On a 60-acre farm west of Austin, Texas, where the metropolis gives way to the rolling Texas Hill Country, a black-and-white miniature Australian shepherd named Eleanor greets visitors to Jester King Brewery.
Not far behind her is Averie Swanson, who despite leaving the brewery the night before at 1:30 am, only to return less than six hours later, still has a full day ahead of her. “You have to excuse me if I ramble,” the brewer says. “I am running on fumes. I’ve had about three hours of sleep for the last few nights.”
On this spring day, Swanson is working on a collaboration farmhouse ale with brewers from the Russian brewery Victory Art Brew, waiting on an order of 8,500 pounds of raspberries for the brewery’s popular Atrial Rubicite, and conducting a video conference.
It’s all in a day’s work for the recently promoted head brewer, though her days as a volunteer—the way she got her start in the industry—were just as busy.
“My first day we started bottling Black Metal at 2 in the afternoon and didn’t finish until 2 in the morning,” Swanson says. “We ate pizza off cardboard boxes, and I just thought it was amazing. I came back every day that they let me.”
Swanson’s love for the work began with a homebrewing kit. After graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in evolutionary biology, the Houston native worked in a hospital as a clinical researcher while dabbling in homebrewing on the side. With a few years of homebrewing under her belt and after not getting into the graduate program she wanted, Swanson started volunteering at Jester King in 2013. She quickly moved up the ranks and was promoted to head brewer in December 2016.
Her science background slips out as she talks about the process of creating new beers.
“I love biology,” Swanson says. “It’s something I have always gravitated toward, and brewing is exciting and tastes good. It really is the best application I could have ever dreamed of for my degree.”
Founded in 2010, Jester King produces 3,000 barrels a year of small-batch, farmhouse-style artisanal beers. About 70 percent is sold from the picturesque taproom situated on a working farm. In an attempt to connect the beer to the land, Swanson uses lemon bee balm, horehound, rosemary, agarita, and other herbs that grow on the farm to give her beer a subtle taste of the Hill County’s earthy character.
Jester King recently bought a tractor, hired a farmer, and planted peach and plum trees with the long-term goal of growing as much of its beer’s ingredients as possible.
“My goal is to create drinkable beers that are interesting and that use the ingredients of the land,” Swanson says. “Basically, I try to re-create an experience in a bottle, so when someone opens it they are brought back to this place.”
During springtime, this place is as close to a perfect setting for enjoying beer as it gets. Overhanging branches from live oak trees shade a wooden picnic table from the sun, and birds chirp as a gentle breeze tempers the 75°F day. As a tractor plows its way through the rolling green farmland, one wonders if it could be possible to bottle this sense of place.
If it is, Swanson will find it in the space between science and art.
“I never really considered myself an artistic person before, but I have learned that I can be through the beer-making process,” she says. “I can come up with creative flavor combinations that paint a picture of what I have experienced through a beer for another person. And really that is what art is, trying to communicate a feeling or an emotion or an experience for another person.”
Jennifer Simonson is an Austin-based freelance writer who specializes in adventure travel, craft beer, and wine. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, and All About Beer Magazine.