Not a day for long lounging. I’m being collected at 8:30. I drag myself out of bed around 7:30. Essentially just to leave some time for bacon. The day won’t be right without the right start. And the right start comes in the form of fatty strips of fried pork.
Bacon craving sated, I return to my room to collect the stuff I’ll need today. My presentation. Books to flog. All carried in a grey DDR bag. Plus my clothes, as I’ll be staying in a neighbouring ranch tonight. The oddly-named Tipping T. Sounds like a terrible afternoon faux-pas.
After arriving at Jester King, I have my second breakfast of the day: breakfast burritos. That’s a new one for me. I plump for a bacon egg and cheese combination. Can’t go wrong with that. It’s going to be a full day: brewing a collaboration beer in the morning, looking around the ranch in the afternoon, speaking in the early evening, supper club later in the evening. Two breakfasts are probably a good idea.
The beer is already mashing. It’s an interesting one: Deutscher Porter. A style no-one seems to have heard of, despite it having been reasonably common until 1990. At least in the DDR. I know, because I’ve labels from at least a couple of dozen different breweries.
Though the recipe we’re using isn’t from the DDR, but from West Berlin. I took it from a little booklet produced in 1947 by the head brewer at Groterjan, the only 100% top-fermenting brewery in Berlin. The grist is quite different from a UK-brewed Porter, being 70% Munich malt, just 20% lager malt, 7% caramel malt and 3% Farbmalz.
The wort is very rich and dark. Looking forward to trying this one. Sean, the brewer with whom I discussed the recipe, is very pleased.
The brewery isn’t huge. Housed in a corrugated iron former machine shop, which Jeff and his brother bought, dismantled and then reconstructed here. Given the nature of the beers Jester King brew, it’s no surprise to find a cooler (coolship to Americans) and lots of oak barrels full of maturing beer.
Once I’ve checked out the brewery, Jeff takes me off around the site. They have a huge amount of land – over 160 acres. After years of being mostly unused, they’re gradually converting it back into a working farm. The idea is to grow as much as possible to be used both in the brewery and restaurant.
A vineyard has been planted, though, due to heavy pruning, it was hard to spot the vines. They’ve not been in long and need a couple of years to develop their roots and build up strength. A hop yard is also in the making. Currently only the trellising is in place. The rhizomes will be planted later this year.
Most fun are the goats, mothers and kids, who have their own pen. Though, judging by the quantity of goat shit scattered around the site, they don’t spend all their time contained within it. They’re very friendly, though I am slightly worried they’re only sidling up to me to snack on my trousers.
As they make spontaneously-brewed beer along the lines of Lambiek (though not called that out of respect for Belgian brewers), they need a stock of aged hops. The ageing takes place in the attic of a former stable. A rather falling apart stable. The hops have been repackaged into small burlap sacks as this helps them age more quickly. It’s not exactly fancy.
Once the tour is done, Jeff takes me back to the beer garden and breaks out a few bottles from his cellar. The spontaneously-fermented Spon is particularly good, with the subtle complexity of a good Belgian Lambiek. Beers of three different vintages, usually 1, 2 and 3 years old are blended to produce the final product.
There’s still a while to go before I speak. Leaving time to hang around the brewery, drink a little beer and eat some barbecue for tea. Very tasty brisket and ribs. Something I definitely wanted to try this trip, Texas barbecue. I’d heard lots about it. Not a disappointment.
I notice than my skin looks much whiter underneath my
watch strap. Bloody hell I’ve managed to get sunburnt after 30 minutes
exposure in partially overcast conditions.
Half an hour or so before show time the punters start turning up. Jeff is sure there will be a good crowd – at least 50. It’s taking place inside the brew house, which is nice.
Chip, owner of Live Oak arrives. “I saw you in the brewery yesterday.” He tells me. “But it didn’t click who you were. You should have told me you were coming and we could have drunk some special beers.” Oh well, I’ll know better next time.
With ten minutes to go, my stomach is feeling crap. It feels like I might be about to vomit. I wander off a little just in case I do. But a little dry retching is as far as it gets. Still feeling way short of my best, I take to the stage. Or rather stand in front of the projector screen. There’s no actual stage, obviously.
It’s a full house. Must be at least 60 people.
I do my talking thing. The audience seems to enjoy it. Most modern drinkers are unaware of just how many extinct German sour styles there are. Far, far more than still exist. There are quite a few questions, mostly pretty sensible.
Once the talking is over, it’s time to flog some books. Which goes very well. I quickly sell all the ones I have. Damn. I should have brought more. Estimating how many to bring is a nightmare. The first time I spoke to an MBAA audience, at Schells in New Ulm a couple of years back, despite there being over 100 in the audience, I sold just one book. I’ve realised that it’s totally impossible to predict how many I’ll shift.
I linger awhile chatting as they crowd slowly drifts off. The lingering takes a little too long, as the supper club, which is being held in the hop yard, has already kicked off. By the time I get up there, two courses are already done. Luckily, they saved them for me. I spend some time catching everyone else up.
As dusk falls, the beer flows and the food arrives. It’s all very relaxing. Except when a few spots of rain threaten to ruin the party. But that soon passes, without causing any great inconvenience.
As the staff are clearing up there’s a strange, high-pitched noise somewhere out in the darkness.
“That’s a coyote.” One says.
“No, it’s just a dog.”
Not any dog I’ve ever heard.
“That’s definitely a coyote. And not that far away.”
How reassuring. What you get for being out in the sticks, I suppose.
I don’t stay up too late. Just before 10 I head for the hut I’m staying in. Where I watch some more crap TV and drink a little hotel whisky as sleep closes in, circling like a coyote.
Jester King Brewery
13187 Fitzhugh Rd,
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