The Winchester I: Inspiring Brewmasters

This new series on my blog will be reviews of local dives, joints, restaurants that I frequent with my partner, my friends, or are owned by friends. I pitched a column about reviewing beer joints to some Indianapolis publications, but never heard back. Too bad for them. Here’s my pitch to kick this off.

 

     My husband thinks he can inspire our friend Chris McGarvey, the latest brewmaster at Front Street Brewery in North Carolina, to brew a new hefe by a snappy name. He’s convinced “Cof-hefe” dictates the flavor of the Hefeweizen he’s imagining, a traditional hefe with a hint of coffee. Like Covfefe, only beerish. (Like bearish or bullish terms for the markets, only a beer pun.) 

     He makes this pitch to Chris gesticulating at a line of empty snifters in front of him. We’ve been here a minute. Busy with a brewing issue, then running to pick up his wife, Chris just sat down across from us. He’s as eager for us to meet the love of his life as he is to share his recent success, becoming the brewmaster at Front Street Brewery after winning a contest. He introduces her as a literature professor, know that I share her love of writing and literature. Chris and my husband soon start talking of seminary and beer. They wear the goofy grins of nerdy bros just reunited after a few years. My husband is all beard and pony-tail, something of a hipster looking minister. Chris is barely younger looks like a teenager, short curly hair, a big grin, part math geek, part bookish.

     In minutes, Chris too hitches an elbow on the tabletop and rests his chin in it.  He’s already quizzed us about which of the eight brews on tap we’ve tasted. We tried all but his raspberry wheat. What we wanted to try , the Tomb Rocker, one of McGarvey’s first home-brews from his years in Chicago, is tapped out. We tasted it over eight years before, when craft-brewing was a science for a few. Nowadays, craft breweries are reviving small towns, like our home-base of 15,000 people back in Indiana.  Chris is helping Front Street make a name for itself and helping the quaint East Coast downtown feel like a destination. We know that our favorite, Tomb Rocker, will someday rock him some awards.  He tells us about the recipe’s evolution from the 2006 Glenfiddich Tomb Rocker  to the sold vintage of this year, when his priest came to bless the batch. Front Street tapped it on Eastern Orthodox Easter and ran out before the religious holiday of Pentecost, forty days later. When my husband says he wished he could have been in the South to taste it, Chris grins. He may be able to scare up a bottle for old friends. Then he offers to take us on the secret tour.

      On our way out the front door, he hands us each a snifter then snakes us outside and down the alley next door. Wasps buzz around our ankles as we wait for him to unlock a battered door in the back of the brewery restaurant.

     “Few of the waitstaff know this is here,” he says as he leads us into a small, cold room with six bourbon barrels aging his test batches. He pulls a nail from a barrel and lets a dark golden stream pour into each of our glasses. This batch is 43% rye, a rarity, he explains. It requires him to strain it several times because at 20% or higher, rye gums up the machinery. We swirl it and sniff. It smells of its two other key ingredients, molasses and caraway. In my mouth it’s chewy, like a Russian bread he’s describing. The bread inspired him to put together the ingredients. It’s rich and caramel thick. It’s one of the best brews I’ve had in a while.

     “I call it “Napoleon Ryenamite,” he chuckles. 

    “You know,” my husband says. “You should name one Soren Beerkagaard.” The two former seminarians laugh at the shared joke. Then they start discussing that it’ll be an existential beer. Whatever that tastes like.

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