Over the last decade, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Texas. I would most often be in Fort Worth or Austin or driving back and forth between the two. And, as the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas – from the highways to the hats to the cattle and the steaks. What is unmistakably grander are the undulating hills about 45 minutes west of Austin. The Texas Hill Country is a magical place where even the reputation of craft beer casts a shadow over a regular six-pack.
Jester King Brewery calls Texas Hill Country home. It is here where the team is embracing sustainable innovations and exploring a deep partnership with nature. The result – a craft brew infused with the European farmhouse brewing tradition and a unique Texan character. Co-founding brothers Jeffrey and Michael Stuffings seek to brew in harmony with the picturesque ecosystem surrounding them. Their innovative nature-based brewing philosophy helped reinvigorate the state’s entire industry. Like much of the US, at one point in the not-too-distant past, Texas’ local brewing scene was almost erased by the larger corporations’ consolidation of the beer market. Nationally, only 90 breweries remained operational by 1980, down from 2,685 a century earlier. During this same period, Texas only housed six breweries, with big brands like Anheuser-Busch and Miller dominating production. When the Stuffings brothers opened their facility in 2010, it was only the 11th brewery in modern Texas history. Fast forward to the present, and more than 300 breweries are now in the state.
Jester King is different from your typical craft brewery and still stands out as the market continues to grow. The company wanted to innovate to provide consumers with a product that could not be created anywhere else on the planet. As co-founder Jeffrey Stuffings explains, “What we aspire here to do is make beer that’s going to be very unique to our land, …something that is going to be, authentically, a true Texas Hill Country beer.” Jester King does utilize more standard production methods, but they bring this goal to life by embracing the practice of spontaneous fermentation. This term refers to the practice of fermenting beer with wild yeasts from the surrounding environment instead of with cultivated alternatives. In this way, the Stuffings involve Mother Nature as a principal actor in the brewing process.
What can we all learn from their brewing philosophy?
Drink Local: One of my favorite aspects about craft beer is that, by virtue of being a local product, these products impart a regional flavor that international brands can’t replicate. Jester King elevates this as each batch of beer captures the spirit of the Hill Country. We can see this phenomenon by studying the brewery’s ingredients, sourced from the property or nearby Texan locations. Well-water and fruit trees from Jester King’s complex are used in the production process. Still, the most essential and fascinating component of the beer is the colorful Texas wildflowers, which provide the yeast that makes each batch possible. During spontaneous fermentation, a brewer places wort into a coolship (a flat basin) near a window. At night, the wild yeast blows through the window into the coolship and catalyzes the fermentation process. Since the brewer does not manufacture this yeast, it varies by season and ensures that the beer is completely unique from batch to batch, reflecting the exact fermentation time. This process means the flavors can’t be standardized like the bigger brands’ products, but it offers a different, more adventurous experience in which you are transported to a specific moment in Hill Country’s natural history. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for those seeking new tastes, as Jester King produces 85-120 new beer varieties a year! Beyond drinking locally, building locally means buying from local partners, benefiting the entire community. A local first approach ensures the opportunity for a better, fresher product. The authenticity of local products could help establish and enhance brand and consumer loyalty.
Jester King Found Great Adjacent Product Market Fit: As someone who appreciates both beer and wine, combining some of the best aspects of these two forms of alcohol has always intrigued me. Jester King achieves this effect through a refermentation process, in which the beer’s yeast modifies the sugars in certain fruit to create a product that tastes similar to wine. Much of the fruit originates from the brewery’s three-acre vineyard, and around 100 fruit trees are scattered around the property. The brewery tends to get inventive when experimenting with the best fruit to ferment. A great example of this creative output is Jester King’s Fen Tao beer, aged in oak barrels for an entire year before being referred to with Texas peaches. This process generates a unique tart taste that blends beer’s refreshingness with elevated fruit flavors. The Jester King team has helped expand the pallets for their consumer while also finding adjacent consumer segments to invite to try their products, authentically growing the overall market.
Sustainability Extends Beyond the Barrell: Like many other craft breweries we have spotlighted, Jester King is committed to producing beer as sustainably as possible. For example, they have emerged as a leader in water conservation by running their wastewater treatment facility, which helps them utilize 2 barrels of water for every 1 barrel of beer, as compared to the industry average of 7:1. But, Jester King does not want to reduce their impact on the surrounding environment merely . They are trying to improve the natural condition of Hill Country to be more vibrant and healthy than when they first arrived. Phil Green, one of the experts that run the brewery’s farmhouse, describes their mindset when he explains, “Sustainability means putting back into the earth more than what we’re taking from it.” A great example of this philosophy is the property itself. The brewery only requires a small portion of the total 165 acres because most of the extra land was purchased for conservation purposes, namely maintaining the native prairie environment. To do this effectively, the brewery cares for a flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats, who manage the vegetation and fertilize the topsoil. The goats can replenish and input an astounding 5 pounds of lost organic material back into the ground per day. This soil quality improvement allows the prairie ecosystem to conserve water more efficiently and sequester carbon. It is a win for the local community, the brewery, and the planet.