The GBH Camp weekend, lovingly called #goodbeerbuckshot, comes and goes like a fever dream each fall. Just as the season is about to turn cold, and the beer industry prepares itself for “OND" (October, November, December) when it sells a relative shit-ton of beer and reps run themselves ragged, we’ve been able to provide a moment of calm before that storm. And now that that storm has passed, we're able to look back on it in amount of tranquility.
For the third year in a row, we’ve spirited some of our closest friends and collaborators up to Wisconsin to Camp Wandawega. We completely take over the camp — every bed, cot, and tent, and inevitably someone falls asleep in a canoe. We fire up grills, unearth the smoker, tap kegs, and pop bottles from sun-up 'til sundown, and despite all the hard work every brewer and chef puts in, it feels like completely leisure. And that’s possible because every guy there loves being able to share their craft with such an appreciative group.
Camp weekend started with the humblest of beginnings — it was meant to just be a getaway weekend for me, our collaborator Max Wastler, and a few other guys who wanted a quiet fire and good drink. But you can’t invite brewers like Solemn Oath and chefs like Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead and not have it turn into something exciting. In fact, it’s in their nature to go overboard and create a little healthy competition. And it was in that spirit that the concept created so much organic momentum.
This year featured five breweries, four chefs, and two coffee roasters, who helped us host over 50 total guests for the weekend, including plenty of other brewers, distributors, roasters, and creative folks. But before I launch in to such an epic recap — I wanted to thank camp owners David and Theresa for giving us three amazing years so far, and enough room to sprawl out with an idea that barely had parameters when we began. They’ve stood by the fire and drank with us every night, soaking in the same good vibes, and if they weren’t so generous with their prized possession of Camp Wandawega, this concept would have never even occurred to us in the first place. Sometimes just having access to a platform like Wandawega is enough to birth a great idea. Now that this little fishing-trip-turned-weekend-adventure has turned into something more broadly appealing and deeply inspiring, we're excited to see what comes next (lots of new ideas are in the works), but it’ll always feel like it has a home in Wandawega because of them.
Solemn Oath has always been the harbinger of GBH camp. The quiet click of the sankey connection and the gurgling of the first beer hitting the bottom of the tumbler is actually audible amongst the anxious crew gathered on the hilltop. For this year’s opening celebration, Paul Schneider made a coffee-blended variant of Psychogaze aptly named “Man Gaze” by his girlfriend, Emily, as he walked out the door with the keg. A bit spiteful, she poked fun at the prospect of 50 mostly-bearded guys going off into the woods for a weekend. Man Gaze is an american porter with Intelligentsia’s Mbeguka, a Kenyan coffee with notes of Mexican chocolate, red wine, citrus and herbs. We drank it all. And then we drank all the Stephon too, their brett rye saison collaboration with Perennial Artisan Ales.
I always try to caution the group to take it easy on the first night, but I never succeed. As futile as the small dutch boy with his finger in the dam, eventually the bottles come out and the impromptu share is on. Growlers from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin get passed around as new arrivals get to camp after dark. Some of us veterans slink away to ensure a healthy start to Saturday morning’s breakfast. The rest roll the dice and soak it all in on the first night. That’s how you find Chris Quinn of the Beer Temple jumping off the tree swing and eating leftover col-cuts from Old Town Social at 4am.
Saturday morning is cold and early. Stan Slater, Intelligentsia's recently transplanted roaster from LA fired up the brewer and Chef de Cuisine Matt Kerney of Longman & Eagle had first shift in the kitchen. We found him meandering, lost in the haze of a poorly-timed hangover. In the spirit of Wandawega, every chef on-site offers to help, but he turns them all down flat. He wanted silence and a flame. We all wait outside, surrounding the lodge like a hungry band of feral cats looking for any promising signs of movement. Nothing. Nothing. And then, a pile of 50 breakfast burritos suddenly appears. Filled with duck confit and foie gras, I stood with a hot cup of Intelligentsia coffee in one hand, and this missile in the other. It went straight into my morale tank. How good is a hung-over Chef Kerney? He stood off to the side, smoking a cigarette and smiling as the last burrito disappeared. We had a single pan to clean.
As noon approaches, the sun finally starts to loosen up our bodies and camp comes to life. Paddling a boat, casting a line, shooting a few arrows. Everyone finds their own way. But up on the hill, for about 24 hours, Chef Cleetus Friedman has been smoking a brisket. Like smoke signals, each puff spreads the rich aromatics of smoked ribs, lamb, and poor shoulder, while the kitchen oven wafts the smell of greens, slaw, potatoes and cornbread into the lodge. This is what Cleetus does when you ask for a “light lunch."
Penrose gave us an early peak at their first gose and their first Brett IPA, offering a sessionable stretch in the middle of the day. It cut right through all the fatty proteins and cornbread, leaving behind an incredibly bright palate of grapefruit and lemon with a soft, funky edge. It’s one of my favorite beer memories, and at the top of Penrose’s offerings to-date.
As the crew went to work washing dishes and re-setting the kitchen for dinner, our newest friends from 4 Hands Brewing in St. Louis were in the outdoor cathedral area preparing for one of the most interesting, beautiful, and educational experiences we’ve ever shared at GBH Camp. They were going to conduct a blending and infusion class based on their sought-after berlinerweiss named Prussia.
4 Hands founder Kevin Lemp and head brewer Martin Toft, didn’t just let us jump in and start screwing around with fruits and spices. First, they shared three different base beers, all held at different Ph levels so we could get a sense of the acid qualities we could work with. There was a big sour variant, a more softer, funky version, and of course, the beautifully balanced recipe for Prussia itself. From there, we dove in to the tasting, blending, and infusing ingredients at our disposal — a variety of fruit juices, zest, teas, salts, and spices. We used french press strainers to filter them out, and each team made a variety of prototypes before them blended a sizable batch for sharing. I’m pretty sure someone just poured Cantillon in theirs and called it a day. Kevin and Martin took copious notes on the results and plan to make a representative version of Prussia for next year’s gathering.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with wiffleball and pure laziness. Pitching careers were created and ended in the same inning. Tom Korder from Penrose got lit up like a Christmas tree and probably cost his ever-changing team the game. No one tripped on a base, or tumbled while tracking down a fly ball, though, so everybody wins. Miraculous considering 5 Rabbit’s Super Pils are 7.2% and we were playing by beer-in-hand rules.
Since the beginning, GBH Camp has been an opportunity to feature a new up-and-coming brewer in the region by pairing them with one of my favorite chefs and creating a beer dinner that brings their portfolio to life. Year one we saw what Brant Dubovich from DryHop can do. Year two was the pre-launch of Penrose. And this year we invited Jerry Nelson of Une Annee to share his bottle-refermented Belgian ales with us all. Throughout all Jerry’s ups and downs as a start-up, one thing has always remained true — I love his delicate, yeast-driven beers. You’ve seen them on the shelf, those quiet, minimalist white and black labels with names like Maya and Truth Against the World, Jerry’s beers have a certain severity in their presentation, but in their flavors they’re bold, and beautiful.
Jerry is known to be a pretty quiet guy, opting to stay behind the scenes whenever possible and let the beer speak for itself. But after a couple days of camp he was clearly inspired and excited to share the story of his small enterprise. Jerry’s is former military and an architect, and he puts that kind of work ethic and detail into the brewery. With bottle refermenting, in which living yeast continues to work in the bottle an produce natural carbonation, he's trying to accomplish a technical task that’s difficult even for breweries like Unibroue to pul off consistently. And when they’re right on, they’re just so right on.
One of Chicago’s most accomplished chefs, Jared Wentworth, prepared a feast behind Jerry’s beers. As the culinary vision behind restraints like Longman & Eagle, Dusek’s, and Promontory, Wentworth has been developing menus for a beer palate as long as anyone in the city. In the theme of Dusek’s with it’s meaty, saucy Hungarian-inspired menu, Wentworth presented mountains of food, including an acorn smoked gallontine of poussin (a de-boned chicken stuffed and formed into a sausage) and a choucroute royal that featured four different housemade game sausages and an eighteen hour cooked sauerkraut. It’s the kind of meal that makes you cry a little bit while you’re eating it. And then again when you’re typing those words out in a recap a few months later.
With our full bellies and warm hearts, we gathered around the bonfire. Andrew Thiboldeaux of the band Pattern is Movement (and the creator of the music for GBH videos and the podcast) lead us in a bit of a sing-along. Some hearty voices piped up for the chorus of “Home on the Range” and each man brought out their most prized bottles for the official share. In his regretful absence, Cory King of Side Project/Perennial sent a care package, and friends from Goose Island busted out some King Henry, BCS variants from year’s past, Night Stalker, and so much vintage.
And it carried right through ’til morning. Jonny Hunter from the Underground Food Collective in Madison, Wisconsin joined us in the kitchen and Kyle from Kin Kin Coffee and Johnson Public House got the coffee going for one last gathering. Kin Kin is a brand new venture for Kyle and Gwen Johnson as their multi-roaster cafe continues to be one of the best things in the city of Madison.
Barely caffeinated, we lined up Goose Island’s entire vintage collection, including Madame Rose and all the sisters. That variety of bright, tannic, fruit-forward tart flavors and funk are just about the greatest thing a groggy-morning palate could ever encounter. And that’s the way GBH Camp ends — not with a whimper, but with a bang.