The U.S. brewery count is now solidly more than 5,000, with new breweries opening daily. In that sea of rookies, Fair Isle Brewing is lucky to have a prestigious hype man: Austin’s Jester King Brewery.
Jester King, regarded as one of the most influential American farmhouse breweries, has not only offered advice and brewed a collaboration beer with Fair Isle; it’s ponied up as a minor equity partner in the Seattle-based brewery, which hopes to open in 2018.
“Having their name attached is a feather in our cap, but more than that, we like the energy that we get from their advice,” says Fair Isle co-founder Geoffrey Barker.
“As for what we have in common [with Jester King], I’d say it’s our philosophy of brewing, of beers made with a sense of place and beers that go back to the sense of craft as not highly industrialized,” says other Fair Isle co-founder Andrew Pogue. “Recipe formulation is similar, and also how we view the experience of consuming our beer. I don’t know if Southern hospitality is the right word, but Jester King is a very comfortable place where you can be for a while and hang out.”
A major distinction between the two breweries rests on their locations: Jester King’s plot is a farm (the brewery recently added 58 acres of land for beekeeping, agriculture and more), while Fair Isle is in the process of finding a 6,000-8,000 square foot industrial space somewhere in Seattle. In this sense, Fair Isle fits into a class of American breweries producing farmhouse-style or rustic beers in urban settings.
The relationship between the two breweries formed years ago, when Fair Isle’s Andrew Pogue was living in Austin and, through a homebrewing friend, met the Jester King team as they were in the early stages of opening the brewery. Pogue and his wife helped build Jester King’s bar, pitched in on bottling days and stayed in touch after Pogue moved to Seattle. There, he worked as an architectural photographer and met Geoffrey Barker, an IT consultant, through the North Seattle Homebrew Club (which has produced brewers who went on to open Reuben’s Brews, Bainbridge Island Brewing, Lucky Envelope Brewing and others).
“We started brewing together and I came pretty close to creeping Andrew out on the first day because I was like ‘You want to start a brewery together?’” says Barker. “And he was like ‘Maybe we could just brew together a few times.’ I knew Andrew was making the sorts of beers that I was very interested in and I wasn’t sure how many opportunities I’d have to brew with someone interested in those same styles.”
Those styles fall under the wide “farmhouse beer” umbrella, but Fair Isle intends to produce beers with a “restrained” level of acidity and funk.
“I love this style of beer, all the way from the very, very sour beers to the much more rustic farmhouse, funky stuff,” Barker says. “Our beers fit in kind of a more restrained area than many of the beers that are out there. All of our beers will have some level of tartness and some level of funkiness varying from beer to beer. But generally it won’t be what I’ve started to call ‘punch-you-in-the-face sour.’ Our interest is in making beers that are very drinkable so you can sit down with a couple of glasses.”
Fair Isle will also incorporate local and foraged ingredients. That affinity is already on display in the collaboration brewed with Jester King, a mixed-culture farmhouse ale with fireweed, an abundant wildflower indigenous to the Pacific Northwest.
“One of the things we really like and value in our beers and Jester King’s beers is that they’re really simple beers, not overly complicated, and relatively low ABV. This beer uses a grain profile that we’ve been using for a while and that we really like: a bunch of pilsner with a bit of wheat,” says Pogue. “In the vein of Jester King, we like using local and foraged ingredients, so we brainstormed some things we could use to brew beer with. It depends what’s available, what’s in large quantity, what won’t be overly time-intensive and what won’t be too impactful, because we didn’t want to destroy a habitat by foraging. My friend Alex [Harwell] suggested fireweed; it’s abundant, it’s something the local natives up here would use as an herbal, sort of green tea substitute.”
That beer should be ready for release in March, but to taste Fair Isle’s solo beers, drinkers will have to wait a bit. Pogue and Barker are in the process of finding the right location that will afford them plenty of space for barrels (they’ve been fermenting in stainless steel but would like to move to oak, foeders and, potentially, concrete vessels). They also hope to set up a small taproom to serve their beers and pour a few guest taps—at least one of which will be an IPA.
“Nope, nope, we will never do an IPA,” Barker says. “We’ll have those guest taps to bring in other beers that other people do really well. There are a lot of wonderful IPAs up here; Seattle doesn’t need another one.”