Austin, Texas — We’re very excited to announce that we’ve begun farming at Jester King! Earlier this year, we announced that we had purchased 58 acres of land around the brewery for farming and preservation. The farming has now begun.
Our farming efforts so far have been fairly modest. We planted about one acre with peach trees, plum trees, blackberry bushes, and a melon patch. The peaches and blackberries have begun to grow, but it will be a ways off before we have fruit to use in our beer. This fall, we’ll plant nitrogen-fixing crops to help fertilize more of our soil, and in the spring we’ll plant grapevines. We have a test plot of wheat, and have noticed some native rye at the ranch, which has us optimistic about the future of growing grains for brewing. Over the next few years, we plan to plant about eight acres of land.
So why are we doing this? As a maker of farmhouse ales, we’re constantly trying to achieve a higher level of authenticity in what we do. To us, farmhouse ale is beer that’s tied to a place, time, and people. It’s beer that simply wouldn’t exist but for these connections. We live in a world where through modern technology, it’s possible to make beer taste virtually the same almost anywhere on earth. The combination of water manipulated to match mineral profiles from abroad, grain and hops from the same small handful of suppliers, and pure culture brewers yeast from a laboratory has lead to remarkably consistent, predictable beer with a very high level of overall quality. But through these advances, beer’s connection to a place, time, and people has waned. We see farming at our brewery as part of the calculus to help restore this balance.
Another question that has occurred to us is why are we starting a farm when we have agriculture all around us in the Hill Country? A big part of it is being able to use growing techniques that favor quality over quantity. According to Jester King engineer Ian Steigmeyer:
“These techniques range from pruning and harvesting by hand to a strict avoidance of unnatural fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. We don’t want these substances in our beer, so we don’t want them near our fruit…We will employ traditional techniques of livestock rotation through our growing spaces, thereby encouraging the natural maintenance of a healthy ground cover, fertile soil, and low pest levels. In this way, our farming is much like our brewing. We won’t exercise tight control over the growing process, instead we will try to establish a healthy and balanced system that is largely self-sustaining.”
Another part is being able to promote environmentally sustainable practices. According to Ian, “We are investigating ways to divert the majority of our brewing byproducts into compost that will then fertilize our fields. All irrigation will be using high efficiency drip systems, and only in the extended absence of natural precipitation. Finally, the proximity of our crops to their point of final use will essentially eliminate any fossil fuel consumption associated with the transportation of fruit.”
We’re excited to see how our farming progresses with time! While it has now begun, it’s going to be a long, slow, patient process. Fortunately, that’s something we’ve become pretty accustomed to over the years here at Jester King.