It’s National Lager Day. Have A Cold(er) One!

According to various sources on the interwebs, December 10th is National Lager Day. When I first found out about this marvelous new thing last week, I assumed the day would a national holiday celebrated with bank closures, a day off for workers everywhere (or at least for the federal government), and a series of lederhosen-and-masquerade balls held in very cold rooms as an homage to the lower temperature storage that most lagers undergo before being ready for the world.

After a brief call to my Congressman’s office, though, I learned that National Lager Day isn’t quite that official. It’s apparently not even as important as Groundhog Day. Which, you know, makes me wonder why we even have holidays. But I digress.

Lederhosen Ball or not, we can—and should—certainly celebrate without a mandate from our government and/or employer. In fact, if my research is any indication, college students have been celebrating National Lager Day for years, often without even bothering to verify that that’s actually December 10th beforehand.

And who can blame them? It’s probably December 10th somewhere. N out of 10 quantum physicists agree.

Regardless of how you might choose to recognize it, today being National Lager Day has, at least, got me thinking about all that beer fermented by bottom-dwelling, colder-thriving yeast. And the more the wheels in my head turned, the more I wondered why I smelled burning plastic.  Ignoring that, I also realized that it seems lagers have maybe gotten the shorter end of the stick in the recent years of craft beer booming.

Now, sure, gallon after gallon of good quality lager is quaffed by thirsty humans every year. In fact, it’s no doubt a ponderous volume that I’m sure is remarkable without even considering the oceans of “American Light” consumed worldwide. For that matter, I’ve personally swallowed close to a good-sized lake’s worth of Sam Adams’ Boston Lager between the dawning of my craft beer drinking days more than 15 years ago and today.

But then, with all that lager, why does it seem that most of the big, high profile beers that pour forth from the minds of our nation’s creative brew masters are ales? Why does it seem that for every one truly creative Imperial Pilsner with hints of coriander, rhubarb, and sesame seed, there are ten brewers out there shoving hearts of palm and a anything else they can find on sale at Whole Foods that week into an ale with a healthy dose of hops and some kind of sugar I’ve never heard of.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.  I do tend to do that whenever I write words in English from time to time. And having done some home brewing myself, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I understand ales are less difficult to manage, making them easier to experiment with while mitigating the possible financial setback of brewing 60 barrels of something a donkey wouldn’t even drink.  Also, my knowledge of available brews isn’t exactly encyclopedic, either. It could be there are a lot more experimental Weiss beers out there that I wouldn’t recognized if I one was splashed in the face by an angry cousin at a family gathering.

So you tell me, am I missing them? What’s you favorite off-the-beaten path lager?

And much more importantly, how do you plan to celebrate National Lager Day?  Because, sure, we could leave the college kids to celebrate this on for us, but I’m thinking there are probably ways to do it that taste a whole lot better.

Pud’n

Thankful For the Better Beer in Cincinnati (and beyond, too)

Lo, the many years ago, when I first started writing for Hoperatives (that is, back in the fall of 2010, when I had way more free time and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth), one of the very first posts I rambled out in typical Puddin fashion was for Thanksgiving that year.  It related my experience from the turkey day the year prior, when I was appallingly inconsiderate to the point of offering my guests nothing but tasty craft beers for the day. Such gall I had! The cooler was conspicuously (and pointedly) free of anything I considered somewhat flavorless.

After all, it was my party, right? If you’re going to eat my turkey, then you should be prepared to drink my beer, too.

As likely comes as no surprise to the readers of this blog, the experiment was a smashing success. At the end of the day, the number of bottles remaining in my cooler equaled the number of complaints I’d received about having the audacity to skimp on the InBevMilloors options: ZERO.

The following year, then, in that first ever Hoperatives Thanksgiving post, I pondered what beers I should offer in the hopes of both making everyone a little happier while maybe taking things up a notch. You know, rolling everyone up to that fabled next level.

In the end, I came up with a solid list, one that I’d still proudly offer today.  But, of the five types of beer I iced down that day as the Detroit Lions were executing their annual march to NFL defeat, only two of them were local brews. And even those arguably strained the definition of “local”.

Finding myself now less than twenty-four hours away from having the whole fam damily over again for a day dedicated to turkey, football, each other, thankfulness, and (who am I kidding) pie and tasty brews, it’s time to settle on the beer list for this year.  As I contemplated that very question last night (yes, that likely explains the faint burning odor you thought you smelled), I realized something fairly important.

Oh, what a difference three years makes.

Because, this year, it’s not only feasible, but kind of favorable, to offer my guests beers brewed solely in the greater Cincinnati area. As anyone who’s been a Hoperatives reader for any length of time knows, today is glorious day to be a beer drinker in Cincinnati. While we’re not quite offering the volume that pre-Prohibition brewers did, we are still blessed with an embarrassing bounty of malty, hoppy riches, all produced in a twenty miles radius around downtown. I won’t name all the brewers and breweries again (the list is so long now!), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I find the near-meteoric rise in our local brewing community a bit staggering.

Could I have cobbled together a local’s only list of brews three years ago? Sure, yes.  But my options would have been limited. Too many of the same labels all in the same ice bath. This year, though, there will be no repeats. I’ll be slipping the offerings of four or five different brewers into that ice, each one local, and each capable of going toe-to-toe with the brands and bottles of brewers hundreds of miles away.

Looking back to where this city was when I first starting writing for Hoperatives three years ago, I’d say that’s something to be damned proud of.

From all of us at Hoperatives, then, to all of our fellow believers in better beer out there, here’s to a full glass, a full plate, a full stomach, and a happy Thanksgiving all around!

Pud’n

Traveling Tuesday: The Old Dublin Pub – Wallingford, CT

If you even find yourself spending an evening or two in Wallingford, Connecticut, the first thing you’ll want to know is where you might find a decent pint. Well, actually, I guess you’re probably first going to want to know exactly where Wallingford, CT is and why in the name of Charlie Papazian’s Benevolent Beard anyone would go there.

As to its location, if you were to look it up in some sort of magically map image made up of pixels made up of electrons (like this) you’d see that Wallingford is one of those little cities between two other places that you always wonder about while expressway road tripping from Point A to Point B. More specifically, Wallingford is somewhere in Connecticut, south of Hartford and just north of New Haven.  As to why you might go there, I can’t really venture a guess. It’s not exactly a Travel Destination. I had to go there a couple of times this spring on business. But for someone who’s not me, like, say, all the rest of you, the only other reason I can think to go would be the Old Dublin Pub.

I generally try not to be too fanboy-ish about a  place I’ve only been once or twice.  I mean, let’s be honest, even an airport bar can have a good day every now and then.  But I’ve been to the Old Dublin on two separate occasions, spaced roughly a month apart, and I don’t know how else to put it: if I lived near anywhere the Old Dublin, it would be my regular, home pub.

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Look! The bar! And the first of many taps!
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More Taps!
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Yes, three shots just to get all the taps. Blame my phone.

I say that for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the Old Dublin’s atmosphere is exactly what  I’m looking for in a place to hang my hat for a bit and quaff a pint or two.  It’s darkish and full of warm wood but doesn’t feel like you’re trapped underground in preparation for a role as a dwarf in next Hobbit movie. Second, the place is equally inviting to first-time customers as everyday regulars.  And, oh, does the place have regulars.  As I said, I’ve only been there twice and I recognized several people the second time around.

Now, I know what’s going through your head.  “Puddin,” you think, “every place has some sad, lonely barflies that have exactly two friends in the world: the beer in front of them and the bartender that served it.” And, sure, the Old Dublin probably has some of those.  But the regulars I saw came in mostly for a couple of pints, some friendly conversation, and maybe a round of darts.  They were met like Norm from Cheers and sipped their pints while comfortably chatting about the everyday with other patrons.

Even more impressive, that goes for everyone there. I found myself drawn into several conversations in the brief time I spent there, and usually when I visit someplace alone I’m about as likely to join in a discussion with strangers as I am sing a karaoke rendition of, well, anything.

I found the tap selection impressive both times I visited, especially for a smallish local pub.  As you can from the pictures, they have quite a few handles and nary a single one from the Big 3. What you probably can’t see from the pictures (well, unless you get all squinty) is the fairly even distribution of regional beers with national ones.  Guinness, Bass, Newcastle, and Sierra Nevada stood next to taps from Bluepoint Brewing and Back East Brewing.

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A sampler of four 6-oz pours for $7.

 

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That’s a mess of bangers and fries. I surely didn’t go hungry.
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You can always tell good beer bar…
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…by the glassware. The Old Dublin has glasses…
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…perfecly suited to the brew of your choice, from a Belgian to a blonde ale.

Are there better places to enjoy a beer in the world?  Maybe. Are there better places in Wallingford, CT? I highly doubt it.  Either way, for my money, if you’re looking for a comfortable pub to enjoy an evening of a excellent beer, tasty pub food, and even better people, I don’t know that’ll find anyplace more welcoming than the Old Dublin Pub.

Of course, whether or not you want to go to Wallingford, CT is something I’ll have to leave entirely up to you.

Pud’n

Malt Liquor Monday: Colt 45

A funny thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  I was on my way home after a long night of auditioning chimpanzees for the title role in my new street play, “Puddin and the Primate’s Revenge: Episode One of the Organ Grinder of Darkness Saga” and realized I needed a beer to cap off the night.  You know, something to savor while I decided between Mr. Jinkees and Manny the Monkey.  Unfortunately, it was late.  So late that all of my usual craft bottle shops had long since closed for the day.

Luckily, a few days before, I’d just happened to be listening to the Puddinette—which is something rare enough in itself—when she mentioned to me that she noticed they were now stocking craft beer at my local Quik Mart-o-Stop.

Well, if that wasn’t serendipity, I’m not sure what you’d call it.  Well, actually, I’m not really sure what “serendipity” means, anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

So I pulled into the place and made way to the beer cooler at the rear of the store.  As I said, though, it was late, so I really didn’t feel like dropping the money on a six pack I knew would be overkill.  Instead, I slid over the singles stack, hoping to find a nice bomber.  Maybe a Stone IPA or something interesting from Rogue.

No luck there, I’m afraid, but I found something else quite intriguing.  Apparently, the newest thing in craft brewing is something called “Malt Liquor”, which comes in both 22 oz and even 40 oz bottles.  You know, for those nights.  Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for, but with interesting names like “Olde English 800”, “St. Ides”, and “Colt 45”, I was totally expecting a style steeped in tradition but with an aggressive, innovative approach.

I took home a 40 of Colt 45 that night, hoping that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Three days later, when I finally woke up, I was partially blind in one eye, my mouth tasted like a combination of ashtrays and Scope, and couldn’t remember anything of my first malt liquor experience.  To my credit, I found I’d taken copious notes about the experience.  Admittedly, the notes looked to have been written by a child, but you know, who writes anymore, anyway?

With further adieu, then, here’s the first post in what I expect to be a new weekly Hoperatives feature, Malt Liquor Monday.

Colt 45

Appearance: Pours a pale, winter sunrise yellow.  A finger or two of soft, fizzy, perfectly white head disappears faster than deviled eggs at a family reunion.

Smell: Extremely light odors of straw, grass clippings, Cheerios, creamed corned, and rubbing alcohol.  Reminiscent of being at Uncle Earl’s farm in August, when he starts up the still.

Taste:  Grain.  Then more grain.  Then something bitter, but not good bitter.  Like sucking on a dirty penny.  Plus a slight hint of something astringent, like Stridex pads. Oh, yeah, and a big smoking hot wallop of alcohol…BAM!

Mouthfeel:  Smooth, yet burns with the fire of shame and a thousand stars going supernova, but not in a completely unpleasant way.

Overall:  I guess I drank the whole thing?  I’m not sure.  According to my hastily scratched scribbles, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.  Although I do have to wonder why the land lord has been giving me the evil eye since that night. Oh, and the local police department has left me several messages in the past 18 hours, too.  Surely, that’s not related?  Anyway, I guess I’d drink Colt 45 again.

Availability: I haven’t seen it at my local craft bottle shop, yet, but I guess maybe the Quick Mart-o-Stop got a scoop with the local distributor. Anyway, if you can’t find any at your favorite place, give your Quick Mart-O-Stop a try.

So that’s my first toe-dip into the waters of craft brewing’s newest fad, malt liquor.  Next up on Malt Liquor Monday: Olde English 800.  Possibly your traditional bitter with a twist?

I, for one, can’t wait to find out!

Pud’n

Required Reading: Ruminations on the culture of sampling

It’s funny how some ideas, some topics, can float around in the back of head like wisps of smoke, just insubstantial enough that you know there’s something on your mind, but you can’t quite get a handle on it.  And then, quite by coincidence, someone goes and hits the nail square on the head – well, in my case, that’s usually hitting the hammer right on the thumb, but I digress – delivering one of those incredibly satisfying “Eureka!” moments.

(And I’m referring to Archimedes there, not the recently cancelled show on the cable channel formerly known as “SciFi”).

I didn’t realize what had been bugging me until I read a blog post from Beer Phxation titled “Two Ounce Culture.”

It was followed by additional thoughts from Appellation Beer in this post, and then again by This is Why I’m Drunk, in “A Few Words on … ‘two-ounce culture’.”

You should read all those.  Don’t worry, they’re pretty succinct and to the point.  Unlike, you know, my posts.

Ahem, moving on.

As soon as I read the first one, I realized that this very question had been itching at a place I couldn’t scratch recently, even if I hadn’t quite put my finger on it.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I’ve sipped a short sample of a beer that I was otherwise very much looking forward to, only to make a snap judgment and move on, or worse, not remember it at all.  If I recall correctly (although there’s quite the possibility that I don’t), I blazed a path through Cincy Winter Beerfest last year that would have made Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway proud, making a point to get a taste of every entry on my itemized list of typically-not-available-to-me brews.  How many of the those do I really remember, though?

One.  Exactly one.  RockBottom Cincinnati’s Tazza Mia Espresso IPA made quite the impression.  In fact, it’s the only sample I can recall going back for multiple times.  All told, I probably “tasted” it four or fives times at Beerfest, so it’s no wonder that’s the one I remember.

That’s not, of course, to say sampling is bad.  It’s absolutely not, and I’d be sadder than a toddler with a missing  Tickle-Me-Elmo if I couldn’t get a sampling flight at many better beer locations.  But at the end of the day, I guess what’s finally become clear to me is that there’s more to a beer than you can experience in a 2-oz pour.  Sure, that quick hit will let you mark it off your Craft Beer Bucket List and maybe finish up that Untapped badge you’ve been working on.  But it won’t tell you how that beer transforms (perhaps opening up) as it warms, or whether it’s a little too challenging for your palette 14 ounces later.

Sure, you can tell a lot about a beer from a 2 oz sample, and it’s tempting to line ’em and try as many of them as you can.  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.  But I think in the future, I’m going to try to keep from hopping around from one beer – one taste – to the next as quickly as I can.

In other words, I think it’s time for me to slow down and do a little more in-depth research.  Would you care to join me?

Pud’n

Better beer and resolutions in the new year

Depending on where on this crazy blue marble you live, we’re all about three days into the new year by now.  That means the shiny of it is starting to wear off, that distinctive New Year smell isn’t so apparent anymore, and the irritation of having to remember to write "2013" instead of "2012" when you sign them is mounting.

Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster nobody has to write checks anymore.  That was always the worst thing after New Year’s Day.  Well, other than the hangover.

With any new year, of course, comes a heap of hastily considered resolutions that often get kicked to the curbed faster than a shirtless, shoeless fellow at le fancy French restaurant.

Truth be told, I used to be vehemently anti-resolution.  Because, by golly, I could improve myself any old time I wanted.  I wasn’t about to let society guilt me into arbitrarily picking something to fix just because the number changed on a calendar.  But as I’ve gotten older, and hopefully a good deal less self-righteously stupid, I realized that there were plenty enough things about me that could use a little fixing that I might as well pick a thing or two every New Year and give it a go, so long as I wasn’t afraid to resolve to make changes on some other random day of the year as well.  In other words, nowadays I’m happy to play along with the Resolutions game both on New Years as well as, I don’t know, August 17.

So what are my resolutions for 2013?  In the realm of craft beer, they’re all about glassware.

Proper glassware, of course, has been a key topic in the discussion of enjoying craft beer for some time now.  It’s gotten plenty of attention from other reputable (read: less rambling) writers than myself.  My resolution, though, isn’t about proper glassware, but rather a better choice of it.

See, being a real ‘Merican!, I like Big! Things!  And that holds true when it comes to the glasses for drinking some of my favorite beers.  Big like these:

That there is a 22-oz beer glass. I use them frequently because not only do they flare at the top – better for aroma, my pretty – but, well, they’re just about the perfect size for when I crack open a bottle like this:

Not always a Bastard, necessarily – although, as you’ve undoubtedly figured out by now, I do drink plenty of that – but, specifically the 22-oz. bomber o’ beer.  The thing is, though, I really don’t need to be drinking 22 oz. of beer at a time.  Kind of the same way no one really needs to eat at the Chinese Buffet, and doing so will inevitably lead to shame, self-loathing, and a dependence on Pepto-Bismol. 

Luckily, though, I just happened to receive a box of brand new glassware for Christmas.  To be more specific, 17-oz. pilsners.  If you ask me, a 16- or 17-oz. glass is just about perfect for filling with 12-oz. of beer and leaving a bit of space for a proper inch or two of frothy head.  So for 2013, I’m going to be drinking from these somewhat more reserved, smaller glasses. See?

And that means no more 22-oz. bombers for me, at least not on a regular basis.  Bottles of that size are intended to be shared, anyway, so unless I plan on having a few craft beer friends over, I’m going to leave them right where they are on the shelf.

I fully expect my liver, my midsection, and my head to thank me come Jan 1, 2014.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one making beer-related resolutions for the new year, though.  So, what about you?  Have you made any resolutions you’re excited about?  What you guys are thinking about when it comes to better beer in the new year?

Pud’n

REPOST: A Craft Brew Christmas Carol – The End of It

Stinge clambered up off the floor, grinning as widely as he had in many years. “Yes! Yes!” he yelled, loud enough for anyone in the grain storage room above him to hear. “I’m still alive! Oh, happy day!”

He dashed across the room, but seeing the handle was still in his hand, he rushed back to his faucet. Reaching it, he stopped and cocked his head, saying to himself, “But what time is it?” Running again to his bed, handle still in hand, he checked the bedside clock and it’s dim red face.

7:00 AM.

“It’s morning!” he yelled again. “Morning! Yes! Yes! Bless those spirits!”

He danced around the room in wide sweeping arcs, holding his tap handle like a phantom partner’s hand. Swinging past the beer sink, he stopped and slid it back into proper position. Then he pulled himself a pint and quaffed it in several long, cheerful gulps.

A shadow of question crossed his face. “But what morning? I don’t even know the day!”

Dressing quickly, he stormed up the stairs and into the brewery.

Seeing his dwindling bags of malt and the mash tun right where they belong, he let out a yelp of joy. He tapped the hollow metal pot with a knuckle, smiling as a clanging echo filled his ear.

“Oh, I have work for you, yet, my friend!”

“What’s that sir?” came a voice behind him. Stinge twirled on his heel, facing a young girl, maybe 12 years old.

“Girl, what day is it?”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“The day, what day is it?” he asked urgently, wringing his hands together.

“Why, Christmas day, of course. How do you not know that?”

“Christmas day!” he shouted gleefully. “Bless them, they did it all at in one night!”

“Sir?” the girl said, eyeing the closest door nervously.

“Never mind, never mind, young lady. Now, what to do, what to do. So much to do!”

“Are you alright, sir?”

“Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine,” he cocked his head again. “But why would you be here on Christmas day?”

“I was just passing by on the street and your door was open. I saw you inside and you seemed worked up; I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Good girl, good girl! Looking out for your fellows, excellent!” Stinge cheered.

“Dude, you’ve gone ‘round the bend.”

“Ha! Not quite, young lady, not quite. Now, tell me, do you know the brewer’s supply two blocks over?”

“The place that smells funny?”

“Funny? Haha! Nonsense! That’s the scent of malted barley, and it’s one of the most wonderful odors on Earth.”

“Whatever,” she mumbled. “Yeah, I know the place.”

“Very good! Now, I will pay you $20 to run to the brewer’s supply, roust the owner, and give him an urgent order for Stinge and Merrill. He’ll know the name.”

Grabbing a legal pad nearby, Stinge scribbled a list of several ingredients on the pad and tore the sheet off with flair. Then, pen flying across the page, he scrawled a second note.

“Young lady, give this first note to the shop owner and tell him Stinge will pay double our normal price to have it here within the hour. Tell him to notify Bob Kolsher, at home at this number, when the delivery has been made. But he is NOT to mention me at all.” He handed her the second note.

“If you can do that and return in 15 minutes, it’ll earn you a $50!”

The girl’s eyes grew as large as saucers. “You have gone ‘round the bend! But for $50, I don’t care.” She tore away, out the still open door.

“Ha ha!” Stinge chuckled to himself. “Now, we need to make sure everything is ready for when Bob arrives.” He pulled an apron over his head and grabbed a bottle of sanitizer.

The girl was as good as her word, and returned with an invoice from the brewer’s supply in exactly 12 minutes, saying the order would arrive in little over half an hour.

“Absolutely capital!” Stinge shouted hearing the news, rubber gloves to his elbows. Making good on his promise, he paid the girl a crisp $50 dollar bill and offered her the absolute merriest of Christmas days.

After hastily preparing the brewing line, Stinge stole away from the brewery lest he be caught when Kolsher, or the ingredients, arrived.

As a happy accident, the order arrived just as Bob Kolsher did, his face screwed up in confusion.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded of the driver of the truck.

“I don’t know, fella,” the driver replied. “I’m supposed to be off today. I got called in to make an emergency delivery here. So here I am. And as soon as I get this stuff off the truck, I’m going to back home for Christmas.”

“What have you got?” Kolsher asked.

The driver handed him a clipboard and lifted the gate of his truck.

Kolsher stared, opened mouth, at the invoice for a moment and then laughed. “Well, I’ll be…it’s some kind of Christmas miracle! I’ll need the boys for this!”

Clapping the driver on the back cheerfully, he said, “I have to make some calls. Get this in on the dock, my good man, and my fellas and I will take care of it from there. And a Merry Christmas to you!”

“Whatever,” the man replied as Kolsher dashed into the building in search of a phone.

Stinge, meanwhile, had found his way to Fred’s tavern. He paced up and down the block several times, watching the door with each pass, trying to find his courage. Finally, in a burst, he ran to the door and through it, giving himself no chance for second thoughts.

Inside, he stood, letting his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. The bartender noticed him blinking by the door. “Help you sir?”

“Why, yes, I’m looking for…”

“Mr. Stinge!” A voice cried from his left.

Davey Paren, Jr. came over and extended his hand. “I’m thrilled to see you! We didn’t expect you to join us.”

“Yes, well,” Stinge said, lowering his voice, “it seems I’ve been laboring under several mistaken ideas these many years. I’ve seen the error of my ways, though, and the time has come to correct them. And the first step, it seems to me, would be to share a few pints with you good people and reminisce about your father. He was a good man, and I would not be where I am today without him.”

“Mr. Stinge!” Paren repeated, astonished.

“Edwin, please.”

Paren laughed. “Edwin, then. I’m touched to hear you speak so kindly of him,” the younger man paused, seeming to struggle to speak. “Ahem”, he continued, eyes shimmering wetly, “he spoke very highly of you as well. And we’d be honored to have you join us.”

The younger man clapped him on the shoulder and directed him toward the high table where the others sat, each wearing a look as if they’d seen the dead. Stinge smiled to himself before shaking each hand heartily and wishing them all a merry Christmas.

“If you would all indulge me,” he said, pulling up a barstool, “I think I have the perfect recipe for next year’s special release. It came from my college chemistry professor originally, and was the first, and finest, beer Davey and I brewed ever together…”

The talked all the day, and into the night, remembering the senior Paren and discussing the joy that comes with sharing well-made beer among friends.

The following morning, Stinge was the first one in his office, ready for the workday. He watched the staff trickle in over an hour or so, eyes bleary either from the previous day’s merriment or, in the case of the brewing crew, a long day of work.

The hour struck 9:00 AM without Kolsher. Five minutes past the hour, he still hadn’t arrived. At last, at 9:13, he shuffled into through the door, looking weary but grinning widely.

Stinge pressed the button on his desk intercom. “Martha, please call Mr. Kolsher into my office.”

He heard the call over the building’s P.A. system and waited, fingers tapping against his desk. Barely a minute later, Kolsher stepped into the office. “Sir, you wanted to see me?”

“I do, Kolsher, I do” he growled. “What was the last thing we discussed in this office?”

“Um, that we’d order no more malt, sir.”

“Quite. No more malt. And why not?”

“Because we’re finished brewing, sir.”

“Finished!” he cried. “And yet imagine my surprise to come up to work today and find a fermenter full of what seems very much an entire batch of Christmas Ale. What exactly is the meaning of this?”

“Well, sir,” Kolsher began, trembling now. “I…we…yesterday…”

“What am I to do with you, Kolsher,” Stinge railed, “if you cannot follow my simplest instructions?”

“Sir, I…”

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, Kolsher,” he paused, hoping not to ruin it with a premature grin, “I’m going to…to…double your salary and…triple our production!”

Kolsher recoiled, as if slapped, but then his eyes grew wide. “Sir?”

Stinge laughed, heartily, as he had not done in years. “Bob! I have been a fool! You were absolutely right to want to save your precious Tiny…uh…Christmas Ale. Thankfully, I’ve been shown my mistakes, and see how to fix them. And the first step to that is to keep Christmas in our hearts all year this year. Which is why, for the next 12 months, we will be brewing Christmas Ale continuously. No one will go for want of it this year.”

“That’s…amazing sir,” Kolsher stammered, unsure how to respond to such a miraculous transformation, “I’ll get right to work!”

“Yes, Yes, Bob, exactly right! And you tell everyone out there that Stinge and Merrill will be filling our own barrels for as long as I’m running this brewery!” With that, Stinge picked up a folder from his desk and removed a stack of papers. With a quick turn of his wrists, the tore them in half.

“Now, Bob, if you would be so kind as to take this voided contract to the incinerator and make sure nothing remains of it but ash, I have a phone call to make to MegaBrew.”

Kolsher beamed. “Right away, sir. Immediately!”

Stinge was even better than his word. The Christmas Ale, Bob’s Tiny Tim, was saved, and made available to anyone wanting it for a full year, and never a year went by afterward that it didn’t flow copiously from taps to happy revelers. And it was said after that day that there never was as good a man, as good a friend, as good an employer, or as good a brewer in the city, or the whole world even, as old Stinge.

He kept the lessons of the spirits in his heart every day, always trying to find a way to offer joy, fellowship, and comfort to his brother and sisters, whether that come from excellent beer made with great care, a simple meal freely given, or a kind word or act for those in need.

And in all his long days remaining it was said that no one kept Christmas in their heart as well as Edwin Stinge.

May the same be said of us all.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless us, every one!

REPOST: A Craft Brew Christmas Carol – The Third Spirit

The specter, floating upon the billowing foam, came to Stinge silently, gravely.

Overcome, Stinge, fell to his knees, trembling below the spirit’s gloom.

The ghost wore a voluminous dark brown robe of heavy, homespun wool sashed at the waist by a simple cord of rope. A large cowl was drawn up over its head, so deep and shadowed that no features of the face could be seen within. The vision before him was so reminiscent of an old monk, it seemed there had to be a tonsured head in there somewhere.

The ghost said nothing, but pointed with a skeletal hand – the only part of it visible outside the robe – to an empty space beside it on the cloud of foam. The air around it smelled both musty, like doom and decay, and yet bready at the same time.

“You are the Ghost of Craft Brew Christmas Yet To Come?” Stinge asked.

The apparition continued pointing to the vacant spot, but made no reply.

Stinge attempted to rise from his knees, but still trembling, nearly fell.

“Spirit, you terrify me so much I can barely stand. But Merrill said you had a lesson to teach, and the lessons of the previous ghosts have given me a great deal to think about. So I will follow where you lead gladly.”

Finally regaining control of himself, Stinge stood and stepped onto the foam where directed. It looked to him very much like the cloud of yeast lying above fermenting ale, and he expected to sink through it to the pavement. But to Stinge’s surprise, it held him fast.

“Time has become precious, spirit, lead on.”

The foam below him became especially agitated. The tiny bubbles under his feet popped and were replaced with others. This peculiar action had the effect of moving them forward along the street, sliding without moving, into the city.

The motion started slow, but then the world zipped past them in streaks. In seconds, the foam settled, and they came to a stop.

Stinge gasped. “It’s our brewery!”

And it was, except it wasn’t. Standing beside the place where the mash tun should have been, there was only empty space and a lighter-colored spot on the floor marking its absence. Grain should have been stacked throughout the room as well, but none could be seen.

Two men stood nearby, beside many stacks of crates. One of them was Kolsher, the other, one of his many assistants.

“Go ahead and take these out to the truck,” Kolsher said, marking a check on the clipboard in his hands.

The assistant levered a stack onto a two-wheel dolly and pushed them toward an open garage door. Kolsher turned his attention back to another heap of boxes, topped with a still-open crate.

“What’s happening here?” Stinge asked the spirit, but, as always, it gave no reply.

Stinge stepped forward and inspected the crate. His brow drew down in confusion as he noticed a large MegaBrew logo stamped upon its side.

“Why are they shipping all the brewer’s notes and recipes to MegaBrew? That wasn’t part of the contract.” He rubbed his chin.

With alarming suddenness, Kolsher turned away from the crate to another nearby pile, causing Stinge to fling himself backward, forgetting he would be neither felt nor heard.

Kolsher’s foot, meanwhile, kicked a bottle by accident, previously hidden under the wooden skid the boxes were piled on. With the ring of hollow glass, it skidded a few feet and then rolled across the floor.

The brewer retrieved it, picked it up off the concrete, and blew dust off its label with a heavy puff of breath. He frowned, and a grim look covered his face. He then glanced at a trash can nearby and back at the bottle. Reaching a decision, he strode past Stinge, on his way to the garbage.

Stinge could distinctly make out a triangular green tree on the label, being decorated by an illustration of a small boy with dirty blond hair sticking out from beneath a cap.

Stopping at the waste can, Kolsher looked sadly at the bottle again, as if by staring at it long enough or wishing hard enough, it might magically become full. With a sigh, he stretched his hand out over the open receptacle, ready to drop it, but clung to it, yet.

“Just throw it away, Bob,” he whispered to himself. “They’ll never be needed again.”

Finally, looking over his shoulder, he slipped the bottle into a large pocket in his jacket.

Stinge looked back at the spirit, his face long, his color ashen. He shuffled back to his place beside the ghost. The yeasty bubbles popped and foamed again, and they sped away from the brewery.

His last sight of it was the old “Stinge and Merrill’s Barrell’s” sign that once hung outside the shipping paddock by the street now leaning on the ground against the building, forgotten.

The foaming surge subsided, bringing them inside a pub where a pair of working men sat side by side at the bar in front of empty glasses.

“Another round, fellas?” the bartender asked, wiping out a pint glass with a rag.

“Nah, not of that crap, Dane,” one of them replied. “I’d been hopin’, but one pint was enough to prove it to me, old Stinge and Merrill ain’t the same no more now that it’s Stinge and Merrill by MegaBrew. Was bad ‘nuff when they was just doing the brewing, but now that they got control of all the beers, they ain’t worth drinkin’ anymore. Dunno what they changed, but it’s awful.”

“Yeah,” Dane replied, “pretty much everyone is saying the same thing. Once this keg is gone, we’re not ordering more.”

“A shame, too,” the second man said, “I still miss their Christmas Ale. Woulda been the perfect thing to wet my whistle today. Hasn’t been Christmas proper since we could get it.”

“I hear good things about this new Paren Holiday Memorial Ale, though,” Dane added. “Can I pull you a couple of those?”

The men nodded. “Yeah, I had one o’ those, well, maybe more than one, t’other night,” the first man replied. “It’s good. Not as good as ole Stinge’s was, but I b’lieve I can make a tradition of it.”

As he said it, the bubbles agitated below Stinge again, and they glided away, coming to an altogether different bar uptown. A quartet of businessmen was sitting in a booth, glasses of wine or whiskey in hand. They all laughed contentedly.

One of them sipped his wine and said, “All the years we schemed to get to add that brand to our profile, and it just falls into our lap. Merry Christmas, indeed!”

“I know,” another replied, “I always thought the old man would give us what we wanted, eventually, but he’d demand such a price that it would cut into our end of year bonuses. And instead, all we had to do was wait!”

“No, gentlemen, I knew the die was cast as soon as he signed the contract and then consented to give up the Christmas Ale. After that, it was easy to see a drop in profits for them. Once the quarterlies started to falter, I knew he’d let us cut whatever corners we could find. Of course, after we started tampering with the brewing, it was only a matter of time until he alienated enough of his customer for it to all snowball our way.”

“Right!” the third man said. “Burying those bad quality reports and canceling the taste panels was brilliant. To quality!” Raising his glass, the man laughed uproariously.

“To quality!” the others echoed.

“Still,” the fourth interjected, “it was quite a stroke of luck that the company’s poor performance killed him. We got it from the estate for a song!”

“A song, indeed. To the company, then, and to MegaBrew!” the first one cheered. They all threw back their drinks and ordered another round.

Stinge and the ghost slid away again on the curious layer of foam, coming to rest in the middle of a street, between a decrepit old church and a tiny cemetery.

“Why do you bring me here?” Stinge asked. He’d become somber and quite pale throughout their visits. By this point, he seemed ready to collapse. “What could I possibly need to see at this little church?”

The gloomy phantom pointed, not toward the church, but to the cemetery standing near it.

“My old partner is buried here,” Stinge said, almost to himself. “But I don’t guess that’s what we’ve come here to see on this Christmas, is it?”

The spirit said nothing, again, but continued pointing.

“I don’t want to go look, spirit, I fear I can’t take what lies beyond that gate.”

The ghost stood, impassive.

“Before I go, tell me, are these visions of things that will be, unchangeably, or things that merely could be, depending on the course of events from the present day?”

The skeletal finger pointed at Stinge and then back toward the cemetery.

“Fine,” he said, “I’ll go.”

Stinge crept ahead, shaking in fear, through the wrought-iron gate and into the cemetery. Following the specter’s finger, there, beside the grave of Jackson Merrill that he visited last at the man’s interment, was an overgrown grave without flower or tribute and only a simple stone. Upon it was inscribed the name “EDWIN STINGE”.

Falling to his knees, he wept into his hands, moaning.

The scent of bready yeast filled his nose, and he knew the ghost had come to him. Looking up, he whispered urgently, “No, spirit, say this isn’t so. Tell me it does not have to be this way. I swear I will honor Christmas and my craft for the rest of my days if I can be given another chance. I will mark each day with the lessons you ghosts have taught. Please, kind spirit, tell me it must not come to this!”

The spirit reached forward and Stinge grasped the bony hand. “Please, ghostly apparition, please!” he exclaimed. With another skeletal hand, the spirit tapped him on his shoulder and he fell backward, snapping the bones he held.

It came away in his hand, and grew into his tap handle. Alive and well, he knelt before the runoff sink in his own apartment, tap broken off from his beer faucet.

REPOST: A Craft Brew Christmas Carol — The Second Spirit

Stinge sat up in bed and looked around his dark room. His clock, inexplicably sitting in its proper spot on his nightstand read 1:00 AM. The exact minute he was told to expect his second visitor.

At yet he was alone.

He waited, unmoving in his bed, save for a slight shake of his hands that matched the quick beating of his heart. Every few seconds, Stinge would glance again at the clock, to confirm that it was, in fact, time for the next spirit.

Two minutes past and nothing.

Five minutes, and still no sign.

At last, at ten minutes past the hour, Stinge stepped from his bed and shuffled to his tap. If this was all just madness – or some peculiar dream – perhaps another beer would help him back to sleep.

Grabbing on the faucet handle, an unusual gleam shined from beneath his bathroom door. The light blazed around the door frame and grew brighter and brighter until it filled the whole room like midday.

Stinge approached the door with careful steps, not sure what to make of it. And then, putting his hand on the knob, he opened it and a voice boomed from within, “Come on in! Come on in! We need to meet!”

He let his eyes adjust to the blinding glare, and found himself back in his own single room, watching a man rest comfortably on a beer barrel, surrounded by a dozen other kegs and barrels, curtains of hop vines hanging from the ceiling, and sheaves of barley. This ghost resembled a man, tall and slender, but seemed a giant in Stinge’s mind, large enough to somehow fill an entire room with just the presence of his spirit.

“I am the Ghost of Craft Brew Christmas Present,” the spirit said.

He wore what appeared to be a simple t-shirt and blue jeans, but upon scrutiny, Stinge noted that both were made from the finest materials that could be put together and were as new as though they just came from their maker. The spirit’s shirt was emblazoned with a face held in a mighty grimace, open-mouthed, as if screaming in defiance and boundless determination. In his hand, he held a megaphone that somehow seemed to burn at the end like a torch.

Raising it to his lips, he said, voice booming through the implement, “Do you know me?”

Stinge faltered. “No. I don’t think I do.”

“In all the years of your work, have you never spent time with one of my brothers or sisters? While I am very young, you could have known one of my older siblings?”

“I don’t think so. How many are there?”

The ghost smiled. “Hundreds. Thousands.”

Stinge furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand, but if you have something to show me, spirit, let’s be on with it.”

Rising from the barrel, the ghost approached Stinge and said, “Hold onto my shirt.” He did, and a bubbling sensation of a hot, delicate foam rose from his feet, up his legs and torso, and over his head. The room vanished.

The light, hot foam fell back again and snow was at Stinge’s feet. A brisk wind blew past his face. Chill as he knew it should be, though, he felt no cold. The pair stood on the sidewalk outside a tavern.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Just a pub. A place where people gather to share in the joy of Christmas with good friends and good beer.”

The sign above the front door read “Cratchit House.”

“Wait, I know this place,” Stinge said, rubbing his chin. “I believe this place is a frequent stop of my brew master, Kolsher.”

“Let’s see what’s happening inside, then,” the ghost replied. Stinge took his shirt again, and after the oddly hot sensation of being covered over in foam, the pair was inside the building.

Bob Kolsher stood at the head of a long table, a full mug of brown-black liquid raised, before a host of faces Stinge recognized as his employees. Kolsher’s own wife sat beside him, smiling ear to ear with a glass of her own. In front of Bob on the table stood a number of bottles, lined up like soldiers.”

“To Peter, our porter,” Kolsher roared happily, “with never too much bite and never too much roast, it has always been the perfect, slightly sweet one in-between.”

“Hear, hear!” each person seated at the table cried, and they all drank deeply from their own mugs.

A woman beside Mrs. Kolsher said to her, “They’re just like his own children, these beers. What will he do now?”

Bob’s wife gave her a forced half-smile. “We tell ourselves it’s like being a parent. There comes a time when they must go out into the world. And then you hope the best comes of it.”

“Letting that…company,” she said with a grimace, “take over them is certainly no one’s first wish, but Bob will always be there, as, what did he say, Brewing Liaison, to watch over them as best he can.”

Kolsher slammed his empty mug down on the table and wobbled slightly. Then, taking up the last bottle in his row, he kissed it with reverence and pressed it to his cheeks. Holding it out he said, “And finally, last but by no means least, there’s the Christmas Ale. My favorite brew, the one that’s had a special place in my heart since Merrill and Stinge first told to me to come up with something for the season. I nicknamed this one Tiny Tim, years ago, because there was so much flavor, joy, and life in such a small bottle.”

He tilted the bottle and watched it pour slowly into his mug, his eyes shining with the threat of wetness. Holding the mug solemnly into the air he said, “Merry Christmas to us all and God bless us.”

Those present around him smiled and echoed the sentiment, and they all sipped from their Christmas Ales. Wiping foam from his lips, Kolsher sighed contentedly. “God bless us, every one.”

Stinge, seeing their admiration for the beer, so lovingly cared for by Kolsher as to give it a personal nickname like “Tiny Tim”, sniffed quietly and rubbed at his own eyes.

“Tell me, spirit, will it ever be the same again? Can our Christmas Ale, Bob’s Tiny Tim, somehow manage to survive the coming years?”

“You know the answer already. I see an empty bottle, covered in dust, sitting alone on the memento shelf above the bar here, if nothing changes. But then, better to get away from…”

The apparition raised its oddly burning bullhorn and triggered it with a dark grin. Stinge’s own voice radiated from its bell forcefully, “‘wasting our time, energy, and precious capital on brewing.’”

Stinge lowered his head in shame, hearing his own cold words echoed back in the midst of the laughter around him of others finding so much Christmas joy together, even in the face of an uncertain future.

Still standing, Kolsher added, “And one last toast, to good Mr. Stinge, for giving us all a chance to have such a day!”

“Such as day as this, indeed!” Mrs. Kolsher exclaimed. “I’ve never had such a sad Christmas as today, with friends together, bidding our family of beers goodbye. If only Stinge was here, I’d have a few more drinks and then give him quite a bit more than a toast, I’m happy to say, although I doubt he’d find it a very pleasant meal!”

“Please, sweetheart, it’s Christmas,” Kolsher said softly.

“Fine,” she relented. “Because it’s Christmas and because we still have proper beer, made with care, here to toast with. A merry Christmas, then, for Stinge!”

“For Stinge,” everyone around the table repeated, without enthusiasm. And then each sipped, faces dark, from their dwindling mugs of Christmas Ale.

The ghost nudged Stinge on the shoulder and bent his head toward the street. Stinge took his shirt again, noticing how the grimacing logo at it center seemed to stare at him in anger.

The hot foam rose and fell again, and they appeared in another tavern, with a sign reading, “Fred’s, since 1843” above the bar.

Stinge found himself standing beside Mr. Paren, Jr., the son of Davey Paren, his old college friend, at a tall round table beside a ancient wooden bar running the length of the pub’s main room. A number of his contemporaries, men and women of brewing, known to both, Stinge and Paren sat with the junior brewer, tall glasses of a ruby-brown beer in front of them.

“I believe this might be their finest yet,” one woman said taking a full drink. “It’s a shame there will likely never be any more.”

“I must admit,” Paren said, “I do think it’s better even than our warmer this season. Stinge’s man Kolsher outdid himself with the Christmas Ale this year.”

A chorus of agreement ran around the table.

“I still can’t believe you invited him,” another man said.

“Well, he was a good friend of my father’s once. And I know my father always wanted to work with him, specifically on a special holiday release.”

The woman scoffed. “Old friend or not, I don’t know how you deal with him. He seems to have no care for what we do. Everything he sees seems to be boiled down immediately to a quantitative value, which is instantly analyzed for profit. I don’t have the patience.”

“I can’t bear his cold, scrutinizing look,” another of the men said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Paren cried, laughing. “Yesterday, when I wished him a merry Christmas, he called the whole thing trivial!”

Everyone at the table shook their heads in disbelief. “Such a wonderful time of year for us,” the man to Paren’s right said. “I brew my entire year looking forward to this season. It’s hard to not smile as our winter brew boils, knowing that hardly anyone who tastes it will be doing so except in moments of happiness and celebration with those they love around them. I can’t imagine NOT making it.”

“Hear, hear,” they all said, toasting to the sentiment.

“And yet, next year, Stinge will be giving that all away and worse, letting MegaBrew pour whatever cheap ingredients they can squeak past Kolsher into those bottles.”

“Too true,” Paren laughed again. “I don’t think he realizes that he’s hurting himself more than anyone else this way. In the end, I’m sure his many customers will find joy in sharing together different, well-made beers, while old Stinge will have nothing to drink but his own distasteful, cheaply made swill.”

“Nevertheless,” he continued, “in honor of the season, and my father, which is why we all came today, I will continue to wish the poor soul a ‘Merry Christmas!’, as well as offer an invitation each year for him to join in our holiday brew, whether it be one year since he fired his kettle or 10.”

“To poor Stinge, then” one of the ladies said, then, raising her glass of his own Christmas Ale. “May he have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, whether he want it or not, and may his boil kettle stay hot, in spite of his cold calculations!”

“To Stinge!” the others all cried, and drank deeply.

Tapping him, the spirit nodded again, and Stinge took his shirt once more. Another hot foam covered him and fell, and they materialized on a dark street corner.

The spirit’s eyes looked heavy and its clothes had become well-worn as their time together had gone on. The face on the t-shirt, though, while having the same basic features as before, somehow now seemed more ominous to Stinge. More accusing. More hostile.

“My time is nearly up,” the ghost said.

“Excuse me for asking, spirit,” Stinge began, “but why do you wear your own face on your chest, in such a sad, contorted shape? Especially when everything you have shown tonight me has been full of warmth and joy?”

“This time each year, Man is called to look at himself, within himself, and evaluate what he is offering to mankind. But very few really glimpse what’s inside. The face on my shirt, then, echoes what each person should see, if they truly saw themselves with honest eyes.”

“If you have been giving of yourself and your talents, to bring joy and comfort for your brothers and sisters, the face would seem a rallying cry, a cheer for good works, and hearty, stirring call to strengthen and support further efforts. If you have not, though, the face would seem a mean, ugly look of condemnation.”

“What do you see, Edwin Stinge? What does it mirror inside yourself? I know. I know that when you ignore the gifts you could offer others, give up on your craft, and trade your responsibilities to those who would sell fizzy, yellow water in your name because you chase only profit, well; unless that brew is changed, what I know spells Doom.”

“But!” Sting cried. “I’ve only done what I thought right.”

The ghost’s face changed, then, to match the angry grimace on it’s now faded t-shirt. Raising the burning megaphone again, it pressed the handle button and Stinge’s own cold voice filled his ears, words slightly twisted from his phone early conversation with Paren.

“I will allow you to continue your work uninterrupted. Good day.”

A wristwatch chimed the hour, and Stinge looked around for the source. Before finding it, the phantom noise stopped.

Looking back, the Ghost of Craft Brew Christmas Present* was gone, leaving him alone on the street corner.

Movement caught the corner of his eye, though, and he turned to see a dark, shadowy figure in a belted robe approach, gliding along a fluffy tan foam.

The solemn creature filled Stinge with dread.


*I’d like to offer a very large, extra special “Thank You” to Greg Koch of Stone Brewing (stonebrew.com) for letting me borrow a few of his more well-known traits for the Ghost of Christmas Present. I owe him a beer next time he’s in town!

REPOST: A Craft Brew Christmas Carol – The First Spirit

Stinge awoke in total darkness.  He couldn’t specifically remember turning off his only dim bulb, but must have before falling into bed.

The man groaned and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the fuzz from his head.  Perhaps he’d had a few pints too many earlier in the night.  That would certainly explain both what he’d seen and how he felt.

Glancing at the clock beside his bed, he noted the dull red lines making up the numbers on its face marked the time as 2:27 AM.

“Midnight, indeed.  Humbug!”  Stinge chuckled to himself.

A flicker of motion caught his eye, though, and focusing again on the clock face, he was astonished to find the numbers wind backwards.

“What’s this?  2:20?  I sweat it was just…”

The numbers whirred again, now stopping at 2:00 AM.

“Nonsense!” the man growled, rubbing his eyes.

The red digits, brighter now, read a preposterous 1:00 AM.

Stinge grabbed the clock, preparing to throw it across the room when the digits spun again, landing precisely at 12:00 AM.  Midnight.

The clock in his hands chimed the hour, and he dropped it in shock.  Reaching to pick it up, he straightened, and found an unfamiliar face gazing back at him.  The clock clattered back to the floor a second time.

The figure was somehow old and young, with a youthful face full of cheer yet long white hair that stretched down its back.  Dressed in lederhosen and carrying a long handled spoon, it smiled at Stinge.  The apparition’s face was lit by a strange glow emanating from its head, just above the open top of a mush tun worn as a cap.

“Are you the first of the sprits to visit me?”

“Yes,” the spectre said in a child-like voice, “I am the Ghost of Craft Brew Christmas Past.”

“Beer in the historical past?”  Stinge asked.

“No, beer in your past, Edwin Stinge.”

“I am well aware of how beer has affected my past, spirit.  Let’s not waste either of our time.”

“If only that were true,” the ghost said sadly.  “Come, walk with me.”

“To where?  It’s late and cold.”

“To visit your past, of course.”

Stinge scoffed.  “Right.  And how do you propose I travel through time?”

Extending the spoon in its hand, the ghost said, “Take hold here, barely a light touch, and we will flow easily as though poured through the ages.”

Stinge did as commanded, and in that moment a cold weightless sensation washed over him as if floating on the head of a beer.  He squeezed his eyes shut until the feeling was gone.  Opening them again, he stood outside an old brick building on a cobblestone street.

“Goodness, I know this place.  It no longer exists!  I grew up on this block.  This is my old grandfather’s brewery, before it was closed and demolished by my father.”

Stinge gave the ghost a wistful look.

“Are you okay?” it asked.  “You look stricken.”

“I’m fine.  It’s just that…I always dreamed of running my grandfather’s brewery when I was a boy.  To see it now, as a man…”

He cleared his throat.  “Well, that’s under the bridge now.  Show me what we came to see.”

“Can you lead us to your grandfather’s office?”

“Do you take me for an idiot?”  Stinge complained.  “I know the way it by heart.”

“With the building forgotten for so long, odd you would still remember.”

Giving the ghost a scornful look, he replied simply, “follow me,” and stepped into the brewery.

Through the grain storage room, past the mash tun, beyond the boil kettle, and up another long flight of steps, Stinge led the ghost through the deserted building.

Rounding the corner at the top of the steps, they stepped into an office where a small man with rosy cheeks and a broad smile sipped from a cup while looking over papers.

Stinge stopped short and gasped.  “Grandfather!”

The man continued peering at his work, head down.

“He can’t see us, Edwin.  These are only visions of the past, unchangeable.  He can see and hear us no more than you could at the time.”

As it spoke, a child’s voice exclaimed, “Grandpa!” behind them, and a young boy raced past them to hug the older man.

“Little Eddy!” his grandfather returned with cheer, hugging the boy tightly.

“I had forgotten how I used to be so glad to see him,” the elder Stinge said.  “He always had a smile and small treat for me.”

“Merry Christmas to you, grandson.  A piece of toffee?” the grandfather asked the boy, as if on cue.

Taking the candy, the boy looked at the man’s desk.  “Thank you and Merry Christmas to you too, Grandpa.  Are you doing the books?  And what are you drinking today?”

“I am.  And today’s sample is our dunkleweizen.”

“Am I old enough yet?”

With a half smile, the older man shook his head.  “Not yet, little Eddy.  In a few years you can try the beer.  You’ll need to know them well when you grow older, if you are to run the business some day.”

“If there is a business to run,” came a heavy voice between Stinge and the ghost.  A vision of his father stood beside him.

“Good day, son,” his grandfather said.  “How are you?”

“Worried, as usual of late,” the somber-looking man replied.  “Profits were barely even this year, and the big companies are getting serious about expansion.  I don’t know how we’ll compete against them as they branch out.”

The old brewer laughed.  “I’ll take a year of the same profits a thousand times over one of losses, son.  This is not such terrible news.”  Growing more serious, he said, “and we will cross that other bridge when and if we come to it.  But, in truth, I hear those brewers make their beer using the cheapest adjuncts they can order.  There’s no love in it, no craft.  It’s a commodity they expect to sell with big advertisements no matter how it tastes.”

“But enough of that; it’s time to celebrate Christmas and a year of blessings!  Come. Let’s open a barrel or two to enjoy with the workers and their families.”

“Father!”  Stinge’s own father looked stricken.  “Surely this is not to time to be giving away our goods to people we already pay.  Especially when our potential welfare is threatened.”

Looking stern, the older man said, “I will not leave young Eddy a company that abuses those people it relies upon.”  Smiling again, he added, “come now, a few barrels won’t make such a mark against our profits.  It’s time to rejoice in the holiday!”

Shaking his head, Stinge’s father, said, “As you wish, sir.”

“Good.  It’s settled then.  Now, little Eddy, I believe if you hurry, you might catch your grandmother downstairs bringing in the cakes.”

The young man dashed from the room and clattered down the steps and the men followed after him.

“It was your grandfather’s last Christmas, wasn’t it?” the ghost asked as they left.

“Yes.”  Stinge replied.  “A kind-hearted soul, he didn’t live to see the demise of everything he’d built.  It’s just as well, too.  The collapse that came during my father’s tenure would have killed him.”

“You did have the opportunity to sample his craft, though?”

“Yes, a few years later, when I was of an appropriate age, my father allowed me to try them all with the brew master at the time.  They still followed my grandfather’s recipes, and each glass was marvelous.”

“Too bad,” the ghost whispered, “they are no longer brewed.”

“But surely,” it added, “your grandfather would have been proud of how you followed him in the business.”

“Are you mocking me, ghost?”  Stinge growled.

“Not at all,” the spirit said, smiling.  “Come, we are not finished yet.”  It held the spoon out to Stinge.

He took it, and the cold effervescent sensation filled him again.

Opening his eyes again, he found himself in a laboratory, where three figures huddled around a large pot over a flaming burner.

“Ha!”  Stinge exclaimed.  “We’re in the chemistry lab from college.  And there’s old Professor Williger and, my goodness, that’s Davey!  David Parens, as I live and breathe!”

Watching at a wristwatch through horn-rimmed glasses, the white-haired professor said, “Davey, Eddy, that’s 30 minutes.  Time for the next dose of hops.”

A young Edwin Stinge lifted a small container and dumped it contents, a pile of green leafy cones, into the pot.

“I’d nearly forgotten it,” Stinge said, breathless.  “My first brew.  Davey and I had been caught chattering about home brewing something in our dorm room, and Williger grabbed us and gave us the rough side of his tongue us about setting the building on fire.”

“And then, much to our surprise, he offered to help us.  We spent that Christmas Eve drinking Williger’s homebrew and learning the ins and outs of making beer.  He even had a special holiday beer he only made at Christmastime.”

Each of the men raised their glasses and clinked them together, offering a hearty cheer.

“We were so proud of ourselves.  That was still one of the best beers I ever made.”

He licked his limps, keenly aware of his thirst.

“Such a kindness Williger did us then,” Stinge went on.  “We were young and foolish, and left to our own devices might have actually set the place on fire, or at least made something tasting like dishwash.  A few hours of the Professor’s time made all the difference to both of us.”

“What’s that?” the ghost asked.

“Just that he had such power to affect our lives, with so small a thing.”

“Indeed.  Was there something else you wanted to say?”

“Just that…well, it’s a shame we didn’t keep up the tradition.”

“Did you not brew again?”

“Oh, the three of us got together the next few years on Christmas Eve to brew, and we even made that same recipe.  But then Davey and I graduated and each started our own breweries, which brought our collaborative brewing to an end.”

“But you did continue a Christmas Eve relationship with him for a while….”  The ghost held the spoon forward again.

Expecting the cold, Stinge squeezed his eyes together before taking it, and opened them again when it left him.  He found an older Davey Parens sitting alone in Stinge’s customary booth at his nightly pub.

A stiff wind blew through the bar as the door opened and another, slightly older version of Edwin Stinge stomped inside, coat and boots covered in snow.

“Bloody cold,” he groused.

Parens stood.  “Eddy, it’s good to see you!  Let’s warm you up.  I’ve brought a quarter barrel of this year’s Christmas Ale, which should do just the trick.”

“That’s kind of you, Davey.  I’m afraid our stock is very precious,” Stinge said.  “I couldn’t liberate any from our shipments.”

“Well, that’s alright.  We can still have a nice evening.  Truly, I don’t know why we don’t do this more than once a year.”

The older Stinge, standing beside the ghost, frowned, and shook slightly in agitation.

“Something wrong?” the spirit asked him.

“No, no.  He was always such a generous soul.  He’d have given me the shirt off his back.”

“Listen, Eddy, I’ve been thinking,” Parens said.  “We haven’t brewed on Christmas Eve in years, not since we last saw old Williger.  Next year, let’s do something special.  Let’s both our breweries make something special.  Maybe each do a version of Williger’s holiday recipe?  Or something new and unusual.  It would be great fun!”

Stinge rubbed his chin.  “I would love to taste Williger’s again, but I’m afraid I can’t put my company’s resources to use for our own amusement, Dave.”

Parens frowned.  “Come on, Stinge, it would be glorious!  Just as a small commitment.  I’ll even front the capital.  We would both just need to clear a tiny wedge of time for brewing and distribution.”

Shaking his head, Stinge took a gulp of beer.  “I’m sorry,” he said, wiping white foam from his mouth, “but our production schedule is overburdened already.  I couldn’t possibly squeeze something like that in next year.  Maybe sometime in a few years, if we increase our capacity.”

A sad look fell over Parens.  “Sure, Edwin.  A few years.”

An awkward silence fell over the two men in the booth.  Parens looked away, crestfallen, and Stinge began to read over the menu very pointedly.

“Take me home; I’ve had enough,” Stinge growled to the ghost.

It grinned back wickedly.  “Don’t blame me if you find your own past skunked.  These are simply visions of what happened.”

“Bah!” he roared.  “Enough, I said!”

Laughing, the ghost tapped him on head with its spoon, and the cold sensation returned.  Rather than floating, though, this time Stinge felt as if he was falling though the air.

Falling, falling, falling…

And startling awake in his own bed, lying on his back.