It’s not far. The house is just across the driveway. And my guts have settled somewhat. I’ve already successfully downed a whole glass of water without needing to sprint to the bog five minutes later to puke it up.
Chris and Kirsten are an intriguing couple, having lived many years in Japan. I pick their brains a little as we nibble on eggs and bacon. Based on what they tell me, including Kyoto on my upcoming trip with the kids was definitely a good idea. They also warn of the summer heat, which I hadn’t taken into account.
Breakfast stays where it should: in my guts. Not all over the carpet, as I’d feared. Good start to the day. This is what it’s like when you get older. Simply succeeding to breakfast is a victory.
After brekkie, they drive me to the parking lot of an Ingles supermarket, where I transfer to Gabe’s car. A bit cloak and dagger. Though it makes practical sense. It means they don’t have to drive all the way to Weaverville.
Being a paranoid bastard, I want to be at Zebulon well before three when the VIP session starts. Lots can go wrong, and has done in the past. Even with a simple setup of just a laptop and projector. That’s why I carry a bag of cables with me.
Fortunately things go pretty smoothly. Leaving me plenty of time to warm up with some beer. What should I have? No contest. Warwick’s IPA is on handpull today.
I get myself a pint, obviously. With the softer carbonation, it’s even nicer than yesterday. If only you could still get this beer in Newark. Though maybe you can, as my school friend Henry made a version at his Cat Asylum brewery.
The draught beers, other than the handpull, are all different today. A set of Porters to accompany my talk, The Rise and Fall of Porter. Each beer demonstrating a phase in evolution of Porter, and dating from 1750 to 1922. Really looking forward to trying them all.
Mike has gone to a lot of trouble, getting different brown malts made for added authenticity. I said in a talk just a couple of weeks ago: “Anyone who tells you that they’ve brewed an authentic 18th-century Porter is a liar.” But Mike has. As he used 100% diastatic brown malt, something which isn’t commercially available.
Gabe has made me a chicken and cheese sandwich. It’s very nice, but I only manage half. I save the rest for later.
The VIP guests wander in. I chat with them and sign their books. Quite fun, really. I get to talk about beer to people who won’t drift off or tell me to shut up after two sentences (I’m looking at you, family.)
There’s an English bloke called Peter who owns a brewery in Asheville. He tells me of his struggles to get the locals to drink English-style beers. Why does that not surprise me?
By the time everyone has assembled, there are about 50 in the audience.
Mike kicks off proceedings with a short introduction. After which someone from local maltster Epiphany talks about making brown malt. It’s quite technical, but I find it interesting. Then again, I was mesmerised by a talk on keg fillers in San Antonio.
My contribution goes pretty well. I get multiple laughs, which is always a good sign. No-one falls asleep and no-one leaves. I take that as a big thumbs up. Especially as I’m on for two hours.
What I say isn’t pre-scripted. And, as I’m happy to take questions during the talk, can leap off on tangents. Loads more fun the wading through exactly the same shit stream. I’d get bored if I had to listen to myself endlessly repeating the same words. I really can’t understand how anyone can enjoy being a stage actor, saying the same stuff night after night. It would drive me nuts.
The Porters lubricating the talk are a diverse bunch, from easy-drinking to downright challenging.
1750 porter: 100% diastatic brown malt
1804 Barclay Perkins TT: 50% lightly smoked brown malt, 14% amber
1824 Adulterated Porter
1832 Barclay Perkins TT: 15% lightly smoked brown malt, 2% black
1849 East India Porter: similar to above but with 100 IBUs and dry hopped
1870 Porter: 12% lightly smoked brown, 7% black, 16% invert 3
1900 Porter: 15% unsmoked brown malt, 7% black, 9% maize, 15% sugar
1922 Porter: 10% unsmoked brown malt, 10% sugar, 1% oats 1.032 OG
I’m slightly surprised by the two I like most: the 1824 Adulterated Porter and the 1922 Porter.
The first is really a domestic recipe which contains harmless extra ingredients such as liquorice and capsicum. I really liked the extra dimension added by the liquorice. I understand now why some professional brewers started adding liquorice to their Porter and Stout after 1880. Has anyone else brewed a Porter with liquorice recently? I think not. Despite all the other shit brewers throw into Black Beers nowadays.
The second is a feeble Whitbread recipe that’s only about 3% ABV. It certainly didn’t drink as watery as it appears on paper. Mike reckons that it’s the high percentage of dark malts that give it a decent body. I could drink the stuff all day.
There’s the usual post-talk book flogging. And chatting with anyone who comes up to me. I’m a pretty open sort of bloke.
After a little winding down, Mike drives me to John’s. We drop off my bags in the cabin then amble down to John’s house, pausing to say hello to the goats on the way. We’re really out in the sticks here.
In the house, we meet John’s wife Kaycee and their unbearably cute daughter, who’s just about two years old. She gurgles happily as she toddles around the room.
Walking in, I noticed John’s massive record collection. He has even more vinyl than my friend Lucas. He tells me he pruned the collection when moving up from New Orleans, getting rid of 30,000 records.
Chris and Jessica arrive, too. Obviously, we drink some beer. I usually only drink American beer while in the US. But I can’t resist Abt and Aventinus Eisbock. Those beers are just so good.
We eat some takeaway Thai food, which is reassuringly fiery. Which perhaps isn’t the greatest for my still dodgy stomach. Luckily, it doesn’t object too much.
“Would you like to play Cards Against Humanity?” someone suggests. I’ve no idea what it is, but agree anyway.
Turns out it’s a really good laugh. Especially after a few beers. I can’t be bothered to explain exactly what it is. Look it up on the internet.
It’s quite late when John drives me up to the cabin. It’s not far, but it’s pitch black and the way uneven.
A sip of whisky strokes me into sleep.
Zebulon Artisan Ales
8 Merchants Alley,