Just shy of his 50th birthday, Jarvis Bagley’s life has become an awful cliché. Long divorced, long single, estranged from his children, working an unfulfilling job, Jarvis has long since dropped courtesy and decorum for acrimony and rancor.
So lost is he in his contempt for others, that he finds his most meaningful relationships interacting with his favorite craft beers and the anthropomorphized caricatures he turns them into.
His lone solace is competing Tuesday night trivia at Grendel’s Tap & Pub. His greatest dream is winning the coveted Saxon Keg—the Pub’s prize awarded to the best trivia team of the year.
But if he wants to win the Keg, and maybe put his life in some kind of order, he’s going to have to put together a winning team. Worse yet, he’s going to have to get along with the real people who will form it.
Chapter Four: Jarvis and the Master Home Brewer
Saxon Keg Point Standings—Early May:
- The Ken Dolls: 660
- Jarvis Bagley and “Friends”: 540
- Isaac Newton’s Missing Apple: 500
- Make Trivia Great Again: 390
- Saxophones and Saliva: 130
- Zen and the Art of Beer: 100
- The C-Chord Walk Downs: 30
- Off-Road Commuters: 30
- Others: 20
atherine Addleson-Smith lived on the north side of town, adjacent to the city park. To say her house was overgrown would be an understatement. But to be fair, hers wasn’t any more overgrown than mine. Since I lived out of town, however, on an isolated bit of property tucked alongside a large, old-growth grove, no one particularly cared that I’d let things go. My hedges, which long ago were neatly flat-topped and even with the top step of my front stoop, now snaked over the gutter, along some of the roof, and shot another foot or two toward the heavens. And was just the front yard.
I suppose, among the few folks who bothered to walk along County Road 275 North, there may have been one or two who flashed a quick double-take and noticed that someone’s house actually sat behind those unchained evergreens. Most folks, however, zipped by in their cars anywhere from 15 to 30 miles over the speed limit, never taking notice of the wall of nature shielding my one-level from the hostilities of the world.
Catharine Addleson-Smith’s house, on the other hand, was much harder to ignore. Okay…that’s a bit misleading. At first, it was easy to miss. Ephraim was an old town. Most of the lots had swapped out privacy fences for more natural walls. Maybe a lifetime ago, back when everyone watched Leave it to Beaver on tiny bulbous Westinghouse sets. Maybe then when the property lines within each block met neatly in right angles next to pruned apple trees with cute birdhouses. Now, however, every back yard was cut off from the next by narrow walls of poplar, maple, and oak.
So, the first time you plodded along Buchanan Street, Catharine Addleson-Smith’s lot may have looked like one of the dozens of wooded spots which had filled in all the dead space in Ephraim. But eventually on that jog, when you stopped to tie your shoe or tuck your headphone a little more deeply in your ear canal, you’d look a tad more closely into the trees. Then you’d realize that this tiny copse of saplings and mid-range hardwoods which had leafed over your head every evening was in fact Catharine Addleson-Smith’s front yard.
Then you’d notice the trail which bore the resemblance of a sidewalk leading to the shadowy outline of an otherwise average bungalow. There, some six or seven tree trunks deep, sat her home.
The couch, which she had asked me to help her move into her house, sat in the back yard. Or, should I say, it sat in the back grove. Half standing on its end, half leaning against the trunk of a shade-weary persimmon tree. As soon as I had placed my palms on its maroon upholstery, I knew it was a goner. The wetness bled out of the woven overlays and soaked my hands. The smell that wafted from the fissure I’d just formed nauseated me.
“You can’t take this inside,” I said. I’m sure I spoke matter-of-factly, but it’s possible there was some pleading and supplication in my voice as well.
She knew I was right before I’d finished the sentence.
“Yeah…” she answered. Her voice trailed off and she stared into the trees in front of her. “Well,” she resumed. “We might as well toss it then. Don’t want it to make this place look unsightly.”
Twenty minutes later I stood in her living room as she rummaged through a mountain of envelopes and loose-leaf papers stacked a yard-high on her kitchen table. Most of the room was furnished with mismatched bits of chairs, ottomans, and loveseats akin to the thing we’d hauled out of her back yard and then set by the garbage bins in her alley. A threadbare yellow rug covered the hardwood in the middle of the room, a wooden rolltop desk filled in one corner, and bookshelves of various heights and designs covered all the remaining wall space.
I stood next to a waist-high set of shelves in what seemed to be the front of the room. They were deeper than the others, sticking some two feet out from the wall, and they obviously served as Catherine’s “entertainment center” of sorts. An old television—and I mean “old,” a Zenith with a picture tube screen—stat on top. Scattered on either side of it were an assortment of vases—most of them sporting garish, fake floral arrangements—and a handful of 5×7 photo frames propped up on their cardboard easels.
I reached for the nearest picture. A young man. Somewhere in his early 20’s. Blonde…or more like “blonde-ish.” He bore Catherine Addleson-Smith’s aquamarine eyes, and he shared her nose and jawline. Somehow those features made the man in the photo look handsome. Dashing. But Catherine’s features made her look angry. Intimidating.
“Who’s this fella?” I asked, holding the frame limply. Catherine Addleson-Smith pulled her eyes out of the glasses at the tip of her nose and craned her head my way. She looked at the picture from her spot by the kitchen table, and her gaze disappeared, out of the room, out of the moment.
“He was my son,” she said. As she spoke, she dropped her vision back into her glasses and resumed her rummage work amid the papers. Carefully, I placed the frame back on the top shelf. I eased my fingers off of the frame and pored my eyes into the boy in the portrait.
“Ah,” she finally announced holding what looked like the tattered remnants of a checkbook before her, “here we go…”
“You don’t need to pay me for helping you with that couch,” I said with a bit of polite condescension in my tone.
“I’m not going to pay you,” she replied, her own condescension lacking any hint of politeness to it at all.
“So…” I asked my eyes on the band of checks in her hand, “then what’s the purpose with that?”
“Come on this way,” she answered. She waved her arm, swinging it at the shoulder over her head as she nodded toward the back door in the kitchen. “I’ll show you.”
Written on the back side of some half-dozen bank checks were a series of beer recipes. They were neatly penned with gel ink. She organized everything, the list of materials and ingredients as well as the steps, with a series of crisp, logical dashes. Short dashes preceded her heading points:
-What I Need…
-Making the Wort…
Longer dashes followed, laying out her answers to her topical questions:
-What I Need…
–11 lbs—Two Row Malt
–1 lb—Caramel Malt, 20 Lovibonds…
“What’s a Lovibond,” I asked, fumbling the pronunciation.
“Color,” Catherine said over her shoulder. She had to lean into the back door and wedge it open. As she talked about the ranges of color among the standard malts that most homebrewers use, she also shuffled her way along the short sidewalk between her house and detached garage.
“Most people keep things pretty simple,” she said. She huffed a little, a bit out of breath. The side door to the garage proved just as stubborn as the back door to the house. In a move that seemed routine, she shouldered the door, leaned into it with a slightly pained grimace and pushed. The screeching sound of wood versus concrete gave to a shudder then silence. Silently we walked inside.
As the fluorescent lighting flickered to life, I took in the arrangement before me. Catherine Addleson-Smith wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill homebrewer. Catherine Addleson-Smith was a small-batch beer artisan.
Hunkered in the back corner sat a gleaming, 80-gallon mash tun. Factoring in the four-legged frame it sat upon, the tank—roughly three feet in diameter—stopped about 18 inches shy of the garages roof trusses. To its left stood an equally imposing stainless-steel boil kettle. In between, resting on a crude, two-by-four scaffold, sat a state-of-the-art heat-exchanger. Further to the left, mounted on gleaming, chrome stilts, ran a row of small fermenters. All of them were apparently hard at work. Tags dangled from them. One read “Brown,” and another announced it was whipping up a batch of “Red Irish.” And in the shadows, just around the corner, another reflective, steel cylinder, similar in size to the mash tun, which bookended the setup.
“My God…” I said. “You’ve even got a brite tank.”
In front of us ranged rows of chest refrigerators. I wrapped my hand around the edges of the nearest fridge lid and tugged it open. When the wisps of frost swirled and dissipated, I stared at a half-dozen pony-kegs, neatly settled and wrapped in bags of ice for good measure.
“There’s no way you drink this much beer,” I said.
“No,” Catharine replied. “I hang onto what I can. I dump a lot out.”
“This can’t be legal,” I added.
“The first hundred gallons of beer are,” she said. “The equipment…? Probably not at this scale. And it’s definitely illegal when I sell it to people.”
“What?” My eyes were wide when looked up from the kegs to meet her face.
Catharine Addleson-Smith shrugged.
“I’m not worried,” she finally declared. “Besides…it’s not like anyone can find this place.” We both chuckled at that. Gently I closed the fridge and looked at her with an expression that belied my obvious question.
In short order we sat on her back deck overlooking the scattered saplings which had filled in her back yard. Walden Without the Pond, I called it.
We sat in silence. Catharine Addleson-Smith worked on a pint of her Nut Brown Ale infused with cinnamon. I could literally smell the spices wafting between us as she raised and lowered her glass. In my hand was what she called a “Hard Pineapple IPA.” It earned the name for two reasons: first, that it clocked in at a full 9.5% ABV. Second, where her source recipe called for half a pineapple, she went ahead and added the whole damn thing.
As we sat, I flipped through a stack of her recipes. To her credit, she had written authorship at the bottom of each one.
“Nice of you to give credit where it’s due,” I said.
“Yeah…” she mused. “I guess you could say it’s a product of my training.”
“Got it,” I responded. “So, did you retire from Ephraim? Or do you still work there?”
“Neither,” she said. She raised her glass, took a very long sip, lowered it deftly, and kept her eyes over Walden Without the Pond for the duration. For a few moments I steadied my gaze on her, but gradually I turned my attention back to the recipes.
“What’s with the asterisks and footnotes?” I asked.
“My own additions and adaptations,” she said. “Credit where credit’s due. Right?”
When I nestled my newly acquired keg of Red IPA into my own refrigerator, I stared at the steel container, still thinking about what I had seen in Catherine’s garage. It took me a good twenty minutes to get the CO2 assembly set up—of course she had a spare CO2 get up on hand—and after I had drawn my first, beautiful pint from the spigot I sat in front of my tiny flat screen and ignored the Sherlock rerun I had pulled up on Netflix.
On the bookshelf adjacent to my own television were a pair of framed portraits, much like the one I had fiddled with at Catherine’s. Bart was 28 now…maybe 27. I had to literally count the years with my fingers to figure it out. Renee was 31…maybe 33. Same problem. Occasionally, I would text them. Most of the time I was drunk, and all of the time they knew it.
The text messages were, well… tolerable. Both kids exercised a modicum of civility that rivaled a gifted, international diplomat. There was a frigidness to the formality of the words on my phone, but I’d take them. Compared to the last time we’d spoken in the flesh, the texts were all too kind.