It was miserable out. The groundhog saw his shadow this year, and we were all paying dearly for it in Minneapolis. I mean, really, who gave that four-legged, bucktoothed furball that much authority anyway?
While he hid away enjoying the rest of his long winter’s nap, we’d been hit with a foot and a half of snow on the first day of spring and were still waiting for it all to melt, even though it was now the last day of March.
I hefted the garage door up another couple of inches so it was off the ground a few feet, despite the outside temperature. Between the heat from the propane boiler and the smell of hops and barley, I needed to get some fresh air. I tugged my beanie farther down on my head before slipping out underneath the garage door, leaving the humidity of my pseudo nanobrewery.
The neighborhood was quiet at this time of day, before
schools let out and people got home from work. I watched the melting snow fall in big clumps from nearby trees and made tracks with my boots in the now-dirty gray mush, contemplating the latest e-mail from my sister. I had asked her to send me some mock-ups of my logo with different colors. My website needed a little pick-me-up; the drab taupe and brown just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
Out of the Bottle Brewery had been my dream for years, ever since I’d learned you could actually earn a living from making beer. And with a couple of cases at a distributor, the reality of making my dream come true was closer than ever before. I wanted—needed—everything to be perfect. Including the welcome banner on my website.
I breathed out a big puff of white air, still not used to a Minnesota “spring” even though I’d been there for two years now. Two years of this cold and all of my savings, hoping I could reap the benefits of an expanding craft brew scene.
So far Out of the Bottle hasn’t gained much traction, despite winning a few local tasting contests. But that would all change soon. It had to, because there was no way I was ever going back to work for someone else, brewing recipes that weren’t mine. Plus, my bank account was in dire need of a paycheck. I had to believe I’d get some of my beer into paying hands. Sooner rather than later.
Before my teeth started chattering, I stomped off whatever snow was left on the bottom of my boots and ducked back into the garage. With five conical fermenters, a lautering tun, three wooden casks, a small utility sink, and a tiny
desk, my two-car garage at the back of the house was a miniature brewing kingdom and I was queen.
I couldn’t wait to expand and open up a real brewery. One with a multiple-barrel brewing system, a tasting room, a couple thousand square feet, and a few workers. A place I could actually reign over.
But to get there I needed to sell. And to sell, I needed to get to work.
I pushed up my sleeves and sat down to look back over my sister’s e-mail. Unfortunately, the quick jaunt outside hadn’t helped in deciding what color to make the funky wording. I dropped my head to the table with a frustrated groan.
“In here.” I turned just as my roommate stuck her head in the side door. Her normally golden-brown skin was tinged pink from the cold. “What are you doing home?”
“My last two clients for today canceled, and Manny heard me sneeze three times. He sent me home to recover,” she said, stepping inside.
I snickered. Sonja was the healthiest person I knew. Between her strict workout regimen and constant green juices, I didn’t know if she’d ever been sick. Manny, her boxing coach, would have a fit if his star athlete ever really came down with anything more than the sniffles.
“Does this mean you have the night off?”
She lifted a resigned shoulder. Only Sonja would be bereft at having absolutely nothing to do for the night. “Guess so.”
“Piper and Sonja’s day of fun!” I sang, matching the annoying pitch of Chandler’s girlfriend Janice.
She pointed a finger at me. “No, we’re not watching Friends.”
I waved her off as she sat down on a folding chair, extending a pair of fancy leggings out toward me. She always got cool-looking workout gear because of her boxing sponsorship, and the hot pink called to me.
I plucked at them, touching where the black mesh met the pink spandex.
“We could go for a run,” she suggested.
“Yes. That’s exactly what I want to do,” I deadpanned.
I loved my friend, but I hated her idea of a good time. She was always on the go, and quite frankly I couldn’t keep up. In fact, that’s how we met—she literally ran into me. Sonja likes to argue I ran into her, but that’s not true.
She had her headphones and face on, the one I’d come to learn was her all-business face, and she smacked right into me next to the Landwehr Canal in Berlin. I was brand-new to Germany and happy to bump—literally—into a fellow American. She was there for a month visiting family; I was there studying to become a brewmaster, and we became quick friends. It turned out we were both fish out of water. Me being a student with zero friends, she being reintroduced to her mother’s family who she’d only ever met as a child.
Our friendship quickly grew over daily lunches and weekends spent dancing at EDM clubs, forever bonded by
bratwursts and a struggle to learn the native language. When she went home, we kept in touch, so much so that when I was moving to Minneapolis, she offered me room and board.
That was almost two years ago. Now we were more best friends than roommates.
“Here.” I turned my laptop screen to her. “Which colors do you like for the logo?”
Sonja tied her thick, dark hair on top of her head, a few tiny corkscrew curls sticking out by her temples and at her neck. “Navy with the lime green.”
“I like that one, too.” I sent off a reply to Kayla to change the header on the website, and before I stood to turn the propane off, I got my sister’s response that she’d have it updated as soon as possible. Sonja had seen me brew enough times to know the drill, so she followed me to the sink. I grabbed the wort chiller—a bungle of plastic tubes and copper wire—and untangled it as Sonja screwed one end of the tube to the utility sink’s faucet. I dropped the copper wire into the pot, and she let the ice-cold water rip from her end.
Using this method to cool the beer was a bit amateurish, but it was all I had without the money and space for a glycol chilling system. I let the hot water drain out of the garage, carving a steaming path in the snow. My mind went with it, once again losing my thoughts to a future of chrome and steel. I’d had just about enough of these homemade shortcuts.
I was a professional, dammit.
My phone rang in my back pocket, disturbing the mental image of my future kegs. I didn’t recognize the number but
answered anyway, hoping it wasn’t the credit card company chasing down the payment I owed them. I was already up to my ears in interest rates.
“Hi, I’m calling for Piper Williams.”
“This is she.”
“Piper, my name is Blake Reed, I got your information from Dave at B&S Distribution.”
I’d met Dave a few weeks ago at one of the contests I had won. He’d agreed to stock a couple of my cases at the wholesaler he owned. So far not much had sold, but Dave had high hopes.
“How can I help you, Blake?”
“Well, I was just perusing your website and—”
“You were? What’d you think of the colors?” The question was out before I could stop it, and I slapped my hand over my mouth. Could I be any more desperate?
Blake laughed on the other end, and I could feel my stock in professionalism dropping by the second.
“I like them,” he said. “The lime green is different, stands out.”
I offered up a silent thank-you to the universe for the unbelievably quick work of my sister and that this guy had a sense of humor.
“I actually called because I was hoping you’d be able to meet with me. I’m opening a gastropub next month, and I’d love to try your beer.”
I jumped up, pivoting to face Sonja in a silent scream.
She raised her brows, rushing to my side. I angled the phone so she could listen to the conversation.
“Sure. I’d love to give you anything I got.”
Sonja flicked my forehead.
“I mean, I’d love to bring you some samples. When would you like me to come in?”
He laughed again, my nerves no more eased by the sound. “Is tomorrow too early?”
Sonja pumped her fist up and down as I answered, “Not at all.”
“How about four o’clock?”
“Is the e-mail on your contact page okay for me to send you the address?”
“Yes. Absolutely.” I knew I sounded way too giddy, but I couldn’t help it. Better to be overly excited than to have more accidental innuendoes fly out of my mouth.
“Great. I’ll get that out to you in a few minutes.”
I danced in place. “Thank you so much. I’ll see you at four tomorrow.”
I hung up and let loose my scream of joy. Sonja joined me, dancing, ringing her arms around my shoulders.
“Yes! Do you feel amazing?”
I couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face if I’d tried. “I do, actually. This calls for a special dinner. What do you think? Pizza?”
Sonja snorted. “Ha. No. I got spaghetti squash. You can finish up out here and I’ll get it in the oven.”
“Piper and Sonja’s day of fun, remember? Pizza’s mandatory.”
She turned at the door, side-eyeing me. “No pizza, but I’ll give you two episodes of Friends. Just not the one when Ross gets the spray tan. That one’s the worst.”
I’d give her that. “Deal.”
She closed the door, and I sank into a chair, waiting for the wort to finish cooling before I added the yeast. I watched the temperature gauge with an eagle eye. This batch wouldn’t be ready for tomorrow, but it would be perfect nonetheless. Every single gallon had to be.
My first real chance to move out of a converted two-car garage to a bigger place was this meeting. And I was not going to screw it up.
I was going to be perfect.
As perfect as my beer.