Amidst Change, Jester King Brewery Looks to the Future

Austin Ray

THE GIST
It’s been a busy month for Jester King Brewery. To close out the year, the company has made quite a few announcements, including a partnership with a startup brewery in Washington, the departure of three key staffers leaving to open breweries of their own, and the promotion of a fourth person to help fill a newly vacant role. Though these are considerable moves, brewery founder Jeffrey Stuffings says the company remains committed to its goals as a farmhouse brewery.

WHY IT MATTERS 
On Dec. 14, the brewery announced it had formed a partnership with Fair Isle Brewing, slated to open in Seattle, WA. Jester King will own a “small stake” in the new brewery, though has not invested any money in the operation itself, according to Stuffings. Rather, Jester King will provide Fair Isle with “guidance, advice, and creative input.”
 
“We just agreed to help an old friend who lives in Seattle,” he tells GBH. “We probably would have done it for free, but our friend Andrew [Pogue, Fair Isle co-founder] insisted we take a small equity stake in exchange for our time.”

The announcement, though, somewhat curiously coincided with the news that Ron Extract and Amber Watts were leaving Jester King to start a brewery of their own, also in Washington.

Before leaving, Extract had served as one of Jester King’s managing partners and “was instrumental in helping shape the creative vision of the brewery,” Stuffings says. And in many ways, Extract was the company’s most visible figure. While he’s leaving, he remains a shareholder in the company.

Watts, meanwhile, began her tenure at Jester King as a volunteer, but saw her role evolve overtime into the brewery's assistant tasting room manager, eventually taking over brewery reporting and government compliance.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Garrett Crowell, the company’s head brewer of three years, would also leave to launch his own brewery roughly 50 miles west of Austin. Crowell helped shape the brewing philosophy at Jester King. But as he explained to GBH yesterday, it was time for a change.

“I found that my idea of what I wanted beer to be, and what Jester King wanted it to be, began to slowly diverge,” he said. “That's certainly not to say there isn't merit in the direction Jester King has gone, but it's just a deviation from the path I'd personally like to be on, so I've decided to take a turn.”
 
This week, the company promoted Averie Swanson to fill the role of head brewer. She had been serving as the brewery’s production manager, coordinating the brewing schedule and supervising the packaging team.

Stuffings says Jester King will continue to experiment with 100% spontaneous fermentation while developing its nascent farm. To that end, it has hired a farming consultant and bought a tractor. It’s also working on compost and cover crops “before a wave of fruit tree planting in the spring.”

—Dave Eisenberg