall, this beer was an oddball, yet a solid home run for me. Much like all Jester King beers, this is not something I would drink everyday. It’s something I’ll sip on when any other beer just seems like too much. The subtle citrus notes and the tart palate make this one an easily enjoyable beer that even people without any knowledge of sour beers can enjoy with the right amount of open mindedness. I’m so glad that I learned of Jester King’s distribution to Alabama. Hop City and some Piggly Wiggly stores usually have a few bottles and I suggest getting all of them. Prices range anywhere from $11.99 to $14.99 depending on the offering, but Wytchmaker was, I believe, $13.95 and worth every penny. This is yet again another one knocked out of the park by a brewery reviving a lost art and bringing the ancient ways of beer back into present day.
If you would like more information on Jester King Brewery, visit their website here.