A cold Pilsner, which my mother carefully poured, arrived just in time for my tenth birthday. My mother served it to me, not to drink, but to examine. She wanted to see if I could sift out its secrets by tilting the glass and watching for signs. Sometimes, the bubbles made a thin line that rose to the top—and that meant change, for the better, though the winds might turn. Sometimes they gathered at the bottom, which meant a long wait or delay in a hopeful outcome. Shadows meant death, and caramel lines or swirls meant the birth of something—or someone. Mom poured all kinds of beers for customers who came to her Tarot card store and believed in crystals and fate, but the real attraction was the beer: lagers, stouts, ports—all of them whispering and bubbling their stories. Above the notes of citrus, cherry, or pine, I’d sift the layers to find that shift moment that made everything clear.
When Mom died, I saw the shadows in a pale ale, but then the bubbles trailed into a caramel swirl, which coincided with the opening of my own shop. And it has provided well, each pour successful—each story unique.
The wind shakes the chimes outside the store when I open the door on a Sunday afternoon. A woman comes in, a baby in her arms, and she looks at me the way a child would, eyeing a birthday cake.
“I’ve never been to a place like this before,” she says, in one breath.
She probably thinks she’s doing something forbidden, but not too wild—just adventurous enough to satisfy her curiosity.
“Is it true?” she says. “Do you tell fortunes in beer? Do I drink it? How does it work?”
“It’s not really a fortune,” I say. “It’s just stories. The beer tells me something about you. Something you’d wish to know.”
But I suspect the people who come to me already know. The reading is more for me. I’m listening for the whispers from the spirits rising from the dead to share their insights. They do more than just keep the lights on. They quench my soul. And I’m always thirsty for more.
This woman, I suspect, is a lager-type, so I choose one from the shelf that’s already trembling. It doesn’t take much effort to pull the cap off, and when I pour, slowly, tilting the glass so the foam won’t spill out over the top, it still does, and I can’t control it. I close my eyes and listen to what it’s saying, the words becoming an echo in my ear, speaking of changes, imminent danger, uncontrollable outcomes, but they unite in one voice, meant for me: Leave at once!
I’m so rattled, I drop the bottle, and it shatters. I can barely mumble an analysis for the woman—a superficial reading—that leaves her looking deflated.
Today, a bridal party schedules a session, and I pull bottles off the shelf: spiced ales, pilsners, IPAs, stouts—and when I open them up, the messages are all intended for me, not the bridesmaids. The voices scream and shriek for me to leave and to stop what I’m doing. I’m at a loss because I love what I do. But word spreads that I’m a sham, and no one comes by the store. The shop fills with angry voices. Every beer I pour is cloudy, a storm in a bottle.
On the corner of Pine and Maple, an old brewery stands—abandoned. I go inside to see if I can smell the yeast or any semblance of beer. I miss it so much and the sweet stories it used to tell. I sit in the corner, near the vats and find a lone bottle. When I open it, it unleashes a scream, which I’m used to by now. As the bubbles pour out, I listen closely to the voice’s own story of transformation, which I’ve ignored all these years in order to tell someone else’s story. The bubbles rise to the top, which means change, for the better, I suppose.
So I take it as a sign and get to work in the factory, cleaning the vats, learning about hops and temperatures and sugars and yeast, bottling processes and disturbances that might throw everything off balance. When I’m done, and I’ve taken out my loan, I open my brewpub and use my instincts to choose the perfect beer for each customer, resisting the urge to tell them the future—just relying on a good pour and the soothing whispers that settle.