by Ronald M. Larsen
A wizened, white-haired gentleman checked the sign: Jacob Smerling & Sons, Finest Brewing Supplies. He pushed the door open and entered the cluttered shop.
The proprietor met him at the door. “Welcome to my humble premises, kind sir. I’m Jacob Smerling at your service. And you, sir, would be?”
“Merlin... ah, I mean Marvin,” the old man replied.
“And your surname?”
“Just Marvin will do.”
“All right then, Mr. Marvin. Whether you need brewing ingredients, brewing equipment for an upgrade or possibly a complete brewery, we’ve got it all.”
Smerling wasn’t exaggerating; every surface in the shop was piled high with brewing supplies and equipment. There were vats of all sizes, wooden and metal buckets, malting rakes, funnels, tubes, bottles of various sizes and colors, barrels and brushes. Sacks of grains and hops, jugs of honey and containers of yeast were tucked wherever space could be found.
“I guess you could say we are upgrading,” the old man said, stroking his long flowing beard. “Yes, upgrading it is.”
“Ah, yes, where shall we begin? With the malting floor perhaps?”
“Brew kettle,” the old man interrupted.
“Indeed,” Smerling said, “brew kettles are our specialty. We offer a range of the finest copper brew kettles in various sizes. And if we don’t have what you want in stock, we can quickly build you one. A good brew kettle is obviously the most important element of any modern brewery, wouldn’t you agree?”
The old man nodded.
Encouraged, Smerling led his visitor toward the back of the shop. “Come, Ralf.” He beckoned his youngest son to follow as they wound their way past stacks of hops and malted grains and jugs of honeysuckle, clover, apple blossom and black currant honey.
As he took in their visitor’s patched, faded blue robe with its tattered mud-spattered fringes, Ralf grimaced to show his displeasure but reluctantly tagged along.
A large gleaming copper kettle, polished weekly by Ralf, dominated the back portion of the shop. Reflections from strategically placed flickering candles and oil lamps chased across its surface like a swarm of golden butterflies.
“This is our number 14 kettle, the most modern brew kettle available,” said Smerling proudly. “See this element? It’s a water jacket that covers the bottom of the copper kettle. The brewer heats the water to boiling and it imparts even heat to the entire contents. You don’t have hot spots with the scorching you get with some kettles, and you no longer need the constant stirring that is required with a directly fired kettle.”
“I guess that might free up a couple of elves,” the old man muttered.
At this, Ralf’s eyebrows shot up. He turned an uncalled-for comment into a cough when his father shot him a warning glance.
“Another beauty of these kettles is that you can heat the water in order to boil the wort, then drain the hot water off for other uses, such as cleaning your bottles or kegs—”
“Vials, flasks, aludels and alembics,” the old man interrupted.
Ralf frowned and mouthed: “Crazy old kook.”
But Smerling didn’t miss a beat. “Vials, flasks and, ah... alembics, of course. Then you run cold water into the water jacket to quickly cool your wort — I mean your mixture — down to room temperature so that yeast or other ingredients can be added to start the fermentation... or other process.”
His customer nodded.
“We offer coal-fired, charcoal-fired, wood-fired, whale-oil fired or gas-fired models. The firebox and burner elements are just a bit different for each type. And you would need...?”
“Ah!” Smerling’s eyebrows raised a bit. Ralf rolled his eyes and sighed, but turned his sigh to another cough at a stern look from his father.
“How many BTUs would that entail?”
“British Thermal Units,” Smerling explained. “In order to properly size your kettle I need to know about how many gallons in your average batch and an estimate of your heating capacity.”
“Heating capacity? Two smallish dragons.”
At this, Ralf choked, went into a coughing spasm and stepped away a bit to regain his composure.
“Domesticated or wild dragons? Makes a difference in how much heat they’ll be willing to put out.”
“Six, eight, ten, twelve feet at the shoulder?”
“Both between six and eight.”
“Very good. We don’t get much call for dragon-fired kettles, but I’m sure we can modify our number 14 copper kettle to meet your requirements. We’ll eliminate the firebox, but we’ll need to reinforce the bottom of the water jacket to accommodate two concentrated fire sources. Concentrating fire in one area over a long period of time could weaken the material and cause leakage, and that would be bad, don’t you agree?”
“Yes, leakage would be very bad indeed.”
“Also, we can build a sturdy frame to raise your kettle so your dragons can easily get under it to heat it. You do want to raise it so that the beasts will be comfortable while working, right?”
“Sounds pretty good to me. How much?”
“Before I quote a price, we should talk about piping, plumbing and bottling equipment.”
“Got all that covered. How much?”
Smerling did a quick mental calculation. Number 14 kettle, water jacket strengthening, supporting structure, delivery and set-up, additional percentage this old gent might be good for. “Sixty gold. Half now, half on delivery.”
“Seems a bit much.”
“My dear Mr. Merlin — I mean Mr. Marvin — if this was an ordinary kettle, I couldn’t agree more.” Smerling patted the kettle. “But, this is no ordinary kettle. You are aware, no doubt, that the Abbey of St. Quantantus produces the finest beer in the three kingdoms. The St. Quantantus Tripel is a masterpiece of the brewing art. Gorgeous golden-brown color, heady aroma, a taste redolent of superb barley malt with hints of cinnamon and coriander, a touch of rose petal sweetness and a kick like an ornery mule. It’s brewed in a Smerling number 14 copper kettle. Our king was so impressed that he now has one of our kettles in the royal brewhouse. So you see, Mr. Marvin, a brew kettle fit for a king is worth 60 gold any day.”
“Still seems a bit much.”
“Tell you what,” Smerling said in a conspiratorial tone, “I’d really love to build a dragon-fired kettle. I’ll cut the price to 50 gold, just this once.”
“I’ll take one. When can you deliver?”
“Ten days. The shop will need some time to strengthen the bottom of the water jacket and build the frame. We could push it and do five days for five extra gold.”
“Ten days is fine.” The old man pulled out a worn purse and counted out 25 gold pieces.
“And the delivery address?”
“We’re out in the third set of foothills of the Fire Mountains.” The old man pulled a folded parchment out of a robe pocket. “Here’s a little map.”
“May I keep this?”
“Certainly. I can conjure — I mean create — another copy if I need it.”
“How are the roads out that way?”
“Atrocious. Allow two days’ travel; three, if it rains. And you’ll need a password for the giant when you get to the Black Forest.”
Ralf shook his head in disbelief.
“The password is?”
“Excellent. Expect us in twelve, maybe thirteen days, depending on travel time. Is there anything else we can help you with?”
“No, that’s all we need right now.”
Smerling escorted his customer to the front door. “Thank you, Mr. Marvin. It’s been a real pleasure doing business with you. I’m sure you’ll get long, excellent service from your purchase. If you ever need any additional brewing equipment or supplies, do come visit us.”
As his elderly customer exited the shop, Smerling beckoned to Ralf. “Add one number 14A reinforced dragon-fired brew kettle to the catalog at 60 gold.”
“Dragon-fired!” Ralf said in disgust. “Good Lord, Papa, I’m surprised at you! There’s no such thing as dragons. Everyone in this day and age knows that. You should be ashamed of yourself taking advantage of a little old man who is obviously addled and probably belongs in an asylum.”
Smerling sighed. “No dragons, huh?” he muttered. “Nowadays you young people are all caught up in ‘science’ and have forgotten the old ways.”
He brightened a bit. “Boy, how many times do I need to tell you that the customer is always right, especially when he has the gold to prove it? I’ve sold him what he wants. We’ll list it in our catalog, marked up 40 percent for dragon-fire plating. And no dragons, you say? Well, you’re coming along to help deliver and set this job up and, when we do, you might meet a couple of reasonably tame, smallish dragons.”
Copyright © 2020 by Ronald M. Larsen