Elminster's Guide to the Realms
Moon Mountain Brewery
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #299)
This ramshackle, little-known establishment stands in a wooded area on the banks of the Unicorn Run two days' travel north of Secomber. Here a small live-in staff of halflings make "moonslake," a minty drink that's rapidly gaining favor in the Heartlands. It's already the most popular drink among halflings in the lower Delimblyr valley.
The Moon Mountain Brewery also makes and ships "topkegs" for those who prefer ale flips, a traditional cold-weather favorite among humans of the Sword Coast North. A topkeg has a small "crown" compartment at one end (its name comes from its brewery-preferred uppermost position, if the keg is placed on end) containing rum. The larger lower part of the cask, typically fifteen times the size of the crown, holds ale.
What Meets The Eye
Built among the trees by halflings who seem to have a love of stairs, balconies, flying bridges, outside ladders, and slide-chutes, Moon Mountain is made of any and all local woods that came to hand - mainly duskwood, pine, maple, oak, elm, and shadowtop, in descending order of prevalence. These beams and boards were fitted together with wooden pegs and a minimum of reshaping from their natural sizes and outlines, so parts of the brewery look almost as if they grew that way. Most of the wood has gone silver with age, and nothing is painted; moss and pitch has been used to chink the widest gaps, and whenever a piece of wood fails, another board is nailed over it or another prop wedged into place beside it.
The halflings who dwell here only relax when downpours make outside work pointless and there isn't a full load of tasks waiting along the various processes of making drinks and preparing them for transport. However, they prefer their work to earn them coin - so expansions and repairs to the brewery itself have all been done in haste. Successive slapdash building efforts at different times have resulted in an endearingly crazy structure of odd little rooms, ramshackle roofs sprouting in various directions, structures built around or incorporating living trees, little steps and stone-lined storage pits dug into handy hillocks, and so on. Wooden ladders ascend one of the tallest adjacent trees to reach a lookout platform where lanterns can be hung to signal shipping readiness, meals, dangers, or an urgent need for their presence to Moon Mountain folk working out in the fields.
Inside, the brewery is a labyrinth of flagstone-floored rooms (overlaid with dirt and rushes to make them level) full of vats, open tanks, trough-pipes, presses, casks, and blown glass bottles of all sorts of hues, sizes, and origins (which the halflings buy in Secomber from peddlers who salvage them from Waterdeep and more southerly cities). These bottles are used in brewery processes and for certain sales in Secomber.
What Goes On At The Mountain
Although the brewery stands in terrain studded with many little hills, there's certainly no mountain nearby. The name "Moon Mountain" is a corruption of Mrune Moontan, the name by which the half-elf bride of the long-ago adventurer Oblar Minstrelwish was known among the halflings of Secomber. Oblar and Mrune met while adventuring, and she's remembered as wielding mighty sorcery, for dancing in the moonlight with "strange monstrous visitors," and for brewing better ale than any Minstrelwish hitherto had. Her method and recipe are the basis for the Moon Mountain Ale of today.
Eighteen adult halflings (and seven children, who work as hard as their parents) call Moon Mountain home. Many of them belong to two interrelated families, the Borulglar and the Minstrelwish, and all of them work hard. Barrels must be made from trees they fell along the edge of the High Forest, substantial crops of apples, barley, hop vines, and sugar beets must be farmed, wild mint found and harvested in the forest, and the drinks must be made and then shipped down to Secomber and thence to the wider Realms.
The halflings distill rum from the sugar beets, brew beer from the barley and hops, and make moonslake from fermented apple cider that's distilled - or winter, just set out to freeze and the ice scooped off. The brewing (malting and boiling), distilling, and barrel-making consume great quantities of fire-wood, so the halflings of Moon Mountain spend a lot of their time as woodcutters.
So stubbornly industrious are they, in fact, that no one has yet questioned why it is that they bother. How can a brewery so far from large markets succeed? Why is the brewery so close to the perils of the High Forest?
The answer lies in the secret sponsors of Moon Mountain: the Zhentarim. Through this front, the Black Network ships information and small, valuable items to their agents, allies, and contacts throughout the Heartlands and the Sword Coast. Some of the casks leaving Moon Mountain have hidden interior compartments that contain messages or contraband, in addition to the drink they're supposed to contain.
Tarth Brallowgath (NE male human, War1/Rog1) comes to Moon mountain to sell supplies to the halflings and buy casks and kegs of their output. Brallowgath is actually a Zentarim agent, sent to the halfling holdout to arrange for the Black Network's smuggling needs. Only Yarimmur Borulglar (LE male halfling, Exp4/Ftr3), Kelter Minstrelwish (LE male halfling, Rogl/Ftr2) and "Old Chin" or "Mother" Nurvala Minstrelwish (NE female halfling, Exp4/Rog1) know Brallowgath's true loyalties - and covertly receive both the items he wants them to secretively ship, and the payments he brings for doing so.
Most of the other Moon Mountain halflings know there's something "not quite right" about the dealings between Brallowgath and Yarimmur and the Old Chin - but most of them don't want to know what's really going on. The youngsters are the most curious, and Kelter began as a youngster who took to spying on the little closed-door meetings with Brallowgath until he knew everything. Upon discovering this, Yarimmur simply took him into the little Zhent cabal.
Due to the construction of topkegs, over a dozen of the Moon Mountain halflings are skilled at making interior compartments in a cask or keg, but only the cabal of these three senior halflings assigns what casks are shipped where.
On very rare occasions, Brallowgath will order the halflings to poison particular casks (to eliminate clients who have displeased his Zhentarim superiors). Because of the possibility of the business being ruined if such a cask goes astray, the halflings hate doing this. Their poisons are derived from natural forest sources, and they haven't yet discovered any sleep- inducing or paralyzing substances that retain effectiveness when mixed with brine or alcoholic liquids and transported over distances.
To Please The Gullet
Two-thirds of the output of the brewery is the light, clear Moon Mountain Ale. Though it's a popular quaff in Daggerford, Loudwater, Llorkh, and Secomber, most of it consumed elsewhere finds its way into ale flips.
An ale flip is made with the aid of a metal bowl, a fire, ale, rum, a handful of sugar, and a metal bar called a loggerhead. The rum, ale, and sugar are mixed in the bowl (fifteen times as much ale as rum, and as much sugar as the drinker desires), and the loggerhead is heated red-hot and then plunged into the brew.
The brewery also makes rum, moonslake, and a dark beer.
Moon Rum is fiery, raw, red-purple in hue, and little loved on its own; though one can buy hand kegs of it at the brewery or in Secomber, elsewhere it's only found in topkegs, for use in ale flips.
Moonslake is simply alcoholic apple cider that's been mixed with water in which crushed mint has been boiled and then strained out again. It's cool, fresh taste clears throats that are suffering from hearth-smoke in many a tavern, but a great many humans hate its minty aftertaste. Halflings and gnomes seem to like it best, with the occasional dwarf, elf, or half-elf finding it to their liking. Sales of moonslake have soared in Waterdeep, however, since certain sly halflings started to spread the rumor that imbibing moonslake makes drinkers far more attractive to folk of the opposite gender - and more alert, hardy, and in need of less sleep, too.
Moon Mountain Dark is a full, nut-bitter beer that's beloved by many halflings, gnomes, and dwarves - but slower to find favor with humans, some of whom have been heard to mutter, "Salty beer? Ugh!" and similar comments. It does, however, make a superb mulled brew, and it is served in many inns and much enjoyed there by the same humans who profess to be disgusted by Moon Mountain Dark.
Mulled brew is simply beer dosed with a handful of sugar; two pinches of ground nutmeg, cloves, and blackroot, a handful of ground ginger; and a piece of apple or lime, all heated just to the beginnings of a boil. A dash of rum is then stirred in, the mull is taken off the hearth to cool for the space of a short muttered cook's charm or song, and then served hot.
The Zhents are well aware of the possibility of kegs going astray through breakage, raft wrecks, or thefts and almost all of the messages transported via Moon Mountain are either coded or consist of cryptic abbreviations. An example of the latter follows: "Suthask sunrise/three out/lackleg." This means the operation name "Suthask" is now starting ("sunrise"), and the recipient is to do his assigned part. In this case, that includes disposing of or selling three casks, wagons, slaves, or whatever, and for guidance, more information, to report final success or if anything goes wrong, the recipient is to contact the Zhent agent who goes by the Zhent nickname of "Blackleg."
I can tell thee some details of two Moon Mountain poisons (derived from secret teas made by boiling precise mixtures of barks, mosses and fungi in water) that do survive when combined with alcoholic beverages. Both of them fade over time and with dilution, but when fresh and strong, they are as follows:
- Bittermint (the name describes its faint, betraying taste): ingested, Fortitude save (DC 17); initial damage 2d4 hp, secondary damage 1d4 hp and 1d4 temporary Dexterity.
- Tulade (tasteless, but laces drink with tiny black oily bubbles); ingested, Fortitude save (DC 16); initial damage 3d6 hp, secondary damage 1d6 hp and unconsciousness.