Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jester Round the Corner

Emily and I went to the 26th Annual Dixie Cup, one of the nation’s oldest homebrewing competitions, on Friday night. Local homebrewers have been congregating at this event to talk shop and quaff each others’ ales since 1983, when their craft was legalized in Texas.

While I am fan of craft beer, I have never actually brewed anything (other than trouble). Nevertheless, I thought it would be educational to attend, tasting the local flavor. As it turns out, the Dixie Cup was a cheap date (for me)—and time well spent for both us.

To provide some history here, Emily and I officially entered the craft beer world together via a visit to Saint Arnold Brewing Company in July, 2007, and then again on our honeymoon in June, 2008, when we visited several breweries in and around Portland, Oregon (aka, Beer Town); we have been refining our pallettes for independently brewed beer since then.

We arrived to the Dixie Cup early and overdressed, not knowing what to expect. We encountered a potluck dinner for which we were ill-equipped. No matter. Accompanying the homemade food was a line of tapped kegs from selected state breweries, commercial and otherwise.

Taking in the scene, we immediately met two guys with an idea—and the entrepreneurship qualities that just might lead them to filling an apparent void, relative to the rest of the country, in Texas craft brewing.

Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffing—despite the subtle difference in surnames—are brothers and business partners. They are following Jeffrey’s dream to transition from homebrewer to pro brewer.

I sampled their product, and it is excellent. The Das WUNDERKIND! was surprisingly hoppy, which I prefer. I also liked one of their others, the Rex Machina, as it was both sessionable and smooth, especially following the chocolate brownie I had noshed just minutes before.

Jeffrey, a graduate of Notre Dame, is a longtime homebrewer who has lived in Austin for a couple of years. He is acting on his dream now, recently dropping his job as an attorney to pursue this endeavor full time, while Michael moved to town three months ago to help him realize it.

(Jeffrey Stuffings, a pretty lady in a dirndl, and me; courtesy of Emily Covey)

Their brewery, all 4,000 square feet, will be situated southwest of Austin and will be called Jester King Craft Brewery. Its name fits, capturing Jeffrey’s penchant for creating “high-quality, hand-crafted beer that thrives on artistry and creativity.”

As taken from its website, the company's founding description reads….

“In Medieval Times members of the Royal Court shared ancestry with—or owed political favor to—the King. The Court Jester was exceptional to this Noble Order. A blacksmith too reflective for life over the anvil or a farmer whose wit exceeded his ability to sow the fields, the Jester was plucked from the Masses to amuse the Court. Access and Privilege afforded the Jester unique Freedom to cast satire without fear of reprisal; his antics were, after all, merely in jest. Creativity, Guile and Cunning set this Wise Fool apart from the Noble Order.

Craft Brewers are the Jesters of Modern Times. Their daring and irreverence contrast with the King of Beer's Commodification and Economies of Scale. The artful, talented jesters at Jester King Craft Brewery are free from commercial restrictions; their minds guide their hands toward imaginative black licorice porters, wildflower wheat ales and port barrel-aged Belgian brown ales. While the King of Beer seeks to control the Kingdom, the Jester hops and dances on the Throne!”

Jeffrey and Michael are in the process of assembling the necessary finances to put it all together, and they are nearly there. They are seeking $500,000, selling a 38% equity stake in their business. Expecting to have the capacity to produce 15,000 barrels of beer per year and a bottling facility by mid-2010, they are 86% of the way to their goal. (Note: Jester King has not yet ruled out canning its beer.)

At this time, roughly 5% percent of the company remains available for purchase. To investors with interest, stake your claim while remaining shares are available. For further information on the opportunity and access to their executive summary, click here.

Finances aside, here are a couple of points I like about the founders of Jester King:

1. Their opportunistic foresight. They are part of a movement supporting locally made products, that has swept the country and is arriving to Texas. Jester King is in pole position to benefit from such growth, capitalizing on successes already reached by other state breweries like Real Ale Brewing Company, of Blanco, and Saint Arnold, a company with a vision I have previously described.

2. Their plan to buck the system—with temperance. They will produce beers that are “extreme,” a term oft-used in craft beer brewing and made famous by Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head. With that in mind, after chatting with them, Jeffrey and Michael seem to understand that, to be profitable in a state where beer education is not totally materialized, they will need a light lager or a style that resembles the beers that we Texans are accustomed to drinking.

Here's to Jeffrey and Michael, and their irreverent approach to brewing. I commend their entrepreneurial spirit as well as the creativity and passion behind their beer. Let's raise a glass to the Jester as King… round the corner he comes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My Moment With The Man

On Saturday, Emily and I dropped a couple of friends, in from New York City, off at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, deciding not to go ourselves—primarily because of the day’s torrential rainfall. We opted instead for a drier atmosphere and plates of raw fish at Uchi, Tyson Cole's sushi restaurant on South Lamar.

Before we sat to eat, while waiting for the bathroom, I found myself standing behind one of the world's single greatest athletes (and Austin resident celeb): Lance Armstrong.

It took me a few seconds to notice, but as sure as it was wet outside, there was he, the seven-time Tour de France winner, in front of me in the line to take a leak.

My realization was confirmed when a trio of ladies darted out of the powder room, located across the hall from the men’s room, and the most assertive of them promptly asked, "Can we take a picture?"

To her question, Armstrong replied, "If you take one, then it will turn into more by others." (I paraphrase here, but that was more or less his answer.) I understand why he would initially refuse, but was momentarily surprised by his answer.

The alpha female was neither surprised nor deterred. Relentless in her quest for a picture, she asked him again, this time with a renewed focus on herself and a clearer endgame, "Can I take one, of just you and me?"

He agreed without saying anything. With that, she squeezed herself close to him, and ready for action, with a slick cell phone in hand, extended her arm in front of them, snapping a picture of herself and the superhuman, who, like a polished city councilman, knew when to smile: cheese.

After the satisfied lady left the hall, it was him and me, both of us waiting to do the pre-dinner deed. It was the beginning of my moment with the man. I knew, based on his previous comment, that he preferred to not be bothered, so I did not attempt to make any conversation. (There would be no pictures either.)

As I stood there thinking, the first potential topic of discussion that would not be had was his book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," which I read with interest a few years ago. But I did not bring it up. Rather, I continued to wait, noticing his short but solid stature and checking his sneakers—a pair of Vans.

The story has been told many times, but it bears repeating, and for anyone who does not know, Armstrong's battle against cancer is epic—a phenomenal medical success, which bolsters the aura of even Lance, making his dominant victories in France look like Sunday strolls.

The disease started as stage-three testicular cancer and ended up spreading to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. Initially given a less than 40% chance of survival, he beat cancer like a drum—all of it. Armstrong is the man, and I wanted to tell him.

Less than a minute later, out popped a dude from the bathroom. Unprompted and not smiling, Armstrong quietly cracked, “two toilets in there and you lock the door?" Silenced, the poor fellow left the scene immediately. The champ took the stage with no further comment.

At that point, I was left there with a decision to make, do I leave Armstrong alone to his business, or do I follow him into the bathroom? With his latest comment in mind, enter I did. By the time I set foot inside, he had already opted for the better choice, the urinal, while I stood over the other option, a standard toilet.

There I am, back-to-back with Lance freaking Armstrong, peeing. I was not going to let the unusual circumstances spoil my opportunity to tell him what was on my mind. Calmly, I finished before he did, beating him to the sink.

After washing and drying my hands, I faced him and said, "You're the man, brother." To that sophisticated praise, he responded, "Thanks."

That was the extent of our conversation. At least I had elicited a response. I was not displeased with my comment, and apparently, neither was he.

I exited stage right, as he moved to clean his own hands. Feeling accomplished, I returned to our table, letting Emily know who I had just seen. She was perhaps more excited than I, texting the news to the girls we had dropped at Zilker Park.

Armstrong's group, which originally numbered ten or so, was seated near us, growing in size over the course of their meal. I glanced over from time-to-time, noting that he was checking his iPhone often. He was also continually taking sips of red wine—deepening my respect for him.

As we got set to leave—by this time the rain-soaked festival goers had rejoined us—I looked again to Armstrong’s table (his party stayed later than ours—impressive, given that it was well after midnight when we left). This time my stare caught his attention. As it did, he gave me a nod, perhaps one of additional thanks—this time, for not bothering him after all.

That was my departing thought anyway, and it, friends, sums up my moment with the man.