From the publisher: “It’s Oktoberfest in Pittsburgh, and brewpub owner Maxine ‘Max’ O’Hara is prepping for a busy month at the Allegheny Brew House. To create the perfect atmosphere for the boozy celebration, Max hires an oompah band. But when one of the members from the band turns up dead, it’s up to Max to solve the murder before the festivities are ruined.”
“A heartwarming blend of suds and suspense, featuring a determined heroine and her big Irish family. Tremel knows and loves her Pittsburgh setting, making the mystery all the more real and enjoyable.” —Cleo Coyle, New York Times bestselling author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries
“That looks great,” I said. “It’s exactly what I had in mind.”
“When you said something for Oktoberfest,” Daisy said, “I wasn’t sure whether to go with autumn, beer, or Germany, so I looked it up and incorporated all of them.”
“Well, it’s perfect.”
Daisy clapped her hands together, making her blond braids sway. Her choice of hairstyle made her look fifteen instead of in her early thirties. “I’m so glad.”
It really was perfect. She’d used the traditional Oktoberfest colors of blue and white. The centerpiece sample consisted of cream-colored silk mums and blue asters, and in the center was a miniature German beer stein. I’d ordered fourteen of them—enough to dress up all the tables in my brewpub. In two weeks, the Allegheny Brew House would be hosting its first Oktoberfest weekend.
Daisy came around the counter and took a seat on the other piano stool. “Explain one thing to me, Max. You’re having this celebration in September. Shouldn’t something called Oktoberfest happen in October?”
It was a common misconception. “The official Oktoberfest in Germany begins in mid-September and lasts for about two weeks. So it ends in October. Besides, Septemberfest doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.”
Daisy grinned. “No, it doesn’t. How come you’re wimping out and only having yours for a weekend?”
I laughed. “I’m having enough trouble coordinating everything for just the weekend. Do you know how hard it is to find an oompah band?”
“I never thought of that. But you did find one, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “Candy, Kristie, and I are going to hear them play and make the final arrangements tonight. Why don’t you come with us?”
“I don’t know . . .”
“It’ll be fun. A Friday girls’ night out.” I didn’t add that she needed to get out and do something besides work on flower arrangements. She’d gone through a rough patch last spring when the man she’d been in love with had turned out to be someone who didn’t care for her at all, and much worse. My insides still turned cold when I thought about what he’d done. Daisy had been devastated when she learned the truth and had even considered closing her shop and moving away. She was gradually becoming more like the old Daisy, but still had a little way to go.
She hesitated a moment, then said, “Maybe I will. It does sound like fun.”
We talked for a few more minutes and decided I’d pick her up at eight. I was glad she’d agreed to go with us.
And it would be fun. Candy and Kristie would be sure to bring Daisy out of her self-imposed shell. Candy Sczypinski owned the bakery named Cupcakes N’at, which sat between the brewpub and Beautiful Blooms on Butler Street in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The name of the bakery usually confused visitors to the city, but Candy never seemed to tire of explaining that n’at was really a shortened form of and all that. It was one of the expresssions commonly known as Pittsburghese.
Candy was a Pittsburgher—or Yinzer as natives were sometimes called—through and through. I’d never seen her wear any colors but black and gold, and I always thought she looked like Mrs. Santa Claus in Steelers garb. Despite being in her early seventies, she had more energy than a twenty-year-old.
Kristie Brinkley was the owner and barista at Jump, Jive & Java, the coffee shop across the street. She bore no resemblance to the supermodel, whose first name began with a C. Kristie looked more like Halle Berry, especially since she’d recently sheared off her dreadlocks and now only had a few streaks of purple in her hair. Purple this week anyway. She changed her hair color as often as some people changed their socks. I had a sneaking suspicion that her recent hairstyle change had something to do with the new love interest that she denied having. Candy was on the case, though. If anyone could discover who it was, she could.
As I passed the bakery on the way back to the brew house, Candy’s assistant, Mary Louise, waved to me and I returned her wave. I was tempted to stop in for a treat, but I had a batch of stout in the brew kettle and it was time to get it ready for the fermentation tank. The Allegheny Brew House had been open since May, but I still got a thrill every time I neared the building. Its red brick exterior with the large windows was exactly how I had pictured it would look when I bought the former office building of the defunct Steel City Brewery. It had been a true labor of love gutting and restoring the building. It hadn’t been without its challenges and tragedies, but it was now everything I’d dreamed it would be.
Inside the pub, my staff was preparing for the lunch rush, and delicious aromas emanated from the kitchen. Nicole Clark, my part-time manager, was stacking glasses behind the polished dark oak bar, so I stopped to see her.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yep.” She nodded her head toward the brewery. “Need any help in there?”
Nicole was studying for her master’s in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, and she’d taken a shine to the brewing process. She reminded me a lot of myself, although I’d been more interested in distilling when I earned my degree. That had only changed to brewing when I made a trip to Germany.
“Sure, as long as I’m not taking you from anything else.”
The brewery portion of the brew house was to my left. I had a 10-barrel or bbl system, which consisted of a mash tun to mash the malt grain, a brew kettle, and five fermentation tanks. In other words, I could brew approximately three hundred gallons at a time. It sounds like a lot of beer, but a half-barrel or keg holds around fifteen gallons, so that’s only twenty kegs.
The aroma of caramel malt was strong, and I breathed in deeply as I went through the swinging door. Nicole was right behind me. She had been assisting me with brewing more and more lately. As much as I liked having the brewery to myself most of the time, I appreciated the help. And it was fun being on the teaching end for a change.
The next step in the process was to pump out the wort, which was the liquid formed from the mashed grain and water. Then we pumped it back into the brew kettle through a nozzle that forced the solids and hops to move into the center so when the tank was drained, the solids stayed. After that, we cooled the liquid quickly, added the yeast, and calculated the initial specific gravity. The initial gravity subtracted from the final gravity at the end of fermentation determined the ABV, or alcohol by volume—a very important number. By that time, it was the lunch hour, so Nicole returned to the pub while I finished transferring the stout to the fermentation tank. I set the temperature on the tank to sixty-eight degrees, where it would ferment for approximately two weeks.
My stomach was screaming for food by then, so I decided to get something to eat before I tackled the cleanup. Cleaning and sterilizing all the equipment took time, and I needed to be properly fortified first. Besides, I hadn’t seen Jake yet this morning.
The thought of seeing my chef brought a smile to my face. I’d known Jake Lambert practically all my life. He’d been my brother Mike’s best friend—and still was—and I’d had a crush on him for years. When my former chef, Kurt, had been murdered four months ago, Jake had walked back into my life. He’d just retired from playing professional hockey and happened to be a certified chef. One thing led to another and we were now what my mother called “an item.”
I crossed the pine plank floor of the pub, stopping briefly to say hello to a few regulars. I liked that we had customers who kept coming back for the food as well as the beer. My stomach growled again as I went through the door to the kitchen. Two cooks plus Jake were in various stages of food preparation.
Jeannie Cross was assembling two grilled chicken salads and smiled when she noticed me. “Heads up, everyone. The boss is on deck.”
“Uh-oh,” Kevin Bruno said without glancing up from where he was sautéing some vegetables while simultaneously grilling burgers. “She must be hungry.”
Jake was elbow deep in kneading some kind of dough. He looked up and winked at me. It never failed to make my stomach do that little flip and I felt my cheeks grow warm. “Either that, or she’s here to fire your sorry behind,” he said.
I laughed. I loved the camaraderie of my employees. They’d become my second family. “Don’t worry, Kev. You’re safe. As long as I get something to eat, that is.”
Jake said, “Jeannie, fix Max one of those new turkey sandwiches we came up with.” He held up his flour-covered arms. “I’d do it myself, but I’m a little indisposed.”
“Coming right up.” Jeannie put the finishing touch on the chicken salads by tossing a handful of French fries on top, which was a Pittsburgh tradition. I wasn’t wild about it, but when customers kept asking for the fries, I gave in.
I followed her over to another stainless steel table, where she quickly assembled a sandwich on whole grain bread with roasted turkey slices, a thick slice of cheddar, baby spinach, and topped it with something that looked like a cranberry chutney or relish.
“Here you go, boss.” She handed me the plate.
I took a bite. It was an interesting combination of flavors. The cheddar and turkey were familiar. The cranberry chutney was what made the sandwich. I tasted a hint of orange, and there was a little bit of heat to it also.
“Well?” Jeannie said.
“I like it. Especially the cranberries. I like the combination of sweet, tart, and heat.” I swallowed the second bite. “I’m not sure about the spinach on here, though.”
Jeannie looked smug. “That’s what I told Jake.”
Jake pushed the dough aside and went to the sink. “I guess I’m outnumbered—unless Kevin is going to back me up.”
Kevin raised a hand. “I’m staying out of it. I don’t even like cranberries.”
I took my lunch to my office and finished the sandwich in record time, then buckled down to do some paperwork and make some calls. There was still a good bit that needed to be done for our Oktoberfest celebration. Jake had already come up with a special menu full of German food for that weekend—three kinds of wurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and German potato salad. I made a note to pick up the menus at the print shop before the end of next week. I made a few phone calls, and after I updated my To Do list, I headed back to the brewery to clean up. A brewer’s work is never done.
This excerpt from A Room with a Brew is published here courtesy of the author and should not be copied without permission.