Today’s For the Love of Craft Beer is featuring one of the jokers over at Jester King Craft Brewery, Ron Extract. I haven’t gotten a chance to meet Ron, but he seems like a great guy who’s passionate about what he’s doing. If you haven’t had any of Jester King’s beers, I highly recommend trying one. They have two of their beers bottled and ready to purchase in stores (Wytchmaker Rye IPA and Black Metal Imperial Stout) and the rest are on draft at various bars and restaurants. They seem to specialize in balanced and flavorful ‘session’ beers, paying particular attention to the yeast they use. So, without further ado, here’s Ron Extract.
What got you into brewing craft beer?
I learned about homebrewing from some customers at a pub in England where I worked one summer during college. When I got back to the States, my roommates and I gave it a shot, and then I kept brewing pretty regularly throughout college and grad school, where I also tended bar at the campus pub. After leaving school, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do next but figuring that it would be beer related, I took the short course at Siebel, and then helped out for a while at a keg-only production brewery and a couple of BOP’s in Chicago before moving on to other areas of the craft beer business. I liked brewing, but at that point, there were limited opportunities, and even if I were able to find a job someplace that I actually wanted to live, it was unlikely to offer much of an opportunity to exercise the sort of creativity that had gotten me into brewing in the first place. Instead, I focused my energies on getting the word out about some of the great beers that were already being made in various corners of the globe, and helping to get those products to customers who could appreciate them. After some time in the retail and wholesale tiers, I ended up with Shelton Brothers Importers, where I spent about 7.5 years, before we opened Jester King. There, I had the opportunity to work very closely with authentic artisan brewers from around the world, gaining even more appreciation for their passion and skill. I saw a sense of refinement and nuance in the approach of many of the brewers with whom I worked, which I hadn’t really seen to the same extent in a lot of their American counterparts. The results, I felt, and still feel, justify the cost of shipping these products halfway around the world so that we could enjoy them closer to home. At the same time, though, I also felt that if there were more authentic artisan brewers closer to home who embraced the European approach, importing would no longer be quite as necessary.
When we moved to Texas for my girlfriend’s job, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would mean for my career, since the exorbitant licensing fees that all brewers, including foreign brewers, are required to pay are pretty prohibitive for the vast majority of small, artisan breweries that Shelton Brothers represents. At first, I’d looked at doing something on the distribution side of the business, but then, through those connections, I was lucky enough to meet Mike & Jeff, who were already pretty far along with their plans for Jester King. The fact that they were pretty strongly influenced by many of the breweries that I’d been working with and were planning on building one based on the same basic concepts and principles made it a great fit. After working together somewhat informally for a few months, we joined forces.
To answer your original question, I guess the biggest motivating force behind Jester King and behind our brewing the types of beers that we’ve set out to brew may be our knowledge of what’s out there in the world, beyond our reach here in Texas, and our desire to join that worldwide community of artisan brewers, learning from those who came before us, but at the same time, offering our own original contributions.
Do you think that craft beer is inviting, or daunting to people just getting into it? If daunting, how can we all help to ensure everybody is able to enjoy and understand craft beer?
In some ways, both. A big part of the initial attraction for me was the diversity of flavor, color, texture, etc… that I’d started to discover in what, before then, I’d thought of as a fairly simple and straightforward category. I wanted to understand what made each new beer unique, and in some ways, I think the fact that the category is so broad makes understanding those differences a little easier than understanding, say, the differences among wines. But then the fact that the category is so broad also tends to lead rather naturally to the desire to break it down into hard and fast categories, which many enthusiasts seems to do a bit overzealously, and in many cases, authoritatively, but often not as appropriately or accurately as they’d like to believe. This can be a real turnoff to many newcomers. Along with this, the somewhat reactionary favoring of “extreme”, over-the-top beers, by a lot of American brewers and craft beer drinkers, as opposed to those that are a little more subtle and balanced, and the tendency of the “beer press” to close ranks around anything that might remotely be regarded as falling into the broad category of craft beer, and deeming all of it great, can make it very difficult for initiates to gain their footing and get a sense of what, for me, the category is really all about.
Do you prefer draught, cask, or bottle conditioned beers? (this is a fun topic to get into since all three have advantages and disadvantages, but many have strong opinions on what is ‘best’)
It depends on the beer. Overall, my favorite beer drinking experience is probably cask, or German Antich kegs (which are also dispensed via gravity, but usually with more carbonation and less sediment than their English counterparts). Some beers work best in the bottle, though. I personally, prefer the bottle-conditioned versions of both Black Metal and Wytchmaker to their keg equivalents, but then, with that said, when I’m out, I normally order draught. For our part, we’re actually trying to move away from standard kegs somewhat, and do as much as we can with bottles and casks. We just feel like natural carbonation suits our beers better.