The forecast predicted rain. Rain, rain, and then it might rain. Since I’ve somehow managed to make it to adulthood without understanding how to read doppler radar, I had no clue how bad it was supposed to get. Neighboring towns got golf-ball sized hail but we were somehow spared this extreme weather and escaped the many back-up plans concocted by the camp’s grounds manager.
And thus, our sixth annual Olly Olly weekend came and went—racing along with the Midwest’s speedy descent into winter. As we do every year, GBH invited about fifty brewers, chefs, roasters, friends, and team members up to Wisconsin for a weekend of camaraderie, collaboration, and adventure—bringing people together over food, drink, and shared experiences, all within the nostalgic confines of Camp Wandawega.
We bond over beverages. Clinking glasses, huddling together, sip, drink, isn’t this good? How long did it take you to get here? Did you bring beer? While camp isn’t all about alcohol, it’s certainly about this connection—these small moments shared over drink. Guests are greeted by a cocktail from Koval Distillery—a bright and citrusy combination of bourbon and beer, lime and ginger. Rooms are found, camp is explored, and, as the afternoon fades, the kegs are hauled out. Iced-down and then tapped, our guest brewers sharing their passion and hard work with one another and our other guests.
Minds and bodies, revived by coffee—buzzing and milling around the camp’s main residence. Drip coffee, cortados, and lattes, served by Metric Coffee to a swarm of blurry-eyed, bundled-up campers. It’s my favorite time at camp, this caffeinating time—a chance to make new friends and share tales of the previous night’s escapades. The coming back together, before adjourning for morning activities or the return trip home. The roll call of who’s still sleeping—snoring away in their cabin or tent.
And long before we kick off the weekend’s activities, we plan for our parting breakfast — the last stop to make someone whole before they return to reality. We feed these hangovers, take one last stroll around camp, and inhale this coffee. Coffee and then bloody marys. This year’s hair-of-the-dog, for those that choose it, was supplied by Letherbee Distillers. Small cocktails pilled up alongside juice from Here. Juice that is quickly chug-chug-chugged in an attempt to start rebuilding immune systems. But it’s all stalling. Waiting for the one event that needs to happen before we can hug our friends and go home—the burrito drop. Waiting patiently for our promised breakfast burrito—made with sweat and love by chef Matt Kerney. The drops come one, two, (Wait, how many vegetarians do we have?), three—and then we make our exits.
“Friends are the family you choose.” Can’t you see it, scrawled in generic script, hanging in your mother-in-law’s dining room? It’s hokey but through our business we build tight and lasting relationships with our clients, partners, and community and these people end up feeling like family. Some of these relationships and friendships are newer—like with Shacksbury Cider. We were incredibly lucky to be invited to their Graft Camp this past spring and were thrilled when they accepted our invitation to come and serve their new Spritz cider at camp. The cider was paired with a breakfast from Saint Lou’s Assembly—a part of 16” on Center, who has been a long-standing partner and friend, collaborating on Olly Olly and other GBH events like Uppers & Downers. We continue to find new and exciting ways to work together and grow our friendship—like with this hearty breakfast and bonus cocktail (the Shacksbury Breakfast Bird). And so we sat down to a family-style breakfast with our family-like friends, new and old.
The kitchen at Wandawega is cozy and vintage. Depending on your perspective, you might say these are euphemisms for cramped and difficult-to-cook-in. Chefs come and slave away, using old stoves, make-shift cutting surfaces, a hodgepodge of antique cookware and stuff that they schlepped with them—all to serve a single meal to fifty guests. Occasionally, chefs (or those aspiring) help the professionals to prepare their meal, stepping in when assistance is needed. Josh Bellamy, one of the founders and bakers at Boulted Bread out of Raleigh, NC, did just that—spending much of his time at camp preparing his own meal (a lunch of smørrebrød with hand-baked bread and smoked salmon), as well as Brewery Bhavana's headlining dinner. If you spent any time in the kitchen, Josh was probably there, chopping, spreading, cooking—his passion and dedication shining bright.
It’s 915 miles from Brewery Bhavana to Camp Wandawega. Some drove, some flew, but the team assembled in Chicago and headed north to camp to serve one of the best meals we’ve ever had at Olly Olly. Typically, a brewery collaborates with a restaurant on the Saturday night beer dinner, but Bhavana is already both of these things—serving dim sum that got them named one of Bon Appetit’s 10 best new restaurants in America, alongside Belgian-inspired, new-wave American beer (alongside flowers and books) out of their Raleigh, NC establishment.
At camp, they decided to blend Laos with the South to give our guests a taste of their culture and influences—dishing up dim sum, chicken congee, and a “Lao Country Boil” (Laotian sausage, shrimp, corn & potatoes—a play on a Low Country Boil, for those of you not familiar with this meal). They paired these courses with their grisette, farmhouse ale, and double IPA—the bright and tangy beers complimenting the rich and spicy foods. The rain poured down as Patrick, Roxanne, and Beth told the story of Bhavana and dished out food and beer to the enchanted crowd.
The plan was to have a concert and cocktails in and around the airstream lounge—a vintage trailer that’s parked at camp and outfitted to look like a 1960s Wisconsin supper-club dive bar (if that’s even a thing). But the rain brought us inside—pulling the fifty of us into the lodge around the fireplace and pool table. Phil Olson, of Maker’s Mark, with a brief overview of Old Fashioneds (including Wisconsin’s use of brandy)—served up an easy-drinking version of the classic cocktail. The perfect drink to sip while listening to a set by musician Andrew Thiboldeaux. Surrounded by taxidermy and vintage trophies, Andrew crooned along to tunes by artists like Rhye and D'Angelo. It was a stirring performance, bringing guests along an unexpected emotional journey on a wet afternoon in Wisconsin.
There’s decidedly a high-low dichotomy to Olly Olly. We bring a crew of people into the woods of Wisconsin and then serve them some of the best food and beer in America. We drink barrel-aged cocktails and we shotgun High Lifes. We take nature hikes and then start fires with blowtorches. Camp Wandawega itself is full of Instagram-worthy vintage cabins and, well, a whole lot of spiders. Beer Kickball, shepherded by Central State Brewing, definitely fell on the “low” end of the spectrum: players are required to have a beer in hand at all times; grown-ass adults in color-coordinated tank tops; a tragically broken nose; and a case of Underberg for the winners.
We were perched about 20 feet above them, the rowdy bonfire crowd calling out their requests: “Sing Bohemian Rhapsody!” “What about Jesse’s Girl?!” “God, please stop.” “Just shut up already!” We were a rotating crew of brewers, drinkers, roasters, photographers—about a dozen strong, stationed on the porch of the treehouse, belting out whatever songs we could remember the lyrics to ("I thought I knew all the words to Kiss From a Rose; I do not"). Shacksbury Spritzes, First Lagers, a bottle of wine, and Disney classics kept us going until 4am. It’s the latest I’ve ever been awake at camp, but as the illustrious Sheryl Crow says, “If it makes you happy, it can't be that ba-aa-aa-ad.”