If you want a good brewery recommendation, ask a guy running the food truck. Anyone who’s been to Austin knows there are a ton of breweries in the area. But since most their brews don’t make it across the Texas border, it’s hard narrowing down your options if you’re only got a few days.
I recently tagged along to my boyfriend’s conference outing in San Antonio and found myself waiting for free grub in food truck lines outside the Alamo. To pass the time, we struck up a conversation with a friendly food truck guy about local brews, and promptly received a recommendation for the Jester King.
Although I visited Austin a couple years prior, I wasn’t as obsessed with breweries then as I am not. So we took his suggestion and ran with it…all the way to brew retreat bliss.
The Jester King is as “out in the middle of nowhere” as you can expect with an Austin city zip code. The roads leading to it are hilly, and it’s a surprisingly scenic drive.
After initially missing the entrance and turning around in a ditch, we spotted the unassuming sign that leads down a ranch-style road. This ranch, however, is filled with rows of cars instead of livestock, and it looks like it will be really busy from the parking lot.
You’ll pass by Stanley’s Farmhouse pizza, which is worth a stop, but do yourself a favor and find beer first. The brew house on the hill looks huge, but the tasting room is actually pretty quaint. It’s just a bar, with no place to sit and no tables to lean on.
But the service is great, and the guys working bar are both friendly and know their stuff. The parking lot led me to believe I’d be waiting in a long line for a taste and shouting over a crowded bar to put my order in. Although the tasting room had a steady stream of tasters, it was a far cry from annoying or cramped.
I still can’t stop raving about Black Metal. It’s a Russian imperial stout, and it weighs in at a whopping 9.3%. The beer has a predictable black-brown color, strong aspects of chocolate, peppery overtones, and a hint of coffee accents. It’s strong, it’s smooth, and it has a warming boozy mouth feel from start to finish. I had a sample, then a pint, and finally a bottle to go. Yep, it was that good.
My second favorite brew was Mad Meg, which is a saison farmhouse ale and golden in color. Apparently Mad Meg was a peasant woman from Flemish folklore who led an army of women to pillage hell. While that’s pretty hardcore, the beer was pleasantly smooth with citrus influences, herbal spices, and an aftertaste unique to this type of beer.
Otherwise, I tried the Noble King and the Wytchmaker, neither of which left a lasting impression, and Boxer’s Revenge, which was far too sour for my taste. I understand that sour beers are the new rage with the “kids” these days, but I can’t manage to jump on the sour bandwagon just yet.
Although I was a big fan of Jester King’s beers, I fell in love with their brewery set up even more. In my opinion, this is what a brewery should be: plenty of outdoor seating space, laid back vibe, a stage for live music, simple food on site, manageable crowds, and a festive atmosphere that makes you never want to leave.
As the sun began to set, chandeliers hung from tree branches lit up to illuminate picnic tables scattered through the rolling hills. The brewery was run well, without being pretentious, family-friendly, without crawling with kids, and situated in a peaceful atmosphere that temps you to be social.
I should also mention that Jester King, as well as most of Austin, is really dog-friendly. Dogs aren’t only tolerated here, but they are expected and admired. Dog ownership sounds a lot more manageable to me if you can bring your pooch to the pub.
We ordered a pizza at Stanley’s before they closed at 9pm; it came out quick and although it wasn’t huge, it was pretty delicious. Softly playing classic rock radio provided the accompaniment, but apparently they sometimes host live music on Saturday nights. If you like Jester King’s labels, which are pretty clever, you can pick up a poster print of one for $20 to $25.
On the drive back to the campground from Jester King, I started pondering how different some breweries are from one another. As I mentioned, ones like this always rock my socks off. But the footwear of other brew fanatics probably flies off at the sight of warehouse district or gastropub competition.
I’ll save that debate for another article (coming soon!) and continue riding the wave of Black Metal and the mellow vibe I took with me from the Texas countryside.