Help. I’m a gal who likes wine and scotch, but I’m writing a mystery about a microbrewer.
That’s how I felt several years ago when I began my research to write A Deadly Draught, recently released by Mainly Murder Press. I wanted to do a cozy mystery with a female protagonist who worked at something out-of-the-ordinary. I wanted a “hook” that was different. I hadn’t any interest in the usual occupations found in cozies, and I had no experience with them. I tried crocheting once, but my friend said watching me made her think of a baby eating a lemon. My face became so contorted that she recommended I never crochet again. And I wasn’t very good at it anyway. In general, I’m not a crafty person.
All of the good gal-type cozy hooks were taken, so I looked for something guys do that I could put a woman into. It came down to a choice between taxidermy and microbrewing. I knew I’d have to research either of my selections. The thought of removing the skin from an animal such as a deer, bear, or even smaller prey such as a chipmunk shot by a “sportsman” and then molding it into a likeness of the living creature and inserting marble-like eyes into the vacant sockets . . . Well, you see what I mean. I settled on microbrewing even though my brief flirtation with beer in college had been less than savory. Years later, I tried several microbrews on a trip to Utah and liked the taste very much. Not at all like my college misadventure.
My first journey to a microbrewery was to one that brewed Belgian-style ales. On the tour, the guide showed us an open fermenting tank located in a closed room. We viewed the process through a window. “You can’t go in there,” the guide informed us, “because one of the by-products of fermentation is carbon dioxide. The room is filled with it.” Perfect, I thought and asked, “Could you kill someone in there?” Before someone could escort me from the building, I quickly explained I was a mystery writer. I hoped that explained my unusual question, but I heard that guide quit his job soon after the tour.
The brewery is still there. The master brewer became one of my greatest sources for information about craft beers. He has since moved on. It wasn’t my fault. Honest.
Other brewers became friends as I picked their brilliant brains for information about microbrewing. I think I did well. My protagonist, Hera Knightsbridge, knows a lot about beer. I guess that means I do too, but I always defer to her when someone asks me a technical question about the process. So let me have her take you on a brief tour of her brewery.
Hi! I’m Hera. I’ll make this tour quick as I’m in the middle of working on a new ale for this summer. The first vessel, vat, or kettle you usually see at a brewery is the mash lauder tun where the malt is flooded with hot water to convert its starch to sugar, creating the mash. More water is added to release all of the available sugar. This is called wort, and it is gravity fed to a brew kettle. I take the grain left behind and sell it to a local farmer who feeds it to his happy cows.
Now is the time for boiling the liquid to coagulate the proteins and sterilize the wort. Hops are then added for bitterness and again at the end of the boil for flavor and aroma. The wort goes through a heat exchanger into a fermenter to reduce the temperature so my yeast will work on the sugars. It takes about four or five days for the yeast to convert the sugars to alcohol. Top feeding yeasts, which leave some of the sugars and ferment at 60-70 degrees, produce ales, while yeasts that ferment more slowly at lower temperatures produce clean, dry beer, or lagers. I make both types of beer. The yeast drops to the bottom when it runs out of sugars. The beer is cold-conditioned and then filtered to remove any yeast left.
That’s it, simplified, of course, but now you know what you’re seeing when you gaze up at all those ominous looming kettles. I’ve included some pictures of breweries near me so you can see some of the insides with their kettles and the outsides also.
Gotta go now. I need to check my brew kettle. I’m in the middle of a boil. Oh, and don’t forget to taste some of the lagers and ales at the brewery you tour and take a few home for later consumption. Savor them. Don’t drink them like you’re at a frat party.
Hera’s a great gal. You can read about her in my debut mystery A Deadly Draught. Not only are there money problems for her small brewery, but a drought has descended upon the Butternut Valley, making all the brewers there hungry for water. Those aren’t her only problems. She discovered her nearest competitor murdered on his brew barn floor, and she is the authorities’ favorite suspect. Worse, the new deputy sheriff for the county is a past lover of hers from law school, and passion still fires their relationship. Her only recourse is to join forces with him and find the real killer before the murderer chooses her as the next victim.