ALL THAT GLITTERS
By Antoinette May Herndon
THE JOY OF BEER
Things are pretty up to date in Mokelumne Hill. They've gone about as fur as they can go. (Or at least care to go.) But doesn't it strike you as some kind of wonderful that a town of fewer than 800 has its very own brew pub?
On second thought, folks around here have been bellying up to the bar for more than 150 years. So why not something new and trendy like designer beer? Mother Lodians have always sought the best.
Consider what one disgruntled miner, Hinton Helper wrote:
"I will say, that I have seen purer liquors, better segars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtesans here, than in any other place that I have ever visited; and it has been my unbiased opinion that California can and does furnish the best bad things than are obtainable in America."
Before Helper hung up his pick and penned his cautionary tale to warn off other wannabe Argonauts, he bought some of those segars and knives at Levinson & Bros. Store-sight of today's Double Springs Brewery. And, undoubtedly, he drank his fancy liquor and chatted up those pretty courtesans at the adjoining Union House, corner of Main and Center. Today people gather there for pizza, burgers, taquitos, soup and a beer smorgasbord.
Out front, where miners parked their horses and wagons, is Sharon and Jim Tesch's charming beer garden. How many tiny towns can claim a beer garden?
The Levinson brothers, like better known gold barons, figured out early that the real money lay in supplying miners rather than mining itself. Their store, fashioned along
Greek Revival lines with a pediment roof, was de rigueur in 1854. If only those wonderful old rhyolite stones could talk. Think of the fortunes chisled out of the earth only to be lost at faro or fandango. Imagine the grub staking, the gold dust traded for the picks and pans or maybe a suit to go a courting. A storekeeper would have seen and heard it all.
Jim Tesch, owner and brewmaster of Double Springs, hears lots of stories too. What bar tender doesn't? But Tesch is also a beer maven. He not only makes the stuff himself but tells other people how. Every kind of beer making ingredient or equipment is sold at the Union House. Tesch's advice is free. ("If it tastes good-fine. Otherwise throw it out, don't try to 'fix' it.")
"You remind me of Julia Childs," I said after eavesdropping on a counseling session.
"Why not?" he shrugged. "Making beer is like cooking. If you don't enjoy it, you won't do it well. The ingredients are barley, hops, yeast and Mokelumne River water. What happens next is alchemy-magic, not science. I put on my wizard hat and go for it."
A veteran brewer for 20 years, Tesch started Double Springs in 1995. He has four flavors on tap: blond, amber, India pale ale, porter. "I'm my biggest critic, " he says. "I have to really like it. I try many variations, tweaking the best until its unique." Tesch's favorite is India pale ale, mine's the rich, mellow amber.
Bottling beer is a baby bear kind of business. A little bit too soon won't work but neither will a little bit too long. It has to be just right. "An 'aged beer' is 21 days," Tesch says. "That extra week is the 'very good year'
of beerdom. When yeast ferments, it produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. Three weeks give the yeast an opportunity to absorb the alcohol."
Jim and his wife, Sharon, moved into their historic location in December. Their seven kids, ranging in age from 11 to 26, cook, serve, clean up, bar tend and take out the garbage. The plan is to move the bar into the brewery so guests can enjoy a bar stool tour of the operation. ("Most of the time it's like watching a cake bake, but brew day does get exciting-an operation that takes nine hours if we're lucky, up to 14 if we're not.")
Currently, the action's at beer garden. On some magical Friday evenings Jeff Tuttle and Phil McCartney play the guitar and sing. On wonderful Sunday afternoons from 3 to 6 Keith Evans' group offers up the best jazz you'd ever want to hear.
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The Double Springs Brewing Co. is sponsoring an Octoberfest beginning Saturday afternoon at 4. Besides bratwurst and all the beer they can drink, guests may sample prize winning potato salad. All proceeds will benefit the Moke Hill Lions Club.
A pizzeria rose from the ashes of the historic Union House, destroyed by fire in 1864.
The original Levinson & Bros. Store has experienced many incarnations-Wells Fargo office, apothecary shop, garage, among them-before housing the Double Springs Brewery.
At the celebrated corner of Main and Center stones from the old Union House may be found in the beer garden.
Jim Tesch knows a good beer when he makes it.
Jim and Sharon Tesch enjoy a quiet moment in their brew pub.