The peaceful farmland where Jester King Brewery is located is in stark contrast to the bee hive of activity going on inside the converted barn brewery and tap room. Bottles are being filled, boxes packaged for storage, and on the loading dock a forklift is being repaired. Despite being up to her eyeballs in work, Averie Swanson was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about herself, the current state of Jester King Brewery, and its future.
TC: How would you describe Jester King Brewery and its place in the craft beer industry these days?
AS: That’s an interesting question. The craft beer world is definitely expanding at an insane rate. There is a finite number of styles that people recognize, so it’s difficult to think outside the box. There is a niche in the craft beer world of mixed culture fermentation, so experimentation using many organisms at the same time is what is exciting for us. I would say that we’re a bit more experimental in the ingredients we used. We don’t really brew to style by any means. We brew what we like.
TC: So you’re not really worried about trends and chasing what’s popular.
AS: I would say not. I mean, we work with fruit and sour beer which are both very popular, but we aren’t making it because it’s popular. The culture we use makes this type of beer and it’s what we enjoy drinking. Just kind of not necessarily following the status quo and being creative and making beers using interesting ingredients
TC: What are you most excited about what Jester King Brewery is doing right now?
AS: I would say our spontaneous fermentation program. This past winter we completed our first season of spontaneous brewing. We do pretty traditional production for Lambic style beer, although we’d never call it Lambic out of respect for the tradition and the people that are making it. We blended our first five blends at the beginning at the year using beer that we’ve been fermenting for up to three years. I’m excited to get consumer feedback and from my peers in the industry. We’ve put a lot of work and time into making these beers so it’s exciting to have these concepts come to fruition.
TC: So it’s been a very long process from start to finish. How long ago did you start this program?
AS: We brewed our first beer four years ago. And now we’re finally bottling and it will be ready soon for people to enjoy.
TC: Jester King is really focused on only releasing quality product. I saw on your blog recently that a beer was recently pulled from the market after release because one of the owners didn’t believe is was up to the quality that you’re known for. If it’s not good enough, you won’t sell it.
AS: Yeah, that’s precisely the thing! We’ve got a little bit of a luxury in that we can wait a while. We aren’t trying to push through a lot of beer. We’re very small so we don’t need to push out a lot of volume to sustain ourselves. It’s an exercise in patience for sure.
TC: Is being a woman in the industry a little uncommon? Was it a boy’s club or were you accepted right away?
AS: There are definitely less women that men in production but more women are getting into it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had too many issues feeling comfortable in the industry. I work hard and others I work with see that and respect it. Other industry peers see that and recognize it. I wouldn’t say that gender is a huge issue in the craft beer industry. People contact me fairly regularly and I take issue when I get asked “what challenges have you had to overcome as a woman?” I don’t really want to talk about the issues I’ve had to encounter as a woman I encounter many issues, but it’s become a human. I feel like it perpetuates this mentality that “oh you’re a woman you’ve must have encountered things, let’s talk about it?” It’s a hard industry to get into period. End of story.
TC: Do you think that you have different ideas because you’re a woman or does gender have any bearing?
AS: I don’t know. It’s a good question. Obviously I can’t divorce myself from being a woman and the social and cultural conditioning that I have undergone as a female in the US. I try not to focus on that and I think it’s a free and equal opportunity.
Craft beer is this amazing intersection of art, science, and people.
TC: How do you want to make your mark on the craft beer industry.
AS: I think that I will forever be evolving in my role. I plan on being in this industry a very long time. Craft beer is this amazing intersection of art, science, and people. I’ve never been the most artistic individual, nor am I a scientist. I’m definitely a people person. I love people and that’s really what drives me in this industry. Continuing to be inspired by other people and really strengthening those personal ties between those working in the industry. I also really love the educational aspect of it all. There’s so much to learn in the industry. I do informal classes at the brewery and around town which I really enjoy. I see myself moving towards doing more educational type things.
TC: So definitely an ambassador type role.
AS: Yeah, absolutely. The craft beer industry has a lot of potential for progressive social change as well as legislative change. I love all of it and want to learn more and share more.
TC: So what do you think are some trends in the craft beer industry that you would like to see go away.
AS: There’s a time and place for every style of beer, so I don’t have a lot of issue with that. There is a lot of pressure to produce and crank out as much beer as possible and haphazardly throwing together a lot of ingredients in the recipe and not giving their beer enough time to mature and integrate. I think that will wind up be an issue for a lot of breweries. Truly, I don’t think that the market is going to slow down anytime soon, and that’s awesome. It also means that a lot of breweries are going to have to increase the quality of their products. It’s Darwinism. You need to stay relevant and good at what you’re doing. Anyone can find the money to open a brewery. It’s not a difficult thing, but not everyone can exercise the patience or has the passion.
TC: Just do a few homebrew kits and get the bug to open a brewery.
AS: Exactly. A lot of people do that. I think that we will eventually see breweries shutting down for that reason.
TC: How did you get started in the craft beer industry?
AS: I have a biology degree from University of Houston and moved to Austin in 2011. I applied for a few different grad programs and didn’t get into the one I really wanted and was more relieved than disappointed. I had been homebrewing for awhile and had a bunch of free time and thought why not give it a shot. Jester King was the first brewery in Austin that got back to me. So I came out for a Black Metal packaging day and I think we were out here until 3 AM. After that I was hooked. I came out as often as they would let me and six months into volunteering I asked for a full time apprenticeship and six months later I was hired on full time. That was about two years ago I was promoted to Production Manager. It doesn’t happen like that for everyone so I’m definitely very grateful. I got lucky ya know.
The map is not the territory.
TC: If you wanted to impart one piece of knowledge to someone that doesn’t really know anything about craft beer, what would it be?
AS: I would try to explain to them to have an open mind. Approach life and beer with a sense of awe. If you have certain expectations for things then you’ll never really be able to experience it in all of its glory. The map is not the territory. So don’t go into an experience with any expectations. It’s just beer. At the end of the day it’s just a simple pleasure. It tastes good and gets you hanging out with your friends, but don’t make it to be more than it is.
TC: Don’t worry about your tasting notes and checking into Untappd.
AS: Yeah! Whales are great, but the conversation you have with your friends while you’re enjoying those beers are really the most important part.