Dennis Kistner had one too many. One too many nights when his infant son, “Little” Dennis, pointed his cute tiny fingers toward a boring book at bedtime.
“I read the same four stories to Dennis—and we have hundreds of books,” Kistner says. “I get tired of reading the same things. I thought, ‘What if there was a book about beer for kids? Something that’s not pushing drinking on kids, but something about the process of making it.’”
The shower is a rare haven of blessed solitude for the parent of a young child, and it was under the nozzle in September that inspiration struck Kistner, beer and beverage manager at Mahaffey’s Pub in Canton.
Hophead Harry was born.
The adorable green-headed plant-agonist is the star of Kistner’s first children’s book, Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery. At first gulp, the idea of a story about beer for kids seems to hold as much appeal as novels about a teenage wizard would for adults. (Okay, bad example.) But Kistner understands the science and natural magic of the brewing process like few do. He’s worked at Mahaffey’s for nearly half his 30 years, and customers know that he can rattle off a beer’s IBU or ABV like an MVP.
Creating the storyline came easily to Kistner, whose previous writing experience was “nothing beside what I had to do in school.” Mahaffey’s regular Chandler Vicchio served as editor, and also did the design. Arranging the text into rhyme—that took more time.
“It seems like it would be somewhat easy, but once you go through trying to rhyme brewing words like sparge and mash tun with words that aren’t too obscure for a parent or children, it gets a little difficult,” Kistner says.
To give the story visual life, Kistner asked Beth-Ann Wilson, a MICA graduate who’s worked as a bartender at Mahaffey’s for seven years, to illustrate it. She visited Oliver Brewing Company for inspiration on how to draw fun (and fairly accurate) pieces of brewing equipment.
“It was almost like stage direction,” says Wilson, who specializes in oil painting. “Dennis said this is the dialogue and this is what they’re doing in the scene, and I drew what I saw in my head when I read it.”
The result is a colorful, playful story that explains the beer-making process from farm-to-tap through characters like Mary Malts, Bobby Barley, Wendy Water, and Brewmaster Brooks, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, black-and-orange ball cap wearing boy who bears a striking resemblance to Little Dennis.
“Once the trucks are loaded up as carefully as can be, the beer is off to the local pub to be enjoyed responsibly,” the last lines of the book read. “Thanks for helping us at the brewery; we hope you had fun.”
Mahaffey’s is hosting a Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery book launch party July 23 from 5:30-8 p.m.