I’m driving through Texas Hill Country. Turning left on highway 290 onto Fitzhugh road I’m suddenly in quiet and vast ranch land. Fitzhugh starts turning and twisting like a Texas rattle, up and down, right to left. The tarmac has taken me as far as it can and from here on it’s only dirt roads. I drive back and forth looking for a sign that will somehow guide me the remaining half mile to the brewery but eventually give up when I finally realize that I’m lost. I flag down what looks to be a modern day cowboy on his iron horse, a friendly Texan in his beefy pick up truck that is. Kindly he points me in a direction and tells me take a right onto the widest road two miles away.
Once off the main road I see the first sign that I’m actually heading in the right direction. Underneath a couple of trees is the hand painted Jester King van. Looks like it’s taken a beating, literally that is. If you peek at it closely enough you’ll see blood dripping from small cut wounds.
The artwork is of course by Josh Cockrell, the brewery’s very own creative director and illustrator. Josh, a local Austin graphic designer, started out doing labels for the bottles, obviously one thing lead to another and he’s now Jester King’s dedicated designer. From the pseudo fable imagery to twirly handmade scripts, he’s the man behind everything from caps to boxes to minimalist t-shirts to beautifully handwritten menus in the brewery’s bar. As a graphic design myself, I just love his work and the impact its had on the brewery image and consequently its success.
The road ends here, literally and physically. This will be the last brewery that I visit and write about during my trip. Also the dirt road at my feet ends here.
I exit the car and walk over to, what to me looks like an deserted barn without walls. When later talking to Ron at Jester King I get to learn that its a defunct chicken coop now serving as a pizza place called Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Since it’s illegal for breweries in Texas to sell their product directly, without the use of a retailer or distributor, the pizzeria will also work as a nifty and near outlet for their beer. Together they’re jointly known as Ceres Park.
Jester King began brewing in 2011 but has already taken the beer world by storm. I get the feeling that there’s a strong idea and an elaborate plan behind everything they set out to do. Take the oxidized corrugated iron sheet building for example. Original built to house a machine manufacturer in Houston, it was carefully dismantled and brought to the current site, brick by brick and panel by panel. That’s a big effort. The same thinking applies to their beer making.
I mosey around the compound and find Ron Extract, co-owner/brewer at Jester King. I briefly apologize for being so terribly late before we commence our walk and talk.
Lead brewer Jordan Keeper and hang-around brewery dog Lola greet me and Ron as the door to the barrel room slides open. In this temperature regulated cold-storage, massive shelves carry oak barrels containing Jester King goodness. At the time of my visit they’d just received a shipment of reused whiskey barrels from Goose Island in Chicago. In order to prevent anything but the desired oak character from seeping into the beer, all barrels are washed out thoroughly before adding the ale to them.
Today Jester King brew somewhere around 1200 barrels in year. As we stand among the barrels in the cold storange Ron tells me that all beers are either bottle, barrel or cask conditioned. Usually it takes about 2 months to produce their beer, but the 1/4 that’s also barrel aged take up to a whole year to finish. It’s a costly and time consuming process but something Jester King proud themselves of.
Since Jester King never compromise with the quality of their beer and because of the stringent and costly process of beer making, the only profitable solution is bottling their brew in premium 75 ml bombers. No chance we could compete with other breweries if we sold our beer in 12 oz bottles in multi-packs, Ron says.
At the Austin-based company, beer making is a precise process. They also make beer that they themselves like and can enjoy, hence the many session, low point beers like Le Petite Prince and Commercial Suicide.
In the early days of the brewery a mix of yeast varieties was used. They’ve now phased out the English yeast and are today solely fermenting with their own Farmhouse strain, based on the French Saison yeast from Brasserie Thiriez. This yeast strain lends their beers a unique dry and wine like aroma and taste. A distinct and brewery unique styled beer if you will.
These guys do not only make some of the most interesting and uncompromising beers in the south of the US. They’re also taking on their environmental responsibility. In mid-May they were appointed, Certified Organic Handler and Processor, by the Texas Department of Agriculture, allowing them to be the first beer brewery ever in Texas to label the product USDA Organic.
As we conclude the walk of production area, moving on to the tasting room adjacent to the brewery, we find the second co-owner of the brewery, Michael Stuffings hanging out by the bar. Ron and I start off sampling some of the beers and Michael quickly joins us. I just love the feel of the bar and the room itself, a place where modern day meets the old west in rusty pipes, mullioned windows, laptops and draft beer systems.
Another superb piece of work by Josh Cockrell is their tap handle. For some reason it won’t fit the tap though. “They just keep coming off” like Ron says. I suppose art and function don’t always go together. Works great like a figurine too if you ask me.
We start off with sampling a low alcohol beer, Bonnie the Rare aka Ronnie the Bear. A Berliner wheat beer with funky yeast, wheat, citrus and a somewhat lactic sour flavor profile. A brew so light and refreshing, yet rewarding in taste.
For our second sample Ron pulls out one of their latest inventions, the Gotlandsdricka. Locally known as Gotlandsdricku, this is a traditional Swedish ale from the lime rock island of Gotland, off the west coast of Sweden. It’s such a recent brew they haven’t even come up with a label or name for it yet. Ron asks for help with the name there and then… I must admit I was completely blank then, but in hindsight, Rauch Rauk? The Rauch because of the smoked malts and the Rauk referring to the stacks found along the coast of the island. Resting atop the birch-wood smoked malt base is juniper berries, sweet gale and rye. This produces an ale with a distinct smoke flavor followed by a sort of pine needle taste. The sweet gale lets the beer finish off in an almost minty fresh fashion.
Ron, Michael and Jeffrey are the three founders of Jester King Craft Brewery. Jeff an avid homebrewer teamed up with his brother Michael and started planning the brewery before, Shelton Brothers VP, Ron Extract joined the ranks.
Not only are they advocating the production of tasty farmhouse ale but they’re also taking the high road by pushing for a change in the way how beer is perceived by the eye of Texan law. It’s an important cause and read. Just read it ok!
Another, less political, part of the brewery’s philosophy is keeping the number of collaborative brews to a minimum. One brewer they couldn’t fence off though was famed Danish Mikkeller. Seriously, who’s mash tun hasn’t this guy poked his genius finger into? Well, he or she is most likely just waiting for a knock on the door by Mikkel. Anyways, seems like the two hit it off pretty well, now boasting four collab beers. Wheat beer Drink’in The Sunbelt started it all and was followed by the three imperial oatmeal stouts of the Rodeo-series. Great beers so please let him visit you guys again alright?
So the time has eventually come for me to pack my boxes and stow away myself and tray table and get ready for takeoff. I leave Texas with an assertive smile upon my face. My travels through the American South have naturally confirmed some of my preconceptions but luckily it has mostly given me a new and deeper understanding of the beer movement down here. Things are swinging towards the better end and that’s fast. Beware Yankees, the South is on the rise!
I’m a prejudice individual I must admit. Before ever setting foot in Dallas I expected to see Stetson hats and cowboy boots everywhere. On the contrary, DFW aka the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is a rapidly growing and ever-changing area. In a flicker of an eye, land is developed from pastures to condos and shopping malls and old industrial buildings and warehouses are bulldozered down to give way to new and shiny office space.
In downtown Dallas all but one block of the old city, the block surrounding Elm Street where JFK was shot in ’63, is gone. Uniquely adjacent neighborhood Deep Ellum has somehow survived this change, today still consisting of mostly ancient raggedy brick buildings. Although born in the late 1800′s as an industrial area housing factories and warehouses, Deep Ellum’s always been about the music. It has over the past century been the breeding ground and home for jazz and blues, punk and alternative rock. It has always had its ups and downs but then in 2006, Dallas mayor Laura Miller, let it tumble into utter demise. In 2009 life slowly came back again with bars and the music returning. With the rich history as a back drop and the artistic heritage of the area, DEBC thought it the perfect location to settle. A great strategic move in my opinion.
When Deep Ellum set up shop in November of 2011 they were among the first to emerge onto the Dallas craft beer scene. Since then they’ve been joined by Peticolas Brewing Co and of lately Lakewood Brewing Co up in Garland. Soon enough also Four Corners Brewing Co south of downtown are to open their doors. The traditional Texan beerscape of bocks and other German styled beers is most certainly in for a change. Watch out Spoetzl and Rahr!
Today they have a 6,000 barrel annual capacity and it seems like nothing can stop them from the success they’re aiming for. One of their advantages is being first out, putting great craft beer on the streets of the city, but foremost I think their success is a result of aggresive and well-directed marketing. Funny enough, Tait Lifto (see below), was quick to point out the similarities between their visual communication and Scottish punk rock beer makers BrewDog, jokingly referring to Deep Ellum as the BrewDog of Texas.
Nestled among abandoned shops, intersecting freeways and old warehouses the DEBC family’s created an oasis for beer lovers. Dallas’ cowboys Jimmy and Ravi have come to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, live music, sliders and of course beer, provided during this Saturday at the end of August. The brewery has for the past months been open to the the public on Thursdays and Saturday, drawing massive crowds on every single occasion. The people of Dallas sure seem ready and willing to embrace locally brewed ale.
Dallas Blonde, is one out of the five beers I sampled at the brewery. It’s a crisp sessionable golden ale with citrus, wheat and honey flavors …really sessionable in the Dallas ninety-something-afternoon-heat.
Posing with the North Central Expressway in the background is volonteer Brandon. Since day one he’s been an integrated part of the Deep Ellum crew, helping out with showing people around the premesis, selling merchandise and so on. Deep Ellum’s always on the look-out for new people to volonteer, so if you live in the Dallas area check out their facebook page for opportunities.
As with all DEBC events there is live music and food available. The Easy Slider Truck has made a stop at the brewery serving, in my family’s opinion, the best mini burgers to be found in the whole of Dallas. They’re made-to-order and come steaming fresh out of the truck. For today’s visit to the brewery my food-truck-loving-wife and kid haphazardly came along.
My visit materialized after e-mailing back and forth with Tait Lifto, self-proclaimed Sales and Brand Ninja at Deep Ellum. He’s been with the company for little over half a year now and is eager to show me around the place. Since the brewery is open for public tours today, the beer garden and brewery itself is packed with people as we walk around talking. Just like I anticipated Tait’s all amped up as he talks about the beer, being the quintessential American sales guy that is. He’s also a reflection of the energy and attitude of the whole company, which is selling craft beer with a loud bang!
Scott Frieling, one of the founders of DEBC, here atop the caladria bridge enthusiatically preaching on the awesomness of craft beer for the masses. In a part of the US where people said there wasn’t a market for micro brewed beer you need dedicated guys like Scott.
Up to recently the only way to get ahold of their brew was either on tap at the brewery, via kegs and casks at some 100+ bars/restaurants or in growlers at Wholefoods. This is thankfully all history now since they just finished calibrating their newly aquired bottling machine.
Volonteer Stephen on the left and DEBC’s most recent employee Chris Michalowski on the right, working the bar taps for dear life as brewery tour visitors demand more of their hop nectar.
The selection of beers available at the brewery bar on the day I was there. I started off with a Dallas Blonde, then sampled the Rye Pils. A rather hoppy pilsner with the slightest touch of.. yes, rye. In betweeners were Farmhouse Wit, Deep Ellum IPA but what really caught my attention was Wealth & Taste. It’s a fruity and sweet Belgian strong pale ale with a grape tartness. Delicious!
The newest addition to the line-up of beers includes special release Hop Seeker, a fresh hop American strong ale hoped with Centennial using a hop rocket. The hops were flown directly from Indie Hops in Oregon and used later that very same day!
Another future release, early 2013 at best, is an Oak Aged Barley Wine, currently sucking the oak-goodness out the of barrels pictured above. With a fast growing portfolio of quality and complex beers I’m looking forward to seeing where Deep Ellum will be a few years. I know it’s a long shot, but hopefully the National beer of Texas, won’t be Lone Star, the next time I return to the state.
Green Flash Brewing Co out of San Diego, California celebrate their 10th anniversary in the beer biz in 2012. Married couple Mike and Lisa Hinkley started the company in Vista, CA but soon moved to San Diego. After a couple of years now-world-famous brewmaster Chuck Silva joined their team and the rest is history as they say.
Unlike previous reviews we’ve decided to sample four different brews from the very same brewery, one after another. It so happened that we had four of Green Flash Brewing Company’s beer in the fridge. The line up includes seasonals Rayon Vert, Le Freak and Palate Wrecker as well as their year-round West Coast I.P.A. Equipped with a cooler bag and gang of colorful ice packs we made way to the city’s finest beer tasting grounds.
It was a warm late summer evening as we sat down in Cornelisparken, a tiny little park perched on a rock, lending a spectacular view of Stockholm’s inner boroughs. In the background across the water is Stockholm’s small but legendary amusement park, Gröna Lund.
First off this evening is the brewery’s Belgian Pale Ale. A careful pour yields a cloudy rose-hip hued beverage with a massive foam head. The nose gives way to a funky and yeasty brett (brettanomyces) aroma tailed by dishcloth, sweet apples, green grapes and honeydew. Sipping the beer there’s a taste of dry aniseed paired with an earthy hop flavor. The general flavor following is fruity, mostly green fruits like pears and sweet apples, reminiscent of calvados. Finishing off the flavor is a light and smooth bitterness. It has a light to medium body with a somewhat watery feel to it considering that Rayon Vert clocks in at 7.0 % ABV. All in all it’s a complex and interesting pale ale and Green Flash does fulfill their promise of adding a “modern twists on traditional styles”.
We’re blessed by a beautiful clear August evening serving us the view of the skyline of Gamla Stan and its church towers. Temporarily memerized by the breathtaking sight of the city we now move onto beer number two.
This evening’s only bomber bottle holds Green Flash’s Belgian IPA called Le Freak. It’s a hybrid beer where a Belgian Abbey Trippel meets an American IPA. An ambivalent beer if you will. The aroma is dominated by exotic fruits, mostly passion fruit followed by green apples and rose-hip all resting atop a brettomycones yeast profile. Fantastic nose! The drink itself is full of apples, honeydew, black currant, candy and coconut and abruptly finished off with a bitter bang. Concluding the evening we both found Le Freak being our top pick out of the four beers tonight. Malty goodness, great hops and a distinct yeast profile is hard to resist!
Style American India Pale Ale · ABV 7.3% · 355 ml bottle
Total Score 7/10
The third bottle pulled out the cooler bag is an perennial American India Pale Ale that clocks in at 7.3% ABV. Popping the cap on the 12 oz bottle, pouring its content into a glass I get a pale amber with sticky lace on the glass. The aroma is an outstanding one simply oozing cassis as well as fudge, pine and nuts. Taste wise this one is phenomenal. It’s piney, it’s resious, it’s bitter, it’s West Coast! Brutally bitter and piney as the taste is the bitter storm is backed up by a sound caramel and fudge malt base. The body is a medium with lots but just the right amount of bubbles. Although a great IPA, the dominating bitter does knock off a point in the final rating.
Style American Double / Imperial IPA · ABV 9.5% · 355 ml bottle
Total Score 8/10
Want to sample some of these beers? Will you be in the Stockholm area the next coming two weekends? Make sure to swing by the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival and check out Brill & Co’s booth where they’re serving up Green Flash Double Stout, Hop Head Red, Le Freak, Palate Wrecker and West Coast IPA. 99 Bottles will attend the Festival on October the 5th. Hope to see you there!
Ever driven through Louisiana? There’s a whole lot of sugar cane growing in that state I tell you. You could innumerably duplicate this image and you still wouldn’t see as much sugar cane as there is to see in the south of Louisiana. Why I brought that up and why sugar cane is so important I’ll tell you in just a moment.
Ever heard of Parish Brewing Company? Chances are you haven’t and neither had I before running into its owner och brewer Andrew Godley at the legendary Avenue Pub in New Orleans. He was there taking his wife Rachel out for a night on the town, celebrating that they had gotten a babysitter for the evening. I was primarily there to get some food to go for my family stranded in a hotel due to fever. And oh well I just couldn’t keep my fingers off the taps could I, so I got a small sample of Stone’s recently released Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean while waiting for the food. The Godleys and I started chit chatting, Andrew bought me a pint of his own beer, Canebrake, and we were on the right track so to say.
Broussard’s a small town located on the southern outskirts of Lafayette, to come here I completed the monstrous task of driving 750 miles and crossing the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, all in one day, since my last brewery visit to Cigar City in Tampa. Exiting Highway 90 I once again find myself in Sugar Cane Country. There’s a wall of green on either side of me as I arrive at 339 Jared Drive.
To be completely honest the state of Louisiana is pretty dry on craft breweries. The total amounting to about a dozen or so. Most of these breweries, like NOLA, Dixie, Abita are located near or within the vicinity of New Orleans. What Parish Brewing is doing, is putting south central Louisiana on the beer map, pushing the craft beer revolution of the South further into swampland.
Andrew and Parish’s first employee Phillip Lopez (right) worked a nano brewery for two and a half years before moving to the currently location in April 2012. With the expansion, that only took four months to complete, brewer Will Gallaspy (left) joined the team. The new brewery boasts a 1,000 gallons wort boiler. With the increased capacity in volume Parish was able to move in to new area’s like New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Earlier they were able to cater to Lafayette parish at best. Their first and flagship beer Canebrake is so popular among local beer drinkers it literally disappears with in weeks of distribution.
Godley started home-brewing about six years ago, his mindset from day one being that he was to start up a commercial brewery. He’s a pretty handy guy and did weld his first brewing system he set up in his garage at home. That initial brewing equipment is gone now but for experimental batches brewed at the brewery Andrew uses the system pictured above, all made by the man himself.
Carrying 25kg bags of Rahr malt and coupling Goodyear Vinters industrial strength hoses makes brewing beer a physically straining job. To cool things off a tad huge fans sit all around on the concrete slab floor. Remember, we’re in the deep South and as the day grows old the temperature rises. When I arrive in the morning its about 80 Fahrenheit. “But by lunch it’ll be well over 90, reaching 100 by the end of the day” – Andrew informs me.
Not all glamour and glitz. Brewing’s not only about selecting the finest German malts and combining them with the right proportions of Yakima Valley hops, fermented into beer using your latest proprietary yeast strain. Other tasks are cleaning out vats, filling kegs and filtrating beer. Filtration’s is when you rid the beer of the remaining yeast and a cloudy beer becomes a clear one. On the day I was at Parish, Andrew was closely monitoring the filtration process, looking for leakage among other things.
When talking about the future of the business and what beers we might see in the future, I ask Andrew if the 40 pounds of coffee written down on the white board are for an upcoming coffee stout or something to that extent. To which he merely gives me a lopsided grin and points at the coffee maker perched on the shelf. Seemingly there’s only one thing on my mind today.
The beer that start it all. Canebrake, literally meaning a thicket of sugar canes. The beer inspired by the crop has a healthy portion of local Steen’s cane syrup added to it, imparting a smooth and sweet quality I haven’t had in a wheat ale before. Obviously a brilliant idea adding such a visible and common crop to your first beer I say. “Yes it would be stupid not to make a beer with sugar cane in it. I get it [cane syrup] by the drum from Steen’s, just down the road from here”.
- Andrew replies.
But there’s more than just Canebrake cooking at Parish. As I write this there are two more beers about to hit the market in Louisiana. One’s South Coast, a sessionable amber, the other Envie, meaning craving or hunger for something in Cajun French. Envie’s a classic American Pale Ale with just a little more hop bite to it than the average commodity.
These three beers are stepping stones says Andrew. His aspirations and aims for Parish Brewing are set sky high. Later this year he’ll be bottling Grand Reserve, an aged Barley Wine currently sitting at the brewery. Another thing is the India Dark Ale fermenting in a carboy underneath a cardboard box in the office, impatiently awaiting the day it can go commercial. Andrew’s final words still linger in my mind. “Canebrake is just the beginning, we want to become the Stone [Brewing Company] of the South”.
Fall’s knocking on our door and so is also the time when nature turns from green to orange and brown. Pumpkin Ale, a rather common seasonal style in its native country the US, but we rarely, if ever get to see that many interpretations of it here in Europe. The obvious reasons being the tradition and celebration of Halloween and the harvest of the gourd, squash and pumpkin in America.
Today we have a head on head comparison between Cigar City Good Gourd and Southern Tier Pumking. The South versus the North. I got these bottles while in Tampa. Pumking at Total Wine and More, at 1720 North Dale Mabry Highway. Good Gourd as a bottle to go from the fridge in the Tasting Room at Cigar City Brewing Company. Both rated in the top ten span in the Pumpkin Ale segment over at Beeradvocate.com. For tonight’s tasting I’ve summoned the closest thing to an expert panel on the subject, Marcus and Miriam. Let’s see what hides inside these brown glass bottles. Trick or Treat?
Cigar City Good Gourd, 750ml, 8.5% ABV 8/10
It’s a dark maroon beverage. Sticking my nose in the glass I get spices, sweet perfume and cookie dough upfront. Intense gingerbread and deep pumpkin pie hits my nostrils. It’s an array of spices but foremost cinnamon and nutmeg. The first sip presents a dry but sugary pumpkin sweetness, cookie dough and woodsy spices like cloves and nutmeg. This is high gravity beer and with all the spices added this one does take up a lot of room. It’s a thick-ish medium to heavy bodied beer with great carbo. The aftertaste just briefly reminds me of aged Gruyère, with a light bitterness and slightly acidulous.
Southern Tier Pumking, 650ml, 8.6% ABV 8/10
Pours a clear amber with traces of red, much lighter in color than Good Gourd. The nose on this one is all about newly cut squash and pumpkin plus wet dog. The spice that come to mind is cinnamon. It’s like whiffing gingerbread dough left in the oven for a few minutes. The taste is of fresh pumpkin, then mostly ground ginger and cinnamon. A dry ground ginger, leaving a dusty aftertaste and throat. The body is a medium one with a light buttery feel.
These two distinctly different brews have us divided from the get go. While both are great carefully crafted beers I’m more in favor of the complex and perfume-y Good Gourd. On the contrary Marcus and Miriam both fell for the lighter and more drinkable Pumking. While I argue that Good Gourd is complex, Marcus thinks it synthetic, to each his own, I suppose.
Well, there’s certainly no accounting for taste but we did agree that we would’ve had a different tasting experience having the beers the other way around. Southern Tier Pumking, the lighter and more refreshing out of the two pairs perfectly well with a hearty autumn meal, while Cigar City Good Gourd works better on its own taking on the role of a dessert wine or even a digestif.