I rise early. I need to, because of today’s transport arrangements.
And I want to breakfast properly. The full egg, bacon and breakfast potato nine yards. Washed down with energising coffee. It dances a merry jig on the spot. I’m set up for the day.
My ride to Hillsdale, next stop on the tour, is a bit complicated. It’s going to be a relay, with me being handed over, like a baton or a handcuffed criminal, at a doughnut house in Kalamazoo.
First leg is being carried out by Zachary and his friend. They pile me into a big truck and soon we’re on our way to that most wonderfully-named of American towns: Kalamazoo. Amazingly, everything runs perfectly. As soon as we enter the doughnut shop Kevin Slack, who’s taking care of the next leg, introduces himself.
A breathe a sigh of relief as we rejoin the motorway and head towards Hillsdale. You may be wondering why I’m heading to Hillsdale. It’s very simple: I was asked.
I organise my US tours in a pretty anarchic way. I mention on the internet where I plan going and wait for prospective hosts to get in touch. My original plan for this trip was to fly into Chicago, spend one night there before taking the train to Milwaukee. Michigan wasn’t in my plans at all. Then Kevin Hilgert of New Holland and Chris Hamilton of Hillsdale College contacted me.
Kevin Slack is an enthusiastic home brewer, giving us plenty to chat about on our way to Hillsdale. Where we’re meeting Chris at noon. In a pub, happily. The slightly oddly-named Here's To You Pub & Grub.
A couple of the pub’s staff are busy outside.
“You can go inside if you want, but I can’t serve you beer until noon.” One of them tells us. It’s 11:50. We sit down inside and content ourselves with a water for the next ten minutes. We’re just starting our first beer when Chris Hamilton arrives.
Chris, a biochemist and Associate Professor of Chemistry at the college, is the very image of a clean-cut American. Also a very friendly and knowledgeable man. As a chemist he understands brewing, er, chemistry far better than I ever will. “If I went to university again, I’d study biochemistry”, I tell him. “Then I might be able to understand modern brewing text books.”
We have a light lunch, but don’t linger long. My talk kicks off at 15:00, but the event starts 90 minutes earlier for homebrew sampling. The theme for this event is Thomas Usher beers of 1894. These beers have been brewed:
1894 Thomas Usher PA
1894 Thomas Usher IPA
1894 Thomas Usher 60/ PA
1894 Thomas Usher 60/ XX (Mild)
1894 Thomas Usher Export Stout
Yes. I’m getting to taste old Thomas Usher recipes. What better use of a Sunday afternoon?
A local and a college journalist interview me before the show. I have to talk about myself and beer history. What is there not to like?
“Is it OK if we record the talk? No problem. They rig up a tablet in a weird frame. It’s pointing at me, I suppose.
It’s a proper lecture hall. I get a podium and a microphone. Luxury. Obviously, the basics like projector and screen are there. Mostly taking nothing for granted works best.
A few people leave early. Not enough for it to be disheartening. I’ve been told it’s quite a conservative college so I leave out the swearing. Only used occasionally and for emphasis, I might add. I don’t eff and blind the whole time.
Chris has an appointment for an hour or two and leaves me in the hands of two of his students. They show me around the campus. I’ve heard it’s a conservative college. Not a Conservative one. Seeing a statue of Margaret Thatcher is a bit of a shock. I manage to hold back the vomit. And the invective. “She’s a divisive character in the UK.” I mumble, evasively.
The museum is fun, especially as they have a real life, well real very dead, dinosaur. Who doesn’t like a dinosaur?
They take me to the refectory for a meal. I must have made poor choices. The food is a bit grim.
Did I mention that I’m staying with Chris tonight. After being guaranteed a zero cat presence in his house, I was happy to accept his hospitality.
We go back to his for a few post-event beers. Several friends, including fellow home brewers, come along, too. One is a prison officer. He gives me a coaster with the prison service logo.
“That was made by a prisoner. From an old licence plate.”
Cool, I think. Alexei will love that.
We share a few beers and slowly chat the evening down. I can’t stay up too late. Another complicated travel day.
Next time, I finally meet Kristen England.
Sweetwater's Donut Mill
2138 S Sprinkle Rd,
Here's To You Pub & Grub
45 North St,
Tel: +1 517-437-4002
Buy my new Scottish book. It's why I was in the USA.
Q&A: How Do You Drop Knowledge Nicely? - “What’s the etiquette when you know more about beer than bar staff? They’re probably passionate about beer, about craft. Maybe they’re younger and hipper...
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