Introducing Sloan Krause—main character of Death on Tap, the first in a new cozy series from Ellie Alexander!
Jules Capshaw, owner of the charming bakeshop Torte, meets Sloan Krause, who's in from out of town for the beer festival that has landed in Ashland, Oregon. Sloan is the brewmaster at the famed der Keller brewing company that operates out of Leavenworth, Washington, and she’s come to the festival to show off the newest spring brew. When Sloan drops in to Torte for a pistachio bar and a latte, she meets Jules, who is instantly smitten with the idea of incorporating beer into some baked goods. But when the two go off to sample some of der Keller’s brews, they realize that one of the kegs have gone missing. Is someone trying to steal the secret recipe? It’s up to Sloan and Jules to get to the bottom of this—and soon.
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Torte was aglow with color on a stunning early spring afternoon. Rusty sunlight streamed into the front windows. Outside, the trees lining the plaza were bursting with tiny yellow and green buds, and the storefronts were alight with gold and maroon banners, signaling the launch of a new season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Since Mom and I had returned from a week in the tropics, we hadn't had a minute of rest. Basement renovations were in full swing, as were preparations for the arrival of out-of-town guests. Soon Ashland's quaint, quiet streets would be packed with theatergoers eager for the first glimpse at this year's lineup of award-winning plays. That meant that Torte, our family bakeshop, would be buzzing with tourists looking for a creamy latte and sweet scone before meandering up the theater to take in a performance of Antony and Cleopatra or Cinderella. We had tasked our expanding team with freezing piecrusts and stockpiling quarts of savory soups in anticipation of the rush.
In addition to the daily buzz, the most exciting news around the bakeshop was of Mom's upcoming wedding. Everyone in town was talking about her engagement to Ashland's most beloved detective, and everyone wanted an invite to the wedding. Mom and I had been putting together menus, sketching out designs for the cake, and trying to find a venue that could accommodate the massive guest list. She and the Professor were fixtures in our little corner of southern Oregon, and no one wanted to miss out on the opportunity to celebrate their public declaration of love.
Even if they had to host the wedding at Lithia Park, Mom was determined that anyone who wanted an invite would receive one. I couldn't blame her. She was happier than I had seen her in years and had been floating around Torte with a permanent grin on her face and a sparkle in her walnut eyes. No one deserved happiness more than she did, so I gladly took on the role of overseeing the bakeshop's expansion so that she could concentrate on wedding plans.
For the moment, my focus was on paint and flooring. Who knew that there were a thousand choices? Our contractor had helped me narrow it down a bit by tossing out any options that weren't waterproof. We were taking over an attached basement property that had been prone to flooding. Thanks to a grant program, we had been able to hire a crew to dig out the basement and install a new drainage system that (fingers crossed) would resolve any water issues once and for all. However, Mom and I both agreed that it was better to be overly cautious. Ashland routinely experienced bouts of severe thunderstorms, especially in the summer months when billowing white clouds rumbled over our sepia- toned hillside, unleashing gallons of water into the valley. A recent deluge had left nearly every business in the plaza under a foot of water. Waterproof flooring was a must.
I rested my cold brew coffee on the center of the booth table and reached for a stack of flooring samples. It was midafternoon, well past the lunch rush, which meant that there were only a handful of customers in the dining room lingering over plates of oatmeal crinkles, chocolate croissants, and cherry hand pies. The bright and open space, with its royal blue and red walls and corrugated metal siding, smelled of hearty chicken and dumpling soup and espresso.
This was my favorite spot in the bakeshop. The booths lining Torte's windows gave visitors a front row seat to the action outside. There was never a dull moment in the plaza. Today a group of theater students, dressed in black from head to toe, took turns acting like mimes. One of them flipped into a handstand on the Lithia bubblers and posed upside down. Another performed the classic mime-in-a-box act and pandered for applause.
Only in Ashland, I thought as I sipped my coffee. It was rich and nutty with a tangy finish and a touch of cream to pull the flavors together. We steep our cold brew overnight, allowing it to slowly filter, which creates a sweet, layered decadence. Served over ice, there's nothing better than a cup of our signature drink on a sunny spring afternoon. I flipped through the stack of flooring samples, landing on a modern Pergo that looked like old barn wood. It had a slightly rough texture and vintage feel. I liked the varying shades of gray and brown and how the manufacturer had included intricate touches — like fake nail marks. From afar it looked as if it had been stripped from a weathered barn, but the material was plastic and guaranteed to keep water out.
This could be a good option, I thought, setting the sample aside. One of the biggest perks of our new property was its built-in brick oven. I had been daydreaming for weeks about wood-fired pizzas, crusty sourdough breads, and smoky crèmes brûlées. I couldn't wait for the smell of burning apple wood and the sound of a crackling fire. A rustic floor could be just the right match for the centerpiece of our new kitchen.
I was about to return to the kitchen when someone interrupted my thoughts.
"Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, but are you the owner?" A tall woman with long brown hair and olive skin offered me a sheepish smile. She wore skinny black jeans, ankle-high green rubber boots, and a black V-neck T-shirt with word PROST! across the front.
"Yeah, I'm Jules. And don't give it a thought. I could use a distraction from endless floor samples." I nodded at the piles I had stacked on the table and readjusted my ponytail. "Can I help you with something?" She laughed. "Oh, I know the feeling. I'm the worst when it comes to making decisions like that." Then she glanced around the front of the shop. Her intelligent eyes landed on the chalkboard on the far wall where we rotate Shakespearean quotes. My dad started the tradition when he and my mom first opened Torte, and now we pay homage to his memory with a weekly quote. Today's read "In the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when birds do sing Sweet lovers love the spring." Someone had sketched two lovebirds sharing a cupcake in blue chalk.
"Are you remodeling?" She pointed to my samples. "Everything in here is charming. I wouldn't change a thing, and really, I don't want to interrupt you. I know how hard it is to find a few minutes alone in the restaurant business, but I just finished one of your pistachio bars, and it is the best thing I've ever tasted in my life. I had to tell you."
"Thanks, that's so nice!" I motioned for her to sit. "You're right about decisions. We're expanding into the space below us, and I'm drowning in choices — tile, hardwood, Pergo. It goes on and on."
"I don't envy you," she said, sliding into the opposite side of the booth. "We did that a while back, and I was ready to throw in the towel every time our contractor would ask how high I wanted a light switch mounted. It will be worth it in the end, I promise." She extended her hand. A massive diamond ring glinted on her ring finger. "By the way, I'm Sloan Krause, lover of your bakery."
"Great to meet you, and thanks for the praise. It's always nice to hear that people enjoy our products as much as we enjoy baking them. Are you here to see a play?" Despite the fact that the season didn't kick off for a few weeks, it wouldn't have surprised me. Some of OSF's most faithful fans had been known to arrive early just to be part of the preseason atmosphere.
"No." She loosened a thin black scarf twisted around her neck. Her angular features were striking, as were her deep brown eyes. I knew that if Lance, OSF's artistic director and my friend, were here, he would immediately start giving her the hard-sell as to why she should be onstage. She was quite beautiful without a touch of makeup and gave off a calm, centered confidence. I'm not exactly sure why, but she felt like a kindred spirit.
"I wish, but actually I'm here on business." She pointed to her T-shirt.
"Not the pastry business, then?" I chuckled.
She shook her head and reached into a small black clutch. "Nope, the beer business." She handed me her business card.
I recognized the logo instantly. "You're with Der Keller?" The name Der Keller was synonymous with beer in the Pacific Northwest. They produced authentic German-style beers that had won every award in the industry. Many pubs and restaurants in Ashland served Der Keller on tap.
"Guilty as charged." When she grinned, subtle lines crinkled on the edges of her eyes. It was the only clue that she was probably a few years older than me.
"Wow, Der Keller is huge around here. Where are you headquartered? Somewhere in Washington? Seattle?"
"Leavenworth, actually." She glanced outside and then back to me. "Have you ever been?"
"No, but it's somewhere I've always wanted to visit." Like Ashland, the town was also modeled on a theme. Leavenworth took inspiration from the surrounding Cascade Mountain Range and embraced a Bavarian style with shops, restaurants, and hotels designed to resemble a quaint German village. The town had embraced its German heritage and hosted annual celebrations like Oktoberfest, Christmas markets, and Maifest.
"You should come. It's a lot like Ashland." She nodded out the window where the mime troupe had linked arms and were spinning in a circle. "Only more well, German."
"Right." I grinned. No wonder she felt like a kindred spirit. We had many things in common, including our unique towns. "What brings you to the land of Shakespeare?"
"Beer. The beer festival kicks off later tonight over in the park." Her smile widened. "And now your pastries. I have a background in baking — not professionally like you — but I went to cooking school before I ended up at Der Keller and love to dabble in my home kitchen. In fact, I've been playing around with a recipe for beer-infused cupcakes for a while now." She paused and stared at a table nearby, where two customers were noshing on vanilla bean cupcakes with swirls of French buttercream and fresh raspberry drizzle. "You should come by our booth and taste our brand-new release — Spring Fling. I'd love to get your input on it. We're tapping it just for the brew fest. Wouldn't it be fun to collaborate and have you bake something with our beer?"
"I'm all in!" I must have shouted because the customers nearby turned in our direction. I gave them a little wave and then returned my attention to Sloan. "I love to collaborate, and to tell you the truth, I don't know that much about beer. I've cooked with it, and of course enjoy a cold pint on a summer's day, but that's the extent of my knowledge."
"Are you planning to come to the brew fest?"
I stared at the pile of paperwork and flooring samples. "I wasn't, but I have to admit that a beer tasting would be a happy distraction."
Sloan's ebony eyes lit up. "Beer can be intimating for some people. One of my favorite things is being able to help people discover new tastes and flavors. If you have some time this afternoon, come over to our booth. I'd love to have you taste some of our beers and hear your thoughts on what you might do with them from a baking perspective. But you have to promise to stop me if I talk too much about the brewing process. How a beer is brewed and the kind of hops and grains that are used in brewing can completely alter the flavor." She paused as a slow blush crept up her cheeks. "Can you tell that I have tendency to geek out over beer?"
"Geek out all you want. That sounds fabulous."
"What's your afternoon like?"
I glanced at the clock on the far wall. "How about now?" I swept the flooring samples into a stack. "Honestly, I can't even tell the difference between paint colors anymore. Latte or cinnamon bun — don't they all look the same?" I held up two swatches of beige paint that looked remarkably similar.
"Exactly." When she laughed, the sunlight glinted off her loose curls. "As long as I'm not keeping you from anything important, though. I didn't mean to take over your afternoon."
"No, this is great." I gathered the samples and stood. "Let me just go put these in the office and check in with my team."
"I'll wait, but I can't promise that I won't be tempted to grab another pistachio bar." Sloan stared longingly at the pastry case.
"Let's barter. Beer for bars. What do you say?" I untied my fire engine red apron and hung it over my arm. "I'll package a box up for you."
Sloan started to protest, but I hurried off toward the kitchen before she could stop me. I liked her, and I couldn't wait to taste Der Keller's beers. "Hey, Stephanie," I called to my young pastry chef in training after dropping off the samples in my office. "Can you package a box of a half dozen pistachio bars for me?"
Stephanie nodded. Her purple hair matched the buttercream she was piping onto sugar cookie cutouts.
"Is everything under control back here?" I asked Sterling, Torte's official sous chef.
He removed the lid from the soup pot. The heavenly scent of chicken and dumplings invaded my senses.
"That smells amazing." I stepped closer to get a better whiff.
"It's ready. You want me to reserve half for tomorrow's lunch and package the rest in to-go containers, right?" He motioned to a stack of plastic quarts near the stove. We had recently begun offering quick lunches to go, like our home-style soups and premade sandwiches.
"Right." I breathed in the homey soup, catching hints of garlic and onion. "Once you're done with that, you guys can go ahead and clean up. I'm heading over to the brew fest for a little while."
"I thought that didn't start until tonight." Sterling reached for a ladle.
"It doesn't but I met one of the brewmasters from Der Keller, and she's going to have me sample their new spring line this afternoon." I couldn't resist sneaking a taste of his soup, so I reached for a spoon and dipped it into the fragrant pot. The creamy soup base and fluffy dumplings were nothing short of perfection. I pretended to swoon. "This is dreamy."
Sterling's piercing blue eyes lit up at the compliment, but he shook his head and scoffed at my feeble attempt at acting.
"Anyway," I continued, setting the spoon in the sink, "I was thinking it would be fun to offer some beer-infused sweets this weekend in honor of the festival."
Stephanie slid a white cardboard box with our Torte logo stamped on the top across the island without looking up from her work. "Here you go."
"Thanks." I turned my attention to her. "How are the cupcakes coming?"
"This is my last row," Stephanie said pointing to twelve unfrosted cupcakes amongst dozens of the dainty sweets, which reminded me of pastel mountains. She had done a gorgeous job piping pale pink, yellow, and green frosting in silky peaks on top of each cupcake, and finishing them with fondant daisies and tulips.
"Perfect. Like I said to Sterling, once you're done, go ahead and lock up. I'm taking an afternoon break, but will stop by deliver those to the theater later." The cupcake order was for the cast at OSF. They had been burning the midnight oil getting ready for the new season, and we had been fueling them with late-night treats.
"Cool." Stephanie shrugged and returned to piping.
"See you both tomorrow," I said with a wave.
"Don't get too loopy at the fest," Sterling said with a wink.
"Ha! You know me." I picked up the box of pistachio bars and made a quick pit stop in my office to check my appearance. Working in a humid kitchen meant that I typically wore my hair up, out of my face, and didn't bother with makeup. When I studied myself in the mirror, my blond ponytail was still in place and my cheeks still had a hint of color from my week at sea. I changed into a long-sleeved pale blue T-shirt that brought out my eyes, brushed flour from my jeans, and returned to the front to meet Sloan.
She stood in front of the nearly empty pastry case. "It looks like you sold out."
"People in Ashland love pastries," I joked as I handed her the box of cookies. "Not to worry. We had another pan of pistachio bars in the back."
"Thanks." She cradled the box as if it were fragile.
"Should we go?" I held open the door and followed her outside. I was excited to have met a new friend and kindred culinary spirit. Plus, an afternoon of tasting German-style beers sounded pretty good to me.
Excerpted from "Trouble is Brewing"
Copyright © 2017 Kate Dyer-Seeley.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love Ellie Alexander’s Bakeshop Mystery series. In Trouble is Brewing, Ellie takes Jules Capshaw and a few members of Torte to introduce a new character and series. Sloan Krause is a brewer for her family brewery, Der Keller. Sloan and her husband Mac are in town for Brew Fest, a beer festival. As Sloan is preparing to have Jules taste their new beer which has been in the works for three years, they discover that the keg is missing. They aren’t sure who took it or why, but several potential suspects emerge. It pains me to say...Trouble is Brewing was a complete let down. The story actually finished at 35%, with the rest of the book giving you a glimpse of Death on Tap, the first book in the Sloan Krause Mystery series. The mystery itself was extremely Scooby Doo-ish. Trouble is Brewing just didn’t live up to what Ellie is capable of giving to readers. She’s definitely a better plotter and writer than Trouble is Brewing shows. **Personal Purchase**
Wonderful book to get you into the flow of a new series taking place in Leavenworth, WA. Sets you up with who the characters are and how their lives intersect. A MUST read!!!
I loved this little taste of Ashland and an wonderful intro to Leavenworth! I can't wait for more adventures with Jules and to finally "meet" Sloan next month when Death on Tap releases. The Bakeshop Mysteries never disappoint and this fun little cross-over was nothing short of that.