Still worrying about today’s arrangements, I send Mike a message saying that Stuart is picking me up from the cabin. He suggests that he picks me up instead and that I meet Stuart at the brewery. It makes sense, as the cabin is pretty hard to find.
I have one of the apples that’s in the fridge for breakfast. Accompanied by one of the cans of Simpler Times Lager sitting next to it. Breakfasts have been few and far between this trip. Bacon even rarer. Probably better for my health this way.
Just before Mike arrives, John appears with one of his dogs to say goodbye. He's wearing a Mondo t-shirt.
As we’re on the short drive, Mike says: “People think it’s weird when I tell them I don’t want to get any bigger. Expanding makes no sense to me. I’d have to work more and brew beers I don’t want to.”
Being constrained by consumer tastes is a recurring theme amongst the brewers I talk to here. The public’s thirst – well, the beer geek side of the public, the majority still drink pale Lager – for just a few hyped styles is clearly wearing thin.
Stuart is already lurking outside Zebulon when Mike and I pull up. We go inside and Mike gives me a mixed case of 1804 and 1832 Porter. Both Barclay Perkins beers originally. TT to be precise.
It's a four hour drive to Raleigh. It starts in beautiful countryside, steep wooded hills flanking the motorway in lush green. You can’t tell just how hot it is from inside an air-conditioned car. It looks like it could be no warmer than a warm English day. Which is probably about as warm as miserable February morning here.
Stuart and I chat about beer, politics and Yorkshire accents - he's from the mining town of Maltby. How he’s adapted his accent, mostly for reasons of comprehensibility. I understand from my own experiences abroad. Not just in Holland, but also in the US.
When I lived in New York in the mid-1960s, I regularly encountered incomprehension. Despite having the mildest of accents.
We get onto the topic of public taste. “I had to rename my ESB to get people to buy the cans. They’d buy it in the taproom, but not in shops. I started calling it Carolina Amber and sales shot up. Though it does still say ESB in small letters.”
“It’s the same in the UK. Loads of Bitters – like Pedigree – have been rebadged as Amber Ales. It’s stupid. What the hell is an Amber Ale? It’s such a vague term.”
The journey passes quickly and pleasantly. Which is how I like my journeys to go down.
When I get out of the car at the hotel, it's like opening the oven door when I’m cooking Sunday dinner and sticking my head inside. Fuck me it's hot. I hope I haven’t baked my brains.
I rest for an hour - with some of the Mike’s Porter to help me relax. Then Stuart picks me up and drives us over to Cary, where Fortnight is located.
At the brewery, he gives me some cask-strength bourbon from wet barrels they got from a distillery. It puts some fire in my belly for the talk. I do love me some strong whiskey. It helps me whizz along behind Mike as he shows me around the brewery.
It’s full of the usual shiny things, interspersed with wooden casks and stacks of empty cans. There’s also a tub of hops that Stuart is deliberately ageing.
So far, much like any other modern brewery. But Stuart also brews kombucha under contract. Which means he has some really unusual pieces of equipment, if you look closely. Dolores would be interested, as she makes the stuff herself.
Back in the bar, it’s time for a beer. Unfortunately, due to technical issues, there’s currently no cask. Which is a shame. Instead I try the Scottish Table Beer Stuart has brewed from one of my recipes.
It's pretty noisy in the bar so a couple of minutes into the talk, they rig up a mike for me. Saves me shouting.
I quite enjoy the talking bit. At least when people are paying attention. Which the ones close to me are. The blokes at the bar not so much. But I guess they’re here to sink a few beers, not listen to some old English twat drone on about Shilling Ales.
It takes me a bit over an hour to run through the talk. It’s been a while since I gave this particular one. I’ve managed to build up a nice little portfolio of lectures. Most, I’ve given multiple times. Though there is the odd one, like the History of UK Lager, which I’ve only done once.
I’ll be presenting the Scottish talk at the NHC in Providence next month. I know from my last appearance that they’re really strict on timings at the NHC. You have an hour and you’ll be hoiked off at the end of that time. 45 minutes talking, 15 minutes Q & A. That’s all you get. This has been a good rehearsal. Telling me I need to tighten the lecture. I may have to prune the slides.
Talk done I get down to the serious business of selling books. And obviously chat with the punters a bit. I shift more than half of the copies of Scotland Vol II I have, plus a couple of Mild! Plus and Porter! That’s a relief. What remains is carryable by an aged weakling like me.
When it’s clear that I’m not going to sell any more books, I sit and chat with Stuart, a couple of his staff and some of the audience.
Getting peckish, Stuart suggests we head to the Abbey Road Tavern and Grill to eat. The burgers are dead good, apparently. And they have good food. I’m sold.
I have a burger. It is pretty good. And the first food I've had since the apple for breakfast. No wonder I’m feeling a bit pissed.
Sleep ambushes me without even the distraction of a Scotch.
Fortnight Brewing Company
1006 SW Maynard Rd,
Tel: +1 919-342-6604
Abbey Road Tavern & Grill
1195 W Chatham St,
Tel: +1 919-481-4434
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