“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 17

March 2007

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

Ted, the owner of Funky Flatirons Brewpub, tossed a folder onto the back corner table where his two brewers waited. “Sorry for starting late, guys.”

Brad had stayed busy with the morning’s brew and trying not to let himself get too excited about how this meeting would unfold. In the three weeks since they had tapped Black Gold, his first solo brew from his own recipe, he’d kept close tabs on the beer’s popularity. At first, he’d had visions of it leaving Will’s pale ale, Funky Flatirons #1 seller, in the dust. That hadn’t happened, but they had gone through a respectable six half-barrel kegs. As more customers tried it, sales were bound to pick up.

As for the meeting, Brad knew that first Ted would recite the February sales’ stats. Then, he’d congratulate his twenty-two-year-old assistant brewer on his Australian-hopped stout. Next, Will, the head brewer, would say good things about the beer and Brad. What he didn’t know was just how big of a deal Ted and Will would make of things. Too much praise made him uncomfortable. He doubted Ted would offer him a raise, only because CU graduation was just over two months away and Ted and Will knew he planned to apply for a full-time brewing job elsewhere. He’d had a lot of fun during his three years at the pub, but with Black Gold’s success, he had pretty well outgrown everything Funky Flatirons had to offer him, short of the head brewer’s job, and Will wasn’t going anywhere.

Ted sat down in the chair he had pulled out and glanced at his phone. “Shoot, Jake the supplier is coming in fifteen minutes.”

Brad had been included in the monthly business update meetings since becoming the assistant brewer a year ago. He waited impatiently as Ted reeled off numbers and statistics faster than usual. Finally, Ted paused, took off his reading glasses and smiled at Brad. “As I’ve said before, congrats, Brad on an all-around great job with Black Gold. Somewhere down the road, we might—”

“Ted,” Michelle called from behind the bar, discreetly pointing toward the front door. “Jake is here.”

“Be right over,” Ted told her. He turned to the brewers, blowing out a breath that puffed up his cheeks. “It’s one of those days. You guys got all the basic information. Keep up the good work.” With that, he headed to the front of the pub in long strides.

“You have any idea what he was going to say?” Brad asked. Ted’s words had barely qualified as praise.

“About what?” Will asked, getting to his feet.

Duh! Brad wanted to say. “About my Black Gold and somewhere down the road?”

“Oh, yeah. He said something to me the other day about if sales stay as strong as they’ve been, and pick up a little, we might want to consider Black Gold for regular seasonal status later on.” Will smiled and clapped a hand on Brad’s shoulder. “Good job on your first solo flight.”

Brad got up from the table knowing he should appreciate possible seasonal status, but all he felt was frustration. Good job. That was it?

“Will?” Brad said as they walked back into the brewery area.

“What’s up?”

“I think you know how much I respect you as a brewer and how grateful I am for all you’ve taught me.”

“I appreciate you saying that.”

“Listen,” Brad hesitated. “Level with me. Do you think Black Gold is good enough to enter in the GABF?”

The way Will’s eyebrows went up bothered Brad. “Enter in a GABF competition?”

“Basically, yeah, that’s what I’m asking.” Was his beer really as bad as the look on Will’s face was shouting?

Will leaned against a fermenter and looked straight at Brad. “It’s a good beer, a darn nice one. But, for starters, nobody submits a beer they’ve brewed one time.”

“I’ve been homebrewing Peters Black Gold for a couple of years now. I even brewed two batches with the addition of the Golden Cluster hops before the batch here.” The whine in his own voice irritated the hell out of Brad.

Will shook his head. “You’d need to brew it at least three or four times commercially with consistent results before you even think about competitions. You know how critical consistency is.”

Brad gritted his teeth. There was no good come back for the consistency argument, but he wasn’t ready to give up. “So, say I—or we—brew it three or four more times until we’ve got the consistency down? Then you think we could submit it?”

Will scratched his head. “That’s If Black Gold sells well enough and if Ted and I agree to brew it again. Basically, it’s way too early to talk about competitions. Have you challenged Black Gold against other stouts yet?

“Not seriously,” Brad answered. Hell why hadn’t he thought about comparison taste testing? He looked away. Bringing up the GABF had been a stupid idea. If he hadn’t let his dreaming get so out of hand, he could have told himself every argument Will had just given him, and he wouldn’t be standing here like an idiot in front of the professional brewer who had mentored him.

“Listen, pal,” Will said gently, “I know you didn’t want to hear that. Here’s what I can offer. I’ve got a friend down in Denver, a retired brewer, originally from England. He’s a certified Cicerone and a GABF judge. If you want, I’ll have him come up and give you his opinion.”

After everything Will had just laid on him, what was the point? Still, all his buddies liked his beer and it was selling at Funky Flatirons. Most of all, Brad knew good beer. Black Gold might not score 100 on Beer Advocate, but it was a damn decent beer. “Yeah, I’d appreciate that.”

****

It was a Monday afternoon, the slowest day and slowest hour at Funky Flatirons. The five days since Will had totally deflated Brad’s dreams had been tough. The first evening, Maddy had noticed almost as soon as he got home. Even his buddy Eric had asked what was going on. “Will’s only one brewer, what does he know?” Eric had asked.

“A lot,” Brad answered. The words felt like a new wave of depression crashing down on him.

Now he was standing behind Funky Flatirons’ bar, with a knot in his stomach, and watching a bald, overweight, old English guy hold a pint glass full of Black Gold up to the light. Will had introduced Ned Coopersmith and retreated to the brewery.

The Englishman moved the glass side-to-side several times under his nose, then took a longer sniff. Afterwards, he put the glass to his lips and sipped. He appeared not to look at anything as he moved the beer around in his mouth. He swallowed, parted his lips and waited a full ten seconds before the next sip. After the fourth taste, he spoke. “A rather bold beer, pleasant enough.”

“Thank you,” Brad said without smiling. The criticisms would come after the compliments. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and watched the man take several more slow sips.

“Nice job on the dry-roasting. No immediate harshness. Interesting aroma. Hops?”

“Hallertau Hersbrucker, Cascade and Golden Cluster.”

“Hmph. Golden Cluster. Brillant!”

That was encouraging. Brad waited as the man continued to sip and sniff until Coopersmith held the glass out again and eyed the diminishing contents. “Good lacing. Very decent head retention.”

Coopersmith didn’t speak again until his glass was two-thirds empty. “Well, you’ve brewed a nice beer, but,” he paused and the knot in Brad’s stomach tightened again. “If this beer came to me at a GABF judging, I wouldn’t consider it for a medal.”

After Will’s assessment and five days of stewing, Coopersmith’s words came as no surprise. “Can you tell me why not and what I need to do?”

“Ah, admirable attitude! Keep that up and you’ll have a brilliant future in brewing. By the way, you know that we British mean ‘very good’ when we say ‘brilliant,’ don’t you?”

“Right,” replied Brad, although he hadn’t known until now.

Well,” Coopersmith said. “There’s a lingering bitterness in the after taste, not so apparent at first, but it builds as you drink. And the beer’s a bit thin on body. If you’d like we can take a look at your malts and your mashing schedules. One other thing, you’re carbonating with CO2?”

“Right.”

“Ever used nitro?”

“Will doesn’t. I follow his instructions.”

“All in all, a good beer. Let’s go have a chat with Will.”

Brad breathed a sigh of relief as the knot in his stomach relaxed slightly. He wasn’t a total dipshit as a brewer, but he had a hell of a lot to learn.

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