Awhile back I posted a Q&A session with Ron Extract, brewer of Jester King Craft Brewery. As much as I liked it, I wasn’t quite pleased with the questions I asked. Solution? Ask more! So for your reading pleasure, part deux of the Ron Extract Q&A session. Cheers!
What does craft beer mean to you?
“Craft Beer” has become a bit of a loaded term, as it tends to get used so broadly as to encompass everything that isn’t mainstream American lagers. Even mainstream European lagers and mass-produced American beers in anything that might vaguely be considered “specialty” styles often get lumped in with “craft”, which I think weakens the meaning of the term to the point that I tend not to use it when talking about our beers, even though it’s in our name. Instead, I tend to use the term “artisan beer” which I think still implies a smaller scale, and a slower, more hands on approach that’s about producing the best beer possible rather than the most beer possible–the brewing world’s answer to slow food.
Your brewery seems to have ‘taken off’ since you opened. What do you think has made you so successful and popular in Austin?
When we were first getting started, a lot of people both inside and outside the industry tried to tell us that if we wanted to be successful in Texas, our core lineup should consist of something like a Weissbier, a Red, a Blonde, a Bock, and an IPA, but we felt that there were already plenty of options in those categories, while there were other types of beer that we found a lot more exciting and that weren’t available at all in this market. Rather than trying to brew what other people supposedly wanted, we set out to brew beers that we loved, and to continue fine tuning them until we felt that they were the best possible expressions of what we intended them to be. We didn’t know whether we’d find enough people in Texas who shared our tastes to sell what we could make here, but we hoped that, given the relatively small amount of beer that we were able to make, we’d find enough people somewhere. We were very fortunate and very pleased to find a much greater local interest in what we were doing than we’d initially anticipated. I’m sure that some of that stems from our doing some things that are a little outside the norm, and some of it is directly attributable to Josh Cockrell’s amazing label art, but I’d also like to think that the quality of the beers themselves is good enough to entice at least a small critical mass of consumers to revisit them often and to want to check out what else we have to offer.
What makes a session beer so great? Do you think it’s more difficult to create a flavorful session beer (i.e Le Petit Prince)?
I’m a big fan not only of good beer, but also of traditional pub culture. I like spending time chatting with friends and strangers alike in a congenial atmosphere while enjoying some tasty brew. The point of session beer is that it makes it possible to do this for several hours without becoming incapacitated in the process. It also allows those who really appreciate beer as a beverage, rather than a vehicle to intoxication, to enjoy it as such. Flavorful session beers are among the most difficult beers to brew, though, in that they’re entirely reliant on subtlety and nuance, and if anything goes wrong, there’s nothing there to cover it up.
Collaboration beers are a very popular thing right now, which you’ve gotten into with Mikkeller a couple of times. Would you want to see more of that around Austin in the future (i.e local brewers collaborating)?
Collaborations can be great when two or more brewers are able to work together to execute a shared vision, but I’ve also seen collaborations fail when they lack that shared vision. Two breweries whose approaches aren’t necessarily compatible can easily end up making a collaboration beer that’s not as good as either would have made on their own. So I guess my answer is that I’d always like to see more great beer available in our local market, and to the extent that brewer collaborations result in more great beer, I’d love to see them.
What’s your favorite Jester King beer so far?
That’s really difficult to answer, in that I tend to look at each of our beers as occupying a unique role within our portfolio, and I tend to appreciate each of them in somewhat different contexts. I’m not sure how to weigh my love of a beer like Le Petit Prince, that’s pretty much my go to beverage of choice, against my love of Boxer’s Revenge, which I look at as much more of a rare and special treat. I guess my gut instinct is to say that my “favorite” beer would be the one that I’d reach for the most, which would definitely be Le Petit Prince, though once we start brewing our farmhouse versions of Commercial Suicide and Drink’in the Sunbelt, which we plan to have ready later this spring, it could have competition.