December 2017 – April 2018
I should preface my thoughts on Jester King with the important caveat that I really, really don’t like breweries who act as though they are doing their patrons a favour. It’s more than a hipster attitude problem, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of brewing beer. You don’t brew beer to be better than other people, you brew it for the joy of creating and sharing something brilliant (unless, of course, it’s just too brilliant to share). To my mind, Jester King got lost somewhere along that journey and have ended up with their egos writing cheques their proverbial body of brewers cannot, in my mind, cash.
Another significant caveat – while I love a good sour beer, it is not my favourite style (Blue Owl beers excluded). That said, I can tell a good one from a bad one, and in the case in point, a mediocre (or several mediocre) ones. After two visits to the Jester King ranch, I feel I can say with some confidence that the majority of their beers fall somewhere between mediocre and same-same-but-different. I am happy to admit that I appear to be the one dissenting voice – the ranch can hold 1,700 people and is clearly stretched to capacity on a regular basis. Jester King is, rightly or wrongly, the best known Austin brewery outside of Texas, and to the best of my knowledge, outside of the US, and tourists as well as locals come in droves for the Jester King experience. Everything about it is a little off. It is the only Austin brewery I have visited to ID and handstamp on entry during regular opening hours (as opposed to special events). Ourselves and other visitors were shooed away from the front door (where we were waiting patiently) by staff loudly proclaiming the five minute wait until opening time. Bartenders effect a bored, nonchalant air. You are, after all, in the presence of the mighty Jester King. Smiles and conversation are out and you are given the distinct impression that you are privileged to be sharing the same air as them, never mind drinking the same beer. Questions are batted away, service is slow and laboured, even immediately after opening, and choice is highly restricted – just six beers on draft in the main bar, despite significantly more taps available. In my opinion, none of the many Jester King beers I have tried during my time in Texas warrants the royal treatment. They are much of a muchness, unsubtle, yeasty sours often left too long in the barrel, sherberty in texture and very expensive by local standards. They’re not horrible, just much of a muchness, and although I wasn’t offended by the Bouffon, Gammadelux, or Abscission, neither was I blown away. The Gotlansdricka and Figlet were a little more interesting with subtle, smokey tints, but the much-vaunted Sacred Vessel tasted like sangria, and to be honest, of the Vague Recollection, I have very little recollection at all. Their packaging is undeniably beautiful, but that’s not what one pays for.
Of course, none of this should stop you visiting, it’s certainly an experience. The ranch is picturesque but should be avoided at night and in inclement weather, as there is minimal signage (we were lost for an hour on our first visit) and no indoor seating at all. There is also no public wi fi. There is no food available on site, but you can take your beers to the pizza restaurant next door, should it be open, and flight pours can be purchased and are priced individually. And if all else fails, you’re in some glorious countryside and there are plenty of other breweries nearby in Dripping Springs.