"Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne."
I'd like to tell you a story about an author, a beer, and how I came to write you about them today.
When I started at this company, I didn't know much about brewing. To be honest, I didn't think I would get the job in the first place. But job interviews at Able are unique from others; it isn't just about your experience, it's about what drives you as an individual and inspires your passion—be it a product, idea, or way of thinking.
During my interview, I was asked to "name someone who inspires you and why?" That’s a deep question to face. After a moment, the answer dawned on me: Kurt Vonnegut Jr., someone who has helped me through a lot in life, and who I could always count on to be there in hardcover or paperback.
After I was hired, I asked Carl why he chose me. He told me something that had stuck with him from my interview: who inspired me and why. Instead of just saying, "this guy is cool," I made him want to go out and read his work—he wanted to experience what I had from Vonnegut's writing first hand. Never in my life did I think this author—with his sarcastic tone and his habit of chain smoking Pall Malls—would help me get a job at a brewery. So why Vonnegut specifically?
Well, Kurt Vonnegut is a legend.
I go to his stories to think, discover new ideas, and to relax.
His writing inspires me to push beyond what I believe to be possible.
His words have no filter. After all, one should only limit their words if they are scared of someone else's opinion on them.
He also warns you not to be afraid of the mundane, for those moments are hard to find in a busy world.
He survived the Dresden firebombing as a soldier in WWII.
He (accidentally) burnt down at least two of his houses from smoking in bed.
He even attempted to sue the Pall Mall cigarette company for living so long since they promised smoking would kill him.
So, for those of you who haven’t read Vonnegut’s work, who or what is Kilgore?
Kilgore Trout is Mr. Vonnegut's alter ego, appearing in many of his stories, including my favorite work by him, Timequake. He is cited as being a classless vagabond character with over twenty fiction novels to his name. He is a horrible science-fiction writer, yet is held in high regard because everyone owns his books, knows his name and speaks of him often.
Thus, Kilgore is a window into how Vonnegut really felt. The man had a strong opinion on almost everything, but the one for himself was never very high. Nothing he did was good enough; he always believed he could be doing better. It is because of this that I have always loved Kilgore Trout as a character. When naming this beer, I couldn't think of a better name than Vonnegut's alter ego.
While the beer’s name was inspired by my favorite author, the flavors were inspired by another passion of mine - coffee.
We partnered with A&E Roastery, where I worked over a year before I found my place at Able. When I decided that I was going to make a coffee porter, I immediately thought of A&E. Like us, they create their own incredible product on site, and self-distribute thousands of pounds of coffee each week across the state. I couldn't think of a better company who would share the passion behind a product and love for a craft.
Emeran, the owner of A&E, was nice enough to open their doors to us as Mark - their Head Roaster - walked us through the roasting process—from green bean to the final product. We were walked through a tasting of a few different roasts they thought would work well in beer. After bringing a several back to test pilot batches with, we decided on their Papua New Guinea roast, which has a well-rounded taste with subtle sweet and fruity flavor notes. It was the perfect fit for us.
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”
-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
This beer has become as much of a confidence boost as it has been something keeping me up at night. After all, it’s been over a year since I wrote about brewing the first test batch of this coffee porter.
Once I started brewing for the first time on my own on the pilot system, I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. I faced the challenges of beer design: raw material selection, temperature control, timing, sanitation, and above all, patience. Several months in, Kilgore began to take shape. It was good, but Mike and Carl told me the standard to get a beer on the board was “perfect.” I obviously had my moments of frustration as the months went by, but the extra time and effort has paid off.
This is why brewing has been such an awesome experience for me personally. This beer isn't just about the grain, malt, coffee, yeast and water; it’s the ups and downs I've experienced over the past year. It’s going into the unknown and coming out with a few more scars, but still a little smarter than when I went in. It’s about the chapter I’ve added to my life story - one I’ll be proud to tell for the rest of my days. After all, beer should be a shared experience of flavors, friends and stories, not simply a coveted pint with a perfect head.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
This is a notion I have tried to apply to every aspect of my life. Soldier to Barista to Brewer, and all the others in between, I haven’t really fit into many of the roles I’ve held. But just like Vonnegut I continue on seeking the next challenge. After all, this is the year of “taking the hill.”
With that, I hope you will join us on March 14th for a beer and a story on the edge of this cliff, waiting for the next opportunity to jump. Cheers.
-Jake, Renaissance Man