A report at the end of summer 2010 revealed that despite the economic slowdown beer consumption has been strong and breweries are enjoying healthy earnings. That may include the output of microbreweries. In New York State, a microbrewery is officially defined as an establishment that "may produce or brew up to 60,000 barrels of beer. May sell to licensees. May NOT sell to the general public without a brewer's retail permit. May apply for an on-premises liquor license in or adjacent to the brewery." With those general guidelines -- and a 1978 federal law that loosened Prohibition-era restrictions on manufacture and shipment of beer and ale -- thousands of small breweries have begun to thrive. In upstate New York, traditional wine and dairy country has also turned into lager-land.
It's not difficult to brew your own beer, but a loss of ingredients or an interruption in the process can ruin a batch and cause fast economic collapse. So small-scale independent brewers also need to be mutually supportive. In Lesley A. Diehl's new mystery novel "A Deadly Draught" the brewers in the Butternut Valley of central New York are already threatened by drought when they are shaken by a murder and possible acts of sabotage to the brewing process.
Brewer Hera Knightsbridge is proud of her fine beer and ales, worried about her brewery's economic viability and shocked to discover that her neighbor and brewing rival Michael Ramford, Sr. has been murdered. Her own father was a probable suicide, and his death and the possible failure of the brewery he built caused Hera to abandon a promising law career to come home to the Butternut Valley. The murder case is further complictaed by an eccentric cast of characters who are faithful workers in the breweries but none of whom is above suspicion. Hera is further taken aback when she discovers -- in a twist that could happen only in a mystery centered on a brewery -- that someone has slipped her the improper yeast cultures and imperilled her work. And when the Sheriff's Department sends their new deputy Jake Ryan to investigate, Hera's life becomes even more complicated with the reappearance of her former college boyfriend.
"The problem is, we're failures in each other's eyes. You can't imagine why I'm into making brewskis, and I can't see you as a cop. We were both on the fast track at one time. Didn't you tell me you wanted to do patent law? And here you are, handcuffs hanging off your belt, one hand on your gun, the other reaching out to grab me and arrest me just for being part of the brewing world. What have you got against beer?"
-- from "A Deadly Draught"
"A Deadly Draught" is Lelsey Diehl's first mystery novel. She lives in Morris, NY in the Butternut Valley (in Otsego County, the home of many real microbreweries) and is a retired psychology professor at SUNY Oneonta with a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. Her next mystery novel, entitled "Dumpster Dying", is set in Florida and will be released this fall. There will also be a series of mystery novels set around the microbreweries of the Butternut Valley.
Lesley A. Diehl joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about brewing fine beer and good mysteries.