It’s been a newsworthy couple of weeks for Austin, Texas-based Jester King Brewery.
The company last week announced that it would take an ownership stake in Fair Isle Brewing, a yet-to-be-opened Seattle brewery. That news was followed by word that Jester King’s head brewer Garrett Crowell — whose last day was Wednesday — would depart to open his own brewery. And earlier this week, the company promoted brewery production manager Averie Swanson to head brewer.
In a blog post on the brewery’s website, Jester King co-founder Jeffrey Stuffings credited Crowell with creating Jester King’s “mixed culture of brewers yeast, native yeast, and native bacteria” used to ferment its beer, aside from the 100 percent spontaneous fermentations.
“Through his thoughtfulness, creativity, and skill, Garrett has done an exemplary job helping us make beer tied to a time, place, and people,” Stuffings wrote. “His work has helped us document our natural surroundings through beer and breath life into our core philosophy.”
For his part, Crowell told Brewbound that he has yet to identify a location for his beer company, but he and his girlfriend are focusing on Johnson City, Texas, where she works as a winemaker.
“We have a good community of friends out there,” Crowell said. “It’s a strange intersection of bohemian winemaker types and classic Texas cattle ranchers. It’s an interesting dichotomy.”
The goal for his yet-to-be-named brewery is to have an intimate space to “document these nuances of fermentation and sharing them with people who want to make the trek out there to try them.” He’s eyeing a mid-2018 opening.
“Really, my vision is just to have a little neighborhood brewery — a community brewery out there in the Hill Country — and not really aim for any distribution, especially not nationwide,” Crowell said.
As for his product focus, Crowell said he intends on making mixed-culture beers, but will also consider making beers that didn’t fit in the Jester King vision, namely lagers.
In the meantime, Crowell is planning to consult with other breweries around the world to help prepare for opening his own space.
“Jester King was the only production brewery that I’ve ever worked in,” he said. “I plan to spend time with some of the awesome people that I’ve met and see how they run a brewery.”
Meanwhile, promoting Swanson, who has been with the company for five years, was an easy decision, Stuffings told Brewbound.
“It was a no brainer to promote Averie,” he said. “Averie is doing amazing work for us.”
In addition to taking on the head brewer role, Swanson will continue her work as production manager.
Stuffings characterized Swanson as a “real leader.”
“We couldn’t feel more comfortable turning the reigns of the beer making over to her,” he said. “She’s an extremely hard worker. I try to be the first one in and the last one out — although we’re not in the business of trying to burn people out — but I rarely beat her in, in the morning. I get e-mails around the clock from her on beer making and running the production side. She’s very committed.”
In spite of the head brewer swap, Stuffings said he doesn’t anticipate any significant changes to Jester King’s philosophy of making mixed-culture beers with local agricultural products.
“Both [Crowell and Swanson] embrace principles of restraint and subtlety,” Stuffings said. “I don’t see that changing a whole lot.”
However, some of the flavor combinations may evolve, Stuffings explained.
“We will work with new fruits that we haven’t in the past,” he said.
Stylistically, Swanson has a “propensity for specialty barrels,” which she’s been sourcing from around the world to use with future Jester King beers, he said.
“She’s good at being persistent and getting ingredients that are pretty cool,” Stuffings said.
In the future, many of those ingredients will come from Jester King’s 60 acres of farmland, on which the brewery has planted peach and plum trees as well as blackberry brambles.
Jester King recently bought a tractor, Stuffings said. And two months ago, the brewery hired a farmer, Katherine Grimes.
“She has us really focused on dirt right now,” Stuffings said, adding that the brewery is working on getting a “good compost going.”
This winter, the company plans to plant strawberries, and, in the spring, a new wave of fruit trees — figs, persimmons, apples, peaches, raspberries. Jester King is also experimenting with planting neomexicanus hops, which Stuffings admitted could end up being “a total failure.”
“It’s a slow process,” Stuffings said. “My hope is by 2020, we have a pretty legit farm out here and in use for beer making and eventually have a restaurant out here.”
Also in Jester King’s future is its partnership with Fair Isle, which is slated to open in Seattle in 2018. Stuffings said his longtime friendship with Andrew Pogue led to the arrangement with the brewery in planning to provide advice and creative suggestions.
“He approached us,” Stuffings said. “He said ‘would you be willing to help me by consulting, give me advice and attach your name to it for a small equity stake in the business.’ We didn’t give him any money or anything. It’s such a small piece — 5 percent of Fair Isle for Jester King helping out.”
Stuffings and Pogue’s friendship dates back to meeting in Texas’ rock-climbing community. Pogue would later help Stuffings and Jester King co-founder Michael Steffing build a bar for their tasting room bar and brew and bottle beer.
Jester King’s deal with Fair Isle is reciprocal in nature, Stuffings said.
The company is introducing Fair Isle to prospective investors and the two breweries are also planning to produce a collaborative mixed-culture farmhouse ale.
“This is just helping out a friend,” Stuffings said. “There’s a strong common philosophy for us and that was part of the appeal, but it was the spirit of helping out a friend.”