Jester King Embraces History to Protect the Future of Lambic Beer

Austin Ray
L-R: James Howat, Jeffrey Stuffings, Pierre Tilquin, and Frank Boon

L-R: James Howat, Jeffrey Stuffings, Pierre Tilquin, and Frank Boon

In its ongoing effort to establish guidelines for properly labeling Lambic and Gueuze-style beers made outside of Belgium, Jester King has deferred to history.
 
The brewery, headquartered in Austin, Texas, today announced plans to abandon its “Méthode Gueuze” mark, opting to instead designate its future spontaneously fermented beers with the term “Méthode Traditionelle.”
 
The update signifies a concession to the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers (HORAL) of Belgium, which took issue with the Jester King’s original mark, as GBH reported this past April, arguing it unfairly appropriated a very specific region’s unique history for monetary gain.
 
“We don’t understand why, ultimately, Jester King has chosen the specific use of Gueuze in ‘Méthode Gueuze,’” HORAL wrote at the time in a letter to Jester King. “Given the vast history and heritage of the original style, the socio-cultural gravity and its clear link with the terroir of the Zenne Valley, the concepts of ‘lambic’ and ‘gueuze’ are very powerful.”

By definition, Lambic and Gueuze beers are Belgian specialty offerings, spontaneously fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria unique to the Zenne River Valley near Brussels. As such, HORAL actually suggested the brewery use the term “Méthode Traditionelle,” a compromise it said would avoid creating obfuscation. Jester King, however, acutely aware of the style’s history and regional association, stood by its original mark. Indeed, the company imagined the name “Méthode Gueuze” to begin with in an effort to pay homage to that history in a “more artful” way than saying “Gueuze-inspired” or “Lambic-style.” In turn, the two sides butted heads and sought to negotiate privately.
 
To that end, the company revealed today that Jester King founder Jeffrey Stuffings and Black Project’s James Howat actually went to Belgium and met with members of HORAL to talk about the issue. There, Stuffings was persuaded to pivot out of respect to both history and his own desire to make beers true to their own origin, he says today in a statement.
 
“Sure, we would have ideally liked to have drawn a more direct connection, à la ‘Méthode Gueuze,’ or by extension ‘Méthode Lambic,’” writes Stuffings. “But we highly respect HORAL’s position and have no desire to create the impression that our beer is authentic Lambic or G(u)euze.”
 
He continues: “Carving out our own tradition and legacy of making beers unique to the microflora, climate, and ecology of the Texas Hill Country is way more important to us than anything else. While we’re hugely inspired by and respectful of the Lambic tradition, our main purpose is to make beers reflective of our own time, place, and people.”
 
Similarly, the company will abandon plans to establish “Méthode Gueuze” as a certification mark that other breweries outside of Belgium could adapt for beers made true to style but not region. It has, however, outlined standards for widespread use of “Méthode Traditionelle” as a stylistic marker in its place.

In the new statement, Stuffings cites the historical legacy of the HORAL breweries compared to the relative infancy of his own, saying “...we’re a seven year old brewery that has been doing spontaneous fermentation for only five seasons, and the traditional producers have been making Lambic for decades, if not centuries.”

It’s worth noting that, while many of the HORAL members are indeed more mature than Jester King, their most recent new producer is Tilquin, who’s founder Pierre Tilquin started in 2009, demonstrating that the membership and association to the tradition still holds critical value for producers of Lambic and Gueuze going forward. 

“We appreciate all the support we’ve received over the last year or so. It means a lot to be part of a passionate community where there may be disagreement, but ultimately, everyone in our experience is respectful and comes at it from a good place,” Stuffings concludes. “We’re grateful to be part of it, and look forward to a bright future for beer and the beer community.”

—Dave Eisenberg

READ MORE
On Méthode Gueuze, The Disagreement with HORAL, and A New Way Forward