Co-founder of Jester King Craft Brewery
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series in which we scoured the country to find 30 innovative brewers and beer professionals under 30 years old, each of whom hopes to further the scope and breadth of the American craft beer scene.)
Michael Steffing, 28
All About Beer: Tell us about your brewery.
Jester King is a small, authentic farmhouse brewery in the Texas Hill Country, on the outskirts of Austin. When we talk about farmhouse brewing, we’re referring not only to our rustic location, but also to the type of brewing that we do, which involves using intentionally slow and inefficient methods to make very dry, complex, yeast-driven beers, including a range of sour and wild beers.
How did you first get into brewing?
In 2009—I was 24—I quit my job (finance, yawn) and moved in with my brother Jeff in Austin. Our intention was to cobble together the tanks, pumps, pipes, and hoses necessary to make beer for a living. In between fundraising and equipment hunting, I learned the mechanics of brewing, five gallons at a time. While building the brewery we met Ron Extract, who was importing beers into the United States from small producers, mainly in Europe. Ron helped open our eyes to the vastness of beer. Now, as a partner in the business, Ron continues to help shape Jester King as a company committed to artisan technique. We still have a lot to learn about beer. Every day we learn something new about beer. And when we’re stumped there’s a global community of small brewers we can turn to for help!
What was the first beer you ever brewed and where did you do it?
A predecessor to Das Wunderkind! Other than making the beer 100 percent organic, not much has changed with the malt or hop bills. Like a lot of small businesses, we worked on our prototypes in the garage, to the amusement and bewilderment of our neighbors.
What’s your favorite beer style?
We tend to think less about style than about character. Whether we’re talking about Franco-Belgian farmhouse ales, Franconian lager, English bitter, Czech pilsner, etc., we all tend to like beers that are dry, subtle, and sophisticated. We’re also big fans of flavorful session beers.
Do you have a mentor in the brewing world?
Yes, we regularly seek advice from a number of forthcoming brewers. Ron Jeffries, Vinnie Cilurzo, Chad Yakobson and Yvan De Baets are a few that come to mind. Brad Farbstein from Real Ale basically taught us how to build a brewery.
What inspires you when you’re brewing?
We draw a good deal of inspiration from beers that we love and especially from some of the truly amazing beers that we’ve been lucky enough to sample from small, artisan brewers around the world. But we’ve also drawn inspiration from other corners of the culinary universe. We’re constantly exploring flavors, and looking for interesting combinations that we think might translate well to our beers. Some of our beers have also drawn inspiration from music and other art forms. In a broader sense, what really inspires us is the desire to make something original and beautiful, and to make each batch of beer that we brew a little better than the last.
What do you attribute to your success?
We consider ourselves very fortunate to have received the amount of recognition that we have during the short time that we’ve been operating. It’s definitely taken a lot of hard work to get to where we are, and will take a good deal more to get to where we want to be.
What do you think drives the popularity of craft beer?
People are realizing more than ever that beer isn’t a monolithic, one-size-fits-all commodity that’s made at a centralized plant and shipped around the country. Once you realize that beer is a world of flavor, creativity and diversity to be explored, there’s no turning back. Strange legal aberrations like Prohibition (and its aftermath) and mass-marketing by giant players can only totally dominate for so long. Eventually, we were bound to see a return to the way beer used to be in the United States.
In general, how do you think the next generation of brewers will shake up the craft beer world?
I think we’re going to see more and more brewers starting to move away from big, over the top flavors and focusing on a more subtle, sophisticated approach. Along with this, I also think we’ll see an increased interest in flavorful session beers.
In particular, how will you contribute to that shake up?
We’ll continue to do our best to present beers that are dry, complex, and balanced, and will continue to expand the lower ABV end of our range.
Last one: Cascadian dark ale or black IPA?
Will gladly drink either, as long it’s tasty and well made.
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