The Tap Room - Second Fermentation (Part 1)

Welcome Back to the Tap Room series.  Today, Kevin Still gives the Tap Room a little more depth, a little more character, and a little more edge.  I love what he's done here with the characters, how he's made this a decidedly real setting.  Please spend some time with his words, think about what he's weaving. Make sure to catch up on all of the previous Tap Room posts here.  And while you're at it, visit his site here (great movie reviews, Kev). Now, without further delay, welcome back to the tap room.

[parental warning: there's a wordy-dord or two here if you are the type that is easily offended]. _________________________

“The recipe calls for a batch of dry hops in the second fermentation,” she said, pulling a pint glass towards her face. “But I think I can live without it. Spend all that time cleaning shit out of the first batch just to throw it back in on the second run? Doesn’t make any sense. I say screw the recipe.”

She stopped talking long enough to take a swig of her beer, bright orange with white belt laces marking her sips along the insides of the glass, and Alan marveled again at how much she looked like a man. An old man. He even found himself second-guessing her with his eyes. Checking her profile. Her chest. She hadn’t said her name – its name – yet. And he wondered.

“What do you think?” she asked, rubbing her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Yeah. No, yeah, I agree,” Alan said. “If a second fermentation does anything, it filters out the crud. You gotta keep it loose till bottling.”

She smacked Alan’s arm, “I’m talking!” He guessed she was agreeing; at least, her voice was full of enthusiasm and she was smiling. He did not know this woman. She was already at the Tap Room bar when Alan sat down for a pint. Five minutes later they were talking beer recipes and fermentation cycles, which Alan knew nothing about. He bluffed his way through the brewing conversation. She didn’t seem to notice, or mind, and Alan appreciated the distraction. He came looking for a quiet afternoon. He found a chatterbox working through a solid beer buzz instead. And he liked her instantly.

She swatted at the bartender walking by, the one who tried to put money on the High Definition tennis match playing over the bar. Thumbing a gesture at Alan she said, “Dale, this guy knows what I’m talking about. He said skip the dry hops, too. Shit, pour him another something good.”

The bartender looked at Alan. “You ready for another beer?”

“How about a burger?”

“And how you want that?” “Cheddar. Everything on it. Could you burn the meat?”

The bartender flittered his eyebrows in amusement. “Alright, cheddar, everything, burn the meat. I think we can do that.”

Alan thanked him and sipped his pint.

“I tell you though,” she started again, “only thing I love more than beer is being on the river.” Alan turned to listen but saw a waitress over her shoulder. Bouncing between tables, the waitress was pretty. Maybe nineteen or twenty. Short skirt. Long socks. Firm thighs. She was tall. Light brown hair fell over her collar while a thin line of skin shown beneath her chin. Alan wondered what she smelled like up close, imagined the softness of her neck. The sight of the young waitress made Alan swirl back towards his glass.

“My brother and I kayak once every three months,” she was still talking. “Shit, I came in town today to pick up some camping equipment at REI. Bought two new pairs of running shoes on sale while I’s at it. My girlfriend nearly bleeds everytime I come to town. She knows, even though I’m coming to get more camping gear, that I hit the Tap Room while I’m at it. Do it everytime. How could I not? And she knows I have three pints before driving back to Kinston. But, hell, it’s a straight shot. So.”

Alan thought her voice sounded like she’d stopped smoking five years before but ten years too late. He suddenly wanted a cigarette. He didn’t even smoke, but he wanted something that would burn his throat. He wondered if his new friend smoked Winstons. His dad had smoked Winstons, which meant Winstons were the first cigarette Alan tried. Twelve years old, he and his friend Michael hocked a pack from his dad’s carton on top of the fridge and skittered down to the woods behind the house. They didn’t know how to inhale, so they puffed in and puffed out, feigning coughs every few breaths. Alan remembered the way they leaned back against the trees, crossing their arms over their chests and their legs at the ankle. Michael was the closest thing Alan ever had to a brother. By the time Alan was old enough to buy cigarettes, Michael wasn’t there to practice leaning on trees or carhoods, to practice smoke rings and inhaling without the coughs, so Alan didn’t care anymore.

The Tap Room--On William

Neil always carried one of them small New Testaments in the back pocket of his work jeans and a hard pack of cigarettes in the front pocket of his shirt. He never smelled of smoke, just of wood chips and turpentine. Neil walked through the front door every Friday at 3:00 and eased up to the bar. I always watched him whisper his usual down to Mary Carter. She didn’t never ask him anything, just smiled, poured him a pint and brought me the order.

He was a white man with a voice like Barry White. Once I told him that and he laughed. He said his voice had more gravel in it, like Tom Waits, whoever that was. Neil was a modest tipper, just a furniture maker by trade, but he was always kind to me. He was good to leave a cigarette with the extra dollar.

Last Friday I brought him his order and he noticed my forearm. He asked about my tattoo, the dark blue outline of a cross with the words “by his stripes” written underneath. I tried to tell him it was a long story. He smiled. “Can’t be that long,” he said.

“My brother Ronnie and me got them tattoos when we was sixteen,” I told him. “We used to live out on a county road in Mississippi. Me and Ronnie got into hubcap stealing, sold them to this fella out of Jackson. One day the police came to our house on a tip. Daddy knew we’d done it, but he told the police it was him. Said he was trying to make some side money. The police dragged him out the front door and beat him with an old horse whip. Cut him up real bad and dragged him off to jail. I didn’t see him after that.”

Neil listened carefully, didn’t ask me whatever happened to Ronnie. Instead, he reached for his front pocket with his left hand and his back pocket with his right. He pulled out bible and the cigarettes, stacking them up like dirty dishes. He slid them to me across the bar. “Merry Christmas, William,” he said as he reached for his pint and raised it to his lips.

“It’s July, Neil,” Mary Carter chuckled behind me. Over the top his glass he looked down at Mary Carter, then back to my arm. “Peace on earth, and goodwill to men.”

The Tap Room

Mary Carter was a ruddy-faced dwarf who worked the taps. They built a bar length box four feet tall on both the tap wall and the service side of the bar to accommodate her. Even with the box, bartending was a reach. Mary Carter judged beer and patrons by their smell. She was too small to drink much beer; a single pint could make box-balancing difficult. She described the stout as having "Sumatran notes with chocolatey overtones." She liked banjo-music and religion.

Occasionally, new patrons would tease Mary Carter, emboldened by too much alcohol. She'd pour them a big glass of skunky stuff, always on the house, always with a smile. She'd refuse to serve them anything else for the rest of the night. Cutting with kindness was a type of speciality of hers. Even dwarfs can be Southern Belles.

In October we were hired as the house band. We covered "Orange Sky," and the tap-room echoed with the singing of salvation found in love. The best Appalachian songs allude to Jesus. When we took five, I made my way to the band bar-stools and Mary Carter poured me a pint of the new seasonal -- "notes of toasted malt, apple peal, and some very firm hops," she said. After pouring the drinks, she smiled and told me that she had that dream last night, the one where she was standing lock-armed with the most familiar of brothers and sisters.

"You were there and there was a sense," she said, "that after all of our living and laughing, we had dissolved into something more peaceful."

Hank, who sat two bar stools down, took it in. "Did Jesus give you a taller set of legs, Mary Carter?" He was a regular customer of Mary Carter's, a big tipper who had earned the right to slosh out a haphazard jab.  She giggled a bit, grabbed Hank's empty pint glass and turned to the skunky tap.

"No," she said. "We were all three and one-half inches tall, and I was the most well-practiced at reaching up to serve." Foam ran over the top of Hank's glass, over Mary Carter's hand and into the bar drain.

Hank looked puzzled, but I pieced it together.