Even in Jester King’s newest beer, full of Latin spices and flavors, the funky heart of the brewery still beats within.
That’s because for the brewers there, including Jeff Stuffings and Ron Extract, creating beers with a sense of place is as important as making them good.
They prefer to let the beer ingredients go wild — albeit right in their backyard. The yeast is fermented with flora from the surrounding land, the water comes from a nearby well and is treated to leave in minerals, and the malts are even beginning to be, thanks to Leander’s Blacklands Malt, not just malted here, but grown here, too.
These ingredients, along with hops — some of which are aged to lose the bitter taste — form the backbone of their beers, all to give them a distinct Hill Country identity.
Stuffings said the idea is that if, say, a California or Vermont brewer tried to make the same beers, but in their states, the results would not be the same.
"That’s a key feature of the wine world," he said. "Winemakers and wine drinkers really focus on the concept of terroir, the concept of regionalism, regional flavors. If you travel from winemaking region to winemaking region, you get different flavors. People finally figured out that’s due to the microflora — the soil as well — but in large part due to the microflora on the skins of the grapes. We’ve applied the same concept with beer making."
Jester King hasn’t just been experimenting with wild yeast and keeping ingredients as local as possible. The brewers also make a variety of one-off and seasonal releases, including barrel-fermented sour wheat beer with Kombucha, pecan wood-smoked saison and strawberry and raspberry fruit sours.
The latest, coming out Memorial weekend, pays tribute to Austin’s spicier side, an influence straight from Texas’ southern neighbor. Encendia (which means "to ignite") was brewed with agave nectar, epazote and ancho chiles and aged for 11 months in mezcal barrels from Oaxaca, Mexico, the world’s mezcal mecca.
It was crafted in collaboration with Kristina Bozic, the owner of a liquor store up in Chicago and longtime friend of the brewery’s.
"As much as she’s into beer, she’s even more into spirits," Stuffings said. "She travels all over the world to meet spirits makers, and one of her connections is in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was her idea to have mezcal casks to age the beer in. From there traditional Mexican cooking ingredients came to mind."
The barrels from Scorpion Mezcal weren’t drained of the dregs of the spirit before the beer was added to them, an effect that gives the Encendia some of the smoky, earthy qualities of a good mezcal, as well as the smell of the casks. You’ll also catch hints of the other Mexican ingredients, but they’re purposely subtle. Stuffings said the brewery prefers not to overdo it on anything additional going into the beer so the funky, tart flavors of fermentation are still present.
But how does it really taste? Any description I give simply doesn’t do it justice the way one Facebook fan did. This clever person, Stuffings said, dubbed it "Boxer’s Revenge’s Latin Lover."
When you try it this weekend, make sure to pair a glass or bottle with a pie from neighboring Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza because the Encendia is a doozy, clocking in at 11.1 percent ABV (purposely higher because of Bozic’s love of spirits).
Both Jester King and Stanley’s will have extended hours thanks to Memorial Day. Jester King is open from 12 to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 12 to 6 p.m. Monday; Stanley’s is open 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.