I’ve been a contributor for Good Beer Hunting going on two years and it’s been an amazing experience to work with people who push me to become a better writer and photographer with each story I take on. Being involved with the team provides some perks, one of which presented itself in the form of an invite to their annual Olly Olly weekend hang at Camp Wandawega in Eklhorn, Wisconsin.
Over the last few years, I had watched these weekends unfold via social media with attendees posting beautiful photos of a storybook resort, fall colors and copious amounts of food and beverage. Fast forward to 2016 and I get my first invite, but couldn’t attend — bummer. This year, however, was a different story. I ate, I drank and I survived my first Olly Olly weekend and it was every bit as fun as I imagined it would be.
I rolled into camp around 5pm on Friday evening to a small group that had already found their place near a small fire. Not long after walking up to the main lodge, I’m shown to my room; a second floor bunk house with about eight cots; some goodies nestled at the foot of each bed. After throwing my bags down, I headed back outside for a welcome cocktail provided by Koval and to say hello to some old friends and to meet some new ones.
Once the sun set, the music kicked on and the fire was blazing. More and more folks from all facets of the food and beverage industry around the country began showing up with Rushing Waters Fisheries busy fixing dinner; a traditional Wisconsin fish fry with fresh cod, coleslaw and rye bread. Everything was washed down with a multi-keg showing from a handful of breweries near and far, including Indianapolis’ Central State, Commonwealth from Virginia Beach and some local beers from Temperance, Forbidden Root and Hopewell. Being a native Wisconsinite, I was in heaven. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this type of meal and Rushing Waters nailed it. I could not consume the deep fried fish fast enough despite the incredibly hot temperatures coming straight from the fryer. I should mention, the beer was on point, too.
Post-dinner and it’s full on pouring rain, but that doesn’t stop anyone from having a good time. We’re all packed into the lodge for the night, music cranked and folks taking advantage of the lounge area, dart board, pool table and vintage jukebox. Knowing Olly Olly weekend is a marathon and not a sprint, I put myself to bed around midnight as I’ve definitely imbibed to pure saturation in short time. It’s the first night of camp and everyone’s excited, but it’s not quite time to go full HAM.
Early Saturday morning, I head downstairs to the kitchen and Jess Salgado and Allison Jones of Metric Coffee are working hard to get coffee ready for the campers. One glance at my thousand mile stare and Allison offers a shot of espresso. I gratefully accept and take it to go for a quick morning walk around the resort with my camera in tow. A few more souls had begun to stir once I returned to the lodge and prep for breakfast had begun. Chef David Wang of St. Lou’s Assembly was busy putting together a helluva breakfast.
We all eagerly make our way to the dining tent where Luke Schmuecker of Shacksbury Cider has a nice little morning cocktail to help ease the fallout of last night’s drinking. They’re rolling out a new ginger spritzer paired with Jamaican coffee rum and a pineapple garnish — that spritzer would be a huge hit among everyone throughout the entire weekend. At that moment, it was giving my empty stomach life as it rumbled, begging for food and relief from the prior evenings questionable decisions.
Soon enough, large family style skillets containing a tomato based stew with sausage and braised eggs were placed on the table. Chef Wang called it “eggs in purgatory,” a dish similar to Shackshuka that was served alongside bread bowls covered in cheese. This suddenly stuffed camper was lulled into a drowsy state by food and dreary weather but I managed to rally and take advantage of the camp’s ax throwing and archery range before posting up in Wandawega’s tree house to take in beer kickball put on by Central State Brewing.
The rules of beer kickball were simple. You must have a beer in your hand at all times. This proved to be both hilarious and the turning point for the day when people stopped gingerly nursing hangovers and began to fuel full-on inebriation for the evening. Kickballs sent cans of beers flying in bursts of foam several times over the next few hours with the battle of gold vs. gray ending in a victory for gold. I’m told the validity of gold’s victory was questionable. My assumption is that the gold team had used under-inflated kickballs.
By the time kickball had wrapped up, Brewery Bhavana was setting up for their three course beer dinner. The team from Brewery Bhavana had come all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina and had just opened their brewery that includes a dim sum restaurant, book store and florist shop a few months back to rave reviews and even a nod from Bon Appetite magazine as one of the best new restaurants in the country. To say I was excited would be an understatement and I would not be disappointed.
Up first on the menu was three different types of dim sum, pork and snow pea shumai, chicken curry bao, char sia bao and edamame ginger dumplings, all paired with a Grisette called Piglette. They also served a curried veggie puff pastry for vegetarians, which I managed to snag because I won’t be denied puff pastry. Or curried vegetables. The next course was chicken congee with ginger and hot pepper oil paired with their Grove DIPA. This hearty second frame nearly knocked me out of commission if not for a little mid-feast break to make room for the big reveal of the third and final course: the Lao Country Boil featuring Laotian sausage, corn on the cob, red potatoes and shrimp poured onto a tabletop and given a healthy coat of Old Bay seasoning. Time to dig in and so I did.
Once dinner had been wrapped up the rain had finally decided to do the same. With a welcome break from the weather and the final evening of camp upon us, a gaggle of us gals headed back to the treehouse with armfuls of Hopewell First Lager and Shacksbury Ginger Spritzer and set up shop. I’m not 100% sure how the evening evolved into a five-hour long singalong, but that’s exactly what happened and we all went with it. From theme songs, bad/excellent 90s music, Pocahontas and summoning Sheryl Crow through ritualistic chanting, we stayed up until 4:30am emptying cans and playing music until each of our phone batteries died. We took that as our cue to hit the hay and headed back to our respective rooms.
About an hour later, my eyes popped open and due to some previous commitments, I had to hit the road back to Chicago despite a light schedule for Sunday of coffee, a guided tour of the grounds and some breakfast burritos. I’ll never know the potential impact those breakfast burritos might have had on me (breakfast food really moves me emotionally), but I’m sure they were infinitely better than the Egg White Delight I purchased at a McDonald’s drive-thru near the Wisconsin / Illinois border on my drive back home.