Written by Jake Koeneman
I needed this. Since I first went hunting with my dad as an eight year old, autumn nights in the Wisconsin woods have always reminded me of the first time I looked up and saw more stars than I could possibly imagine existed. These moments where I can just stop, look at the sky, and reflect provide the calm that I often forget I need. Life is very busy right now and I needed the chance to step away for a couple of days.
When Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting texted a few weeks ago and asked if I was interested in attending the third Good Beer Buckshot weekend at Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin, I was excited. Once I saw the rough agenda, I wasn’t sure how anyone would survive the weekend. I confirmedmy reservation without hesitation and blocked off my calendar for October 10-12.
On Monday of camp week, we got our sleeping assignments and the final details for the weekend. It was here and it was go time. The week at work was crazy and I did not have the chance to really look at the details until Thursday. However, I kept coming back to the closing line of the email “you’re going to have the best time.”
Once I got some breathing space on Wednesday, I read the recaps of the 2012 and 2013 #GoodBeerBuckshot weekends and let those be my guide for packing. On Thursday, I re-read each of them again. I read them once more on Friday for good measure. Each time I read the 2013 recap, I paused at two statements:
1) “An event that’s not ‘held’ as much as it is conjured by the very men in attendance — their good wills and collaborative spirits providing all the strength necessary for an amazing time. “
2) “Each man finds his own way throughout the day — joining a small faction of adventure seekers for awhile. Then going off alone in a canoe for some all-too-rare silence out by the lake’s other shores.”
A great time, conjured by the collective spirits in attendance, with time to share beers but also plenty of time to make our own adventure: YES.
I left Friday afternoon from Indianapolis and immediately realized that I had plenty of blankets, beer, bourbon, and mead from New Day Craft, but little in the way of toiletries. I pledged to stop at any Wal-Mart or Meijer I could find that was closest to camp to get last minute supplies and headed north. Making my my way around the Chicago suburbs at rush hour, I started to notice the first wave of tweets marked with #Goodbeerbuckshot. Turning to the west just north of the Wisconsin state line toward Lake Geneva, it was impossible to miss the incredible sunset. It was one of those times where you smile and exhale as deeply as your lungs will allow, and then exhale a little further. I tweeted a quick picture of the sunset over the rolling hills, but it could not do the sky justice. I parked my car as darkness fully engulfed camp. As I stepped out of the car to meet Michael, the bonfire was alight, spirits were high, and the table was set for an amazing weekend. It was perfect.
Friday night is acclimation. For those of us that were there for the first time, it was a hell of an introduction. Jon Barley and Paul Schneider of Solemn Oath described the beers they brought, including one they made exclusively for the weekend. Max and Michael thanked everyone for being able to make it, and the night progressed from “how did you get invited?” to conversations focused on industry trends and life outside of the beer industry. As the night faded further into darkness, everyone headed to their sleeping accommodations as they saw fit. Most heed the advice to not celebrate Friday in spite of Saturday, some do not.
Saturday is exploration. I was was one of the first to rise Saturday and was greeted with one of the most amazing scenes I have ever witnessed. Two steps out of my tent on a bluff was the mirror-still lake with fog rising and reflecting the early fall colors. The crisp air and the view were the perfect preview to the day. As coffee was brewed and more guys rose from slumber, discussions ranged between employment and speculating on who was using the rope swing at 1am the night before.
When breakfast rolled out of the kitchen at 9:30a courtesy of the Longman and Eagle crew, the stage for the day was further set. Breakfast consisted of hand rolled burritos filled with Foie Gras, lime cabbage, potatoes, refried beans, and eggs. Oh, and the beans, potatoes, and eggs were all cooked in the rendered duck fat from the Foie Gras. After breakfast, the day rolled along seamlessly. While one group was opening bottles at the picnic table, another was throwing hatchets at a wooden target, and still others were in boats out on the lake. I took a rowboat out on the lake for some time to reflect. It was incredibly peaceful until my less than graceful exit from the boat once back on shore resulted in a wet shirt and spilled beer. Lunch was a pairing of amazing smoked meat prepared by Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead and beers from Penrose in Elgin.
Saturday afternoon captured the essence of camp as I had pictured it. 4 Hands brewery from St. Louis, MO brought multiple versions of their Berliner Weisse fermented to different PH levels for blending. The crew broke up into a few different groups to create unique blends that were then judged. Shortly after the blending was done, a whiffle ball game started that lasted for multiple hours until it was time to help set the table for dinner. Dinner featured multiple beers from Une Annee, a one year old brewery in Chicago, paired with more incredible food. After time for digestion, and some music, the bonfire and bottle share started. As Friday night went, so did Saturday. A number of guys faded out until there was a small contingent left debating who could curate the best tap list with only 12 tap lines while passing around a bottle of bourbon.
As I packed my car on Sunday morning, I had some initial moments to reflect on what had transpired in the previous 48 hours. I met incredible dudes. Guys that execute at an incredibly high level in their chosen career and are willing to put all of the usual guard aside to just be a group of dudes running around a summer camp. The fact that I could actually hit a whiffle ball was a definite bonus. I cannot thank Michael Kiser and Max Whistler enough for their invitation this year and I can’t wait to attend next fall. Cheers to #GoodBeerBuckshot weekend 2014.