From Ellie Alexander, beloved author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, comes the first in an intoxicating new series: Death on Tap.
When Sloan Krause walks in on her husband, Mac, screwing the barmaid, she gives him the boot. Sloan has spent her life in Leavenworth, Washington becoming an expert in brewing craft beer, and she doesn’t have time to be held back by her soon-to-be ex-husband. She decides to strike out on her own, breaking away from the Krause family brewery, and goes to work for Nitro, the hip new nano-brewery in the Bavarian-themed town. Nitro’s owner, brewmaster Garrett Strong, has the brew-world abuzz with his newest recipe, “Pucker-Up IPA.” This place is the new cool place in town, and Mac can’t help but be green with envy at their success.
But just as Sloan is settling in to her new gig, she finds one of Nitro’s competitors dead in the fermenting tub, clutching the secret recipe for the IPA. When Mac, is arrested, Sloan knows that her ex might be a cheater, but a murderer? No way. Danger is brewing in Beervaria and suddenly Sloan is on the case.
About the Author
ELLIE ALEXANDER is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she's not coated in flour, you'll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the Bakeshop Mysteries, including Meet Your Baker and A Batter of Life and Death, as well as the Sloan Krause mysteries. You can find her on Facebook to learn more!
Read an Excerpt
IT WASN'T SO MUCH THE sight of my husband's bare ass that would become permanently etched in my memory, but rather the rhythmic sounds of the German brass band oompah-ing in the background, coupled with the strong, but delicious smell of grains steeping in the mash tun.
I shouldn't have been in the pub anyway. It was my day off, but instead of spending it in the late summer sun, I had opted to tinker with a new recipe I'd been working on. A few minutes into the brewing process, I realized I'd forgotten cinnamon. Mac, my husband and brewmaster for Der Keller (the Cellar if you don't sprechen sie Deutsch, as my mother-in-law likes to say), was nowhere to be found. Typical.
"Otto," I called to my father-in-law, the patriarch of our family and an award-winning brewmaster. "I'm running to grab some cinnamon. Can you watch the wort? I'll be back in a few."
"Ja, Sloan," Otto replied from behind an eight-foot copper kettle. "I will wait with ze beer."
I grabbed a twenty from the register, tucked it into my pocket, and weaved through the crowd of regulars kicking back with midafternoon pints. Country air greeted me outside on the cobblestone streets. I hurried along Front Street for two blocks, passing flowerpots and window boxes stuffed with red geraniums, an authentic fifteen-foot-tall cuckoo clock in the town square, and rows of antique streetlights. A-frame rooftops lined the thoroughfare like gingerbread cottages. The sound of Steller's jays squawking greetings to each other overhead made me pause and look up.
Gently sloping peaks rose around me in every direction. The nearby mountains sheltering our village stood at five to eight thousand feet, like gentle guardians watching over us. I smiled at the thought and noticed how the first signs of fall were beginning to creep in. A scattering of yellow and orange leaves dotted the otherwise dark green mountainside.
Continuing up Front Street, I saw that more preparations for fall were under way. Workers were installing crimson Oktoberfest banners, and shopkeepers were adorning their front windows with garlands of gorgeous foliage and yellow twinkle lights. Oktoberfest was right around the corner, which meant that soon our sidewalks would be packed with merry revelers toasting with overflowing beer steins and dancing to accordion music. Even the grocery store, with its brocade façade, looked like it should be nestled in the German Alps, not the Pacific Northwest. Like everything else in our small town, it was fashioned after a Bavarian village.
I stepped inside and weaved my way through aisles of imported chocolates, gummy bears, and sauerkraut until I found the cinnamon. Then I paid quickly and hightailed it back to the pub. Beer making is an art and a science. Timing is everything. I knew that Otto would keep his eye on my new creation, but this batch was the result of months of experimenting, and I wanted to make sure nothing went wrong.
"What's your rush, Sloan?" the owner of The Nutcracker called as I hurried by. She positioned a miniature nutcracker wearing forest-green lederhosen and holding a stein in the window.
"The beer won't wait." I grinned and continued on.
As promised, Otto was dutifully watching my batch when I returned. His wiry gray hair stuck out in all directions. He looked more like a mad scientist than a jovial beer-loving grandpa (or Opa). Ursula, his wife, stood shoulder to shoulder with him.
"Sloan, we must go." She pressed a timer into my hand. "Your beer is smelling good."
She had to stand on her toes to kiss my cheek. In her prime, she'd stood not much taller than five feet. With age, her shoulders had started to slump and her walk had turned to a shuffle. She was the only mother I'd ever known, and watching her get older was sometimes more than I could bear. No tourist would ever have thought we were a family. Otto and Ursula, with their fair German skin, short stature, and matching gray hair; me with full lips, huge pores, and jet black hair. One of my foster moms once told me that my mother was Greek. It would fit. The sun loves my skin. Fifteen minutes outside, and my skin looks like a nut brown ale. Mac, on the other hand, is burnt to a crisp and glowing like a pint of amber in five minutes.
His ass certainly hasn't seen the sun — that was the first thought that flashed through my mind when I walked to the back office to grab my notes and swung the door open, and there stood Mac with jeans slouched around his ankles and the twenty-three-year-old barmaid we had just hired sprawled on my desk.
My hand flew to my mouth. I dropped the spice jar on the floor. It broke and sent shattered pieces of cinnamon stick in all directions.
"Sloan!" Mac jumped and whirled around. "This isn't what you think." He yanked up his jeans and coughed.
Yeah, right. I couldn't think of what to do next, so I pointed to the cinnamon shards on the epoxy floor, dusted off my shirt, and said, "You're going to need to clean this up."
I turned and tried to keep my composure as I walked away. The smell of wort enveloped me as I sprinted toward the fermenting tank. Usually the scent was comforting, but at the moment, it made me want to vomit. My hands shook. My knees felt like they were about to give way. I clutched the ladder at the base of the copper kettle.
Don't make a scene, I told myself while trying to ignore the woozy feeling working its way up the back of my neck.
Years in the foster care system had taught me that making a scene gets you sent to bed without dinner or sent packing. I wouldn't give Mac the satisfaction. I sunk onto the ladder. What an ass — literally.
I'd suspected for a while that Mac had been fooling around, but I'd never been able to prove it. The twenty-three-year-old barmaid, in my office? That, I never saw coming.
ADRENALINE PUMPED THROUGH MY TREMBLING body. How could he have done this to me? Fifteen years of marriage down the drain.
The room felt hot, and not because of the hundred-gallon copper tanks heating my malty blend of organic grains. Sweat beaded on my forehead and dripped down my face. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand.
What was I going to do?
At that moment, I heard a door slam and caught a glimpse of the beer wench scurrying toward the pub. Her long blond locks swung to the middle of her back, and her jeans looked as if she'd painted them on.
God, she was young.
Probably as young as I was when I married the scoundrel.
I couldn't entirely blame her. Mac exudes an intense attraction. Wherever we went, women let their eyes linger a little too long on his baby face and flirtatious eyes. Over the years I'd gotten used to it, but that didn't mean that I enjoyed watching women ogle my husband.
Mac and his family of German brewmasters had taught me everything I knew. Otto, Mac's dad, had brought his German techniques with him to Leavenworth, Washington, in the early 1970s and formed one of the city's first breweries and pubs. He and his wife, Ursula, had started a tiny tasting room in the midst of a full-scale town remodel. The dingy five-hundred-square-foot space was all they could afford when they uprooted their two young children, Mac and Hans, from Germany and transplanted to Leavenworth. It had been a family affair ever since, and Der Keller had grown into one of the largest breweries in the state, with a bevy of international clients and accolades to boot.
Beer aficionados credited the Krause family with putting Leavenworth on the map for its now globally famous microbrew culture. Times had changed dramatically since the Krauses began brewing. The villagers had poured everything they had into creating a destination town, and their bet had paid off. Our little town was now a beer travel destination with over a million visitors roaming our quaint streets each year.
Learning the beer business wasn't something I ever aspired to. Nor was falling for Mac. It happened all at once. When I graduated from high school, I left the foster care system behind and took every job I could to pay the bills while attending community college. Being broke was infinitely better than being a foster kid.
My high school home economics teacher had seen potential in my ability in the kitchen — I think in part because the group of obnoxious football players I was paired with intentionally tried to burn everything we were tasked with baking. She recommended me for a scholarship in the cooking and restaurant management program at the college. Having my tuition covered was more than I could have wished for, but it still left me struggling to pay rent and buy groceries. I worked as a waitress in the evenings and managed a booth at Leavenworth's farmers' market on the weekends. That was when I met the Krauses. They were regulars at the market, where they would source fresh fruits and herbs for the brewery.
"Sloan, how is the schooling going for you?" Otto asked with a jovial smile, examining a bundle of pineapple sage. "Tell us about your newest cooking creations."
"Otto!" Ursula hit him gently. "She's working. Don't bother her."
The market stall owner had agreed to let me sell small batches of cookies and bars. Cooking had been an escape for me and a handy skill to have when I was hopping between foster homes.
I handed the Krauses a German chocolate cookie bar.
Ursula grinned as she took a bite. "Sloan, zis is wonderful. It is funny zey call zis German because it is an American recipe. Our Mac is coming home from his beer tour in Germany next week. We bring him to meet you, ja?"
"Sure." I laughed, tucking a wavy curl behind my ear. The Krauses had been trying to set me up with their oldest son since the first day they stopped by my booth. "I'd love to meet him." I don't remember, but I'm sure I blushed. I hadn't dated much, mainly because I never stayed in one place long enough.
The way the Krauses spoke about their children made my lonely apartment feel even more empty and cold than usual. Never having known my parents or any kind of stability as a child left me with a tender wound that I didn't even know existed until I met the Krauses.
True to their word, they brought Mac the next week. My fellow market vendors called him the golden boy. His blond hair seemed to shimmer in the morning light. He towered over his parents at nearly six feet and captivated the busy market with his presence. His muscular body oozed sensuality and confidence. It was easy to fall for the golden boy. Although, in hindsight, I think really I fell for his family. One date led to another. Within four months, I was pregnant.
Fifteen years later, I didn't regret marrying Mac. I knew I was biased, but Alex, our son, was the coolest kid I knew. When I felt generous, I had to credit Mac for being a good dad. However, with the scent of cinnamon searing on my burning cheeks, I didn't feel an ounce of warmth toward the father of my only child. I had to get out of the brewery — now.
I DUG MY HAND INTO the back pocket of my jeans and pulled out my cell phone. There was only one person I could call — Hans. I'll call Hans, I told myself. He'll know what to do. My fingers shook so violently I didn't think I could punch in my passcode. I held my wrist with my left hand to steady the tremors and dialed Hans's number.
It seemed to ring forever.
Pick up, pick up.
"Hey there, sis. What's up? Having trouble with the mash tun again?"
"Hans," I whispered into the phone, "you have to get over here — now! Mac, I just found Mac ..."
"Wait, Sloan. Speak up. I can't hear you."
I whispered louder. "I need you. Can you come to the brewery, now?"
"Hang on a sec."
I heard Hans shout to his crew to turn off their power tools.
"Okay, sorry. That's better. Couldn't hear a thing over the circular saw. What's up?"
"Hans." I fought back tears. "I found Mac with the new barmaid."
I froze as Mac stepped out of the office. He smoothed the front of his white tailored shirt with the Der Keller logo on the breast and scanned the brewery. I crouched lower behind the kettle.
"Sloan, Sloan, are you there?" Hans's voice blared in my ear.
"Shhhh! One sec. I think Mac's looking for me."
I could see Mac's blond head craning to see if anyone was around. My body felt like it would betray me. The aluminum ladder I was perched on led to an access hatch at the top of one of Der Keller's four fermenting tanks. An extensive network of platforms and scaffolding ran between each of the tanks. While most of the system was automated, the access hatches were used to add dry hops to the fermenter. The ladder felt stable, but I was worried that if I couldn't stop trembling, it might crash into the expensive copper tank.
Mac gave the room one last glance and walked away.
"Okay, he's gone," I said to Hans.
"Sloan, where are you?"
"Hiding behind the fermenting tank." I glanced at the filtered light streaming in through the tinted skylights. Ursula had insisted on adding skylights to the industrial space a few years ago. The simple act of allowing light into the brewery had transformed the previously dark and cold warehouse into a warm and radiant workplace.
"Please, come over here."
"Don't move. I'll come find you."
I had no intention of moving a muscle. The echoing space smelled like Grape-Nuts. So much for my new batch. It had to be ruined by now.
Thank goodness it was bottling day. The brewery staff were across the street at the bottling plant. Der Keller's operations took up fifty thousand square feet of warehouse space in three buildings. The building I was hiding in housed our brewery and pub. We bottled and distributed the beer across the street.
The brewery's brick-red epoxy floors reflected the sun overhead. I studied the rows and rows of medals and awards lining the opposite wall. Der Keller had won nearly every national and international brewing competition over the years. The collection of gold, silver, and bronze medals hanging from the wall was proof that the brewery was esteemed in the world of craft beer.
"Sloan!" I heard Hans's voice. "Where are you?"
"Back here," I called, not releasing my grip on the ladder.
It didn't take long for Hans to find me. He reached a tanned arm out and pulled me to my feet. "Come on, Sloan. Let's get you a pint."
I froze and shook my head. "I can't. No way. I can't see anyone right now."
Hans tightened his grip. "No one's here. Mac just left. The pub's pretty empty. Only a handful of regulars too focused on their beers to notice you." He shifted the tool belt resting on his waist and reached into the pocket of his faded Carhartt pants. Brushing sawdust off a handkerchief, he handed it to me and focused his golden brown eyes on mine. "Take this. I'll meet you in the beer garden in two minutes."
Did he think I'd been crying? I clutched the handkerchief and pushed my shoulders upright. We navigated past twenty-foot copper kettles imported from Europe. When I hosted brewery tours, the copper kettles were always one of the highlights. Beer lovers would ooh and ahh when I explained that the kettles weren't just for show. The type of metal, the way it was welded together, and its shape could greatly influence the taste of beer.
Hans led me to the pub. He was right. The lunch crowd had cleared out. A couple of regulars sat at the bar debating the IBUs (that's International Bittering Units, or the measurement of hop bitterness in the beer, for non–beer geeks), but otherwise the place was empty except for two barmaids, who were restocking gleaming pint glasses behind the bar. They both were outfitted in matching red dirndl dresses tied with black, yellow, and white checkered aprons. German memorabilia of all kinds, from flags and banners to the Krauses' collection of vintage beer steins, were displayed throughout the old world pub. The bartender, who also wore our standard red checkered Trachten shirt and black suspenders, caught my eye and waved as I rushed past.
Der Keller's Biergarten sits off to the side of the pub. I opened the patio doors and sighed with relief that the picnic tables were empty as well. Despite the sunny skies, the air held a crispness. I could almost smell the changing season. Leavenworth boasts three hundred days of sun each year. We keep the beer garden open as long as the weather will allow. It's one of my favorite spots in the spring and summertime, with hop vines snaking along the picket fence that encloses the space from the street. Last summer Hans built a lattice for the hops. They braided themselves in tight spirals up hemp strings, stretching toward the sun. The dappled light they let in gave the space a dreamy vibe.
Excerpted from "Death On Tap"
Copyright © 2017 Kate Dyer-Seeley.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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