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“CAN YOU HEAR THAT?” I asked Garrett as I dumped a box of fresh Chinook hops into the shiny stainless-steel fermenting tank. The hops were grown here in Washington State and had become highly sought after by professional and home brewers for their spicy pine and grapefruit aromas. Garrett and I had procured the popular hop to use in a new hybrid beer we’d been working on together. Adding hops at this stage of fermentation was known as dry hopping. The process would infuse hop aroma into the beer without any of the bitterness that gets extracted when boiling hops.
“Hear what?” Garrett cupped his hand over his ear.
“Nothing,” I replied with a broad smile. “Nothing.”
For the first time in many weeks, our alpine village was quiet. I closed my eyes. “Isn’t it wonderful? The silence. The sweet sound of silence.”
Garrett chuckled. “Didn’t you tell me that I shouldn’t get used to it?” He removed a pair of chemistry goggles and pressed them on the top of his head.
“True.” I opened my eyes. “But we might as well relish it for the moment.” Our small Bavarian village, Leavenworth, had recently hosted the biggest brewfest west of the Mississippi—Oktoberfest. Unlike smaller beer celebrations that might last for a long weekend, Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest was a monthlong party. Every weekend saw a new round of revelers, the constant sound of oompah music, street parades, and flowing taps. It was an exciting time, but equally exhausting. Many business owners in Leavenworth made enough profit during the month of October to keep them in the black for the remainder of the year. Typically, Leavenworth’s population holds steady at around two thousand residents, but during Oktoberfest that number swells to two hundred thousand over the course of the month. Each week in October, our cobblestone streets and German-style chalets would be packed with tourists from throughout the Pacific Northwest and nearly every continent. I appreciated having an opportunity to showcase the place I loved and our new line of NW beers with visitors from all over the world, but knowing that we had a reprieve from the throng of crowds for a while was a welcome relief.
“If Kristopher Cooper has his way, Leavenworth might be quiet forever,” Garrett said, balancing on the ladder attached to one of the massive stainless-steel fermenting tanks. His dark hair was disheveled. He pushed it from his eyes as he hopped off the ladder. Garrett was tall and lanky with a casual style. Today he wore his usual brewery uniform—a T-shirt with a beer pun. Today’s read BEER CURES WHAT ALES YOU.
“I hope not.” I brushed hop residue from my hands. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh hops, in my opinion. I snapped off one of the hop heads and rubbed it between my fingers. The pungent scent of citrus and sappy pine brought an instant calm to my body. “I can’t imagine how anyone in Leavenworth would consider voting for him.”
Garrett removed a dry-erase pen from his jeans pocket. “It’s a stumper. The craft beer industry has put Leavenworth on the map, and he wants to ban it? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Agreed.” I scanned the brewery to make sure that everything was clean and tidy. “Every business owner I’ve spoken with is dumping every dime into Valerie Hedy’s campaign.”
Valerie Hedy was running for city council against the incumbent, Kristopher Cooper. Kristopher had served as a council member for years, but as of late he had taken a drastic stance against Oktoberfest and every other festival that revolved around Leavenworth’s thriving beer culture. He was fed up with the aftermath of these events, citing exorbitant cleaning costs that the city had to endure and claiming that petty crime skyrocketed with the influx of “strangers” in town. He had even gone so far as campaigning to make Leavenworth completely dry. His campaign posters were plastered on every light post and street corner in the village. He had designed them to resemble prohibition-era propaganda. They were easy to spot with their sepia-tone paper and black-and-white lettering with sayings like THAT MONEY YOU SPENT ON BOOZE COULD BUY A KID SHOES and DRUNKS DESERVE JAIL. The poster that turned my stomach every time I saw it had a skull and crossbones and read ALCOHOL IS POISON.
I had wanted to engage Kristopher in a debate over the health benefits of consuming craft beer in moderation. For example, there were promising studies that had indicated that craft beer contained healthy nutrients and antioxidants. Drinking beer in moderation might improve cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and boost bone density. Not to mention the psychological effects of one of beer’s main ingredients—hops, which were a known relaxant.
There was no point in trying to argue with Kristopher. He had taken to picketing in front the gazebo every day with a small group of faithfuls. They chanted, “Prohibition now!” His so-called “temperance” rallies had turned the village into a throwback to the 1920s.
Business owners were up in arms. Leavenworth’s economy would crumble without tourists’ dollars, but Kristopher was undeterred. He was convinced that the only way to preserve Leavenworth’s charm was to outlaw alcohol and shift the focus of festivals like Oktoberfest, Maifest, and the winter light fest to center on German traditions and heritage other than imbibing hoppy beverages.
Garrett and I walked to our shared office, where he made a few notes about recipe adjustments on the far wall. He had created a dry-erase wall to keep track of current beers in production and to brainstorm new flavor combinations. It reminded me of a chemistry classroom with formulas and ratios scribbled in colorful pens. Fortunately, Garrett had taught me how to decipher his notes. To anyone else, the dry-erase board probably looked like the work of a madman.
“Have you heard how Valerie is faring?” he asked, drawing a picture of a hop with a green pen and writing “Chinook” next to it.
The smell of the dry-erase pen was overwhelming. I shook my head and waved away the synthetic scent. “Not exactly. I know she has the support of the business community. Have you seen how many shops have her campaign posters propped in their windows?”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get one.” Garrett sketched out a ratio of hops to grains on the whiteboard. The way he stood in front of the whiteboard reminded me of a professor lecturing to a collegiate class rather than a head brewer at a small craft brewery.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone supporting his ideas. Leavenworth’s entire way of life would change if Kristopher gets elected. But there is a large contingent of people who are fed up with the tourists.” I squeezed the hop cone in my fingers and sniffed it again. “He’s not wrong about some of the negative impacts of Oktoberfest. We experienced that firsthand—drunk frat brothers getting cited for public intoxication, red Solo cups littering the street, the fact that you can’t park anywhere near downtown from the end of September until now. And forget trying to get a seat at any restaurant.”
“Yeah, right,” Garrett agreed. “And then of course this past year there was a murder to add in the mix. That probably only strengthens his resolve.”
“True.” We were quiet for a minute. I figured that Garrett, like me, was lost in the memory of a recent tragedy.
“But what Kristopher is overlooking is that the pros well outweigh those cons.” As I spoke, Kristopher’s stance sounded even more bizarre.
“You’re preaching to the choir, Sloan.” Garrett finished his notations. “If Kristopher wins reelection, it’s going be more than problematic for Nitro. Catastrophic. We can’t exactly run a nanobrewery in a dry town, can we?”
“No.” I took one last sniff of the hop and shoved it into my jeans pocket.
“Have you talked to Otto, Ursula, or Hans? Der Keller has to be gearing up for a fight.” Garrett snapped the cap on the dry-erase pen and set it on the desk.
I appreciated that he hadn’t mentioned my soon-to-be ex-husband, Mac. The Krause family were Leavenworth’s original brewmasters. Otto and Ursula (my in-laws) had brought their old-world German recipes and brewing techniques with them when they had moved to Leavenworth with their young boys. Back then, Leavenworth didn’t resemble the Bavarian mecca it is now. At the time, the town was in shambles. The railroad and mining industries had gone defunct, leaving the small mountain village without an economy. Thanks to the foresight of two residents who recognized that, with its towering mountains and brilliant blue rivers, the town resembled villages in the German Alps, Leavenworth reinvented itself. Every building downtown was refurbished and designed in baroque architecture. Today, strolling through Leavenworth is as close as one can get to traveling to the German countryside without actually being in Europe.
“Yeah, I spoke with Hans earlier.” I readjusted my ponytail. “The Krauses are vehemently opposed to Kristopher’s platform, not surprisingly. They’re holding an open forum tonight at Der Keller. I meant to mention it to you earlier, but we got so wrapped up in the brewing process. They asked me to extend you an invite, as they would love to show a unified front from everyone in the beer industry.”
“Count me in,” Garrett replied without hesitation. Then he pointed to a stack of paperwork on the desk. “How are you feeling about Kat? She passed her bartending license, so we can get her working behind the bar now, too.”
Kat was our first official hire at Nitro. She had come to Leavenworth during Oktoberfest in hopes of landing a small role in a documentary film that had been shot on-site. Her plans didn’t work out, but the good news for her and for Nitro was that she had immediately fit in with Garrett and me. In exchange for a place to stay for the weekend, she had handed out flyers and done menial tasks, like cleaning (the never-ending bane of every brewer’s existence). In a flash of brilliance, Garrett had offered Kat a permanent position in exchange for free room and board, plus a small salary.
Copyright © 2019 by Kate Dyer-Seeley