This is the first post of a two-part blog covering the Great Brewery Tour's very first Camping Caravan, which took us to Little Fish Brewing Co and Wooly Pig Farm Brewery, both in the foothills of the Appalachians in Eastern Ohio, over Memorial Day Weekend, 2019.
Let me start by getting this out of the way: weathermen suck. A 10 day forecast is worthless. A 5 day forecast is equally worthless. Anything short of them sticking their heads out the window to tell you what it's doing at that precise moment is probably worthless. Personally I think they suck on purpose, so you keep watching. If the forecast was accurate 5 days out, you'd only check on the weather every 5 days or so. If they're usually wrong, you keep checking back to see what the latest reading of the tea leaves says. It's a scam.
All week long the forecast for Memorial Day Weekend in eastern Ohio was this: rain much of the day Saturday, 90-100% heavy rain all day Sunday. Because of that, a handful of people dropped out of the our Camping Caravan as they were sure we'd all be drenched.
Let me back up and explain to those who may not already know what the Camping Caravan is. I get to travel to all these fantastic breweries all over the country, playing music and sampling beers, sometimes in out of the way, rural places that most people would never have the occasion to visit... so I started thinking it would be cool to organize groups to share my trips with, to visit these breweries they normally wouldn't get to, and so this was the first experiment. I picked two great breweries in beautiful rural settings, and organized a caravan of people interested in joining me as we visited the breweries, I played my shows, they'd eat and drink while I played, and then we'd camp at cool locations between stops. At the campgrounds we'd stay up late around the campfire, play music, eat and drink, and just have a good ol' time. I called it the Great Brewery Tour's Camping Caravan, and I chose Little Fish Brewing company in Athens, and Wooly Pig Farm Brewing in Fresno (both very small towns in eastern Ohio), where Ohio meets the foothills of the Appalachians.
We had about 6 carloads of people ready to go... but by the time we headed out the dire weather forecast had scared some off, so we ended up with 4 carloads... and boy did we have fun. And guess what? It never rained. Saturday it was sunny and almost a bit muggy. We prepped to wake up to downpours, and guess what? It was sunny when we woke up, and was sunny for the rest of the day. Sunday was a little cooler, like lower 80s during the day and 60s at night.... perfect camping weather, perfect sleeping weather, perfect party weather. So I'm sorry for those who dropped out afraid of the rain... but you should never trust the weathermen... and never let a weather report talk you out of a great time. But hey, there's always next time... as we WILL be doing this again!
The Caravan gathered at our campsites in Wayne National Forest, about 15 miles north of Athens, OH. We were in primitive tent camping sites right on the banks of a lake... but to get to the lake you'd have to fall down a rather heavily wooded cliff, and then THERE is the lake. Half the group set up our camp prior to that night's show at Little Fish Brewing Co., the other half were meeting us at the brewery and then setting up camp afterwards.
So we set up camp and headed into Athens, all the way traveling rural two-lane roads through small villages and beautiful foothills landscapes. Beautiful country that you never see from the interstates. Little Fish is just north of the city of Athens, in a rather rural setting itself, with it's brewery and taproom sitting on a hillside, and the beer garden/patio and stage area outside and overlooking a valley with a pond, growing hops, etc. The weather was ideal for being outside... in the 70s as the sun went down, and a nice refreshing breeze blowing in across the valley.
I had played Little Fish on the Summer 2018 tour, and although it is not the largest brewery in Athens, in my opinion it is the one with the best beer, and the best scene. Since my last visit they had evolved from hosting food trucks to opening their own kitchen, and while I didn't eat as I played my sets, the reviews of their pizza, tacos, etc. were all excellent.
Little Fish Brewing Company – Athens, OH
A wide variety of beers are available at the brewery on tap, as well as growlers and cans. The beer is also distributed throughout Ohio, you can find them here.
Played: 9/8/18, 5/25/19
Both of the breweries on this trip are kid and dog friendly, and as such I also brought my best friend Django with me. Django is a three yearold 100 lb boxer, and he's a great companion. When we arrived at Little Fish there were a few other dogs, but there was a whole hillside of little kids playing, little girls gathering flowers, and little boys playing with little trucks in the dirt and rocks. The parents sat under the covered patio and watched as they enjoyed their beers.
This type of scene and setting is perfect for my music... people are very receptive to my own music, the traditional tunes I play often have roots in the nearby communities, and I can dig pretty deeply into the catalogs of folks like John Prine and Dylan and the Dead and people are not only familiar but excited to be hearing them... and that makes for a great night for me. Pretty girls sitting near the stage, singing along to damn near every song; folks dropping tips in my case for playing eclectic setlists that they love and wouldn't hear elsewhere; and asking to buy my tour shirts while I'm on break. Beautiful! Oh wait, and we haven't even gotten to the beer...
Little Fish had (I think) 19 brews on tap, plus a selection of other limited runs of sours, etc. in bottles. The brews I had on my previous visit were so tasty that I had to fight the temptation of revisiting them, but my mission was to try to new ones, and (as always) I had to limit myself not only because I had to drive back to the campground, but also knew I probably had a long night ahead of me once I got there.
As the late afternoon was hot and muggy and I kinda wore myself out carrying all my gear down a hill to the outside stage in the hot sun, I started off with Passionista (5.5%) a barrel aged sour wheat ale with passionfruit, as it sounded pretty damn refreshing. A somewhat hazy golden pour, a light head, and the passionfruit and citrus aromas smell so inviting as you prep for that first sip. As most sours have evolved over the last few years, the sour was not obnoxiously “Sour Patch” sour, and the balance of the passionfruit made it quite refreshing. Fruity and sour, just the right about of bitter, and a light to medium carbonation made it quite enjoyable.
Next up was You Wanted A Hit (6.2%) hazy New England IPA. Like my favorite Athens restaurant, the locally sourced co-op Case Nueva, local sourcing and sustainability is central to Little Fish's operation. Perhaps one of my favorite things about the breweries of this region is that despite being surrounded by coal country and Trumpism, these breweries exist and are run in very progressive mindsets in small communities that believe in these concepts and practices, and support them. Sustainability and local sourcing was the mantra of my last stop (Land-Grant in Columbus), is here at Little Fish, and even more so at our next stop, the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery. You Wanted A Hit is “brewed with a base of Haus Malts Ohio-grown barley, wheat, and oats, a touch of conventional carapils, and the best “new school” IPA hops we can fine: Citra, Mosaic, Falconer's Flight, and Mosaic”. The pour is obviously hazy, a goldish yellow hue, light thin head, and a fruity and slightly bitter flavor that leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. Medium body and carbonation, overall it's quiet refreshing, but perhaps a little more bitter on the finish than you might expect in a haze... and that's not bad.
As a parting gift, I was given a growler of the spectacular Kalsarikännit (8.5%) baltic porter to take back to camp. The name translates from Finnish roughly into “getting drunk alone in your underwear”. We passed the growler around the campfire late that night, and everyone agreed it was quite delicious. A solid brown pour with a tan head, it was a nicely balanced porter with hints of smokey chocolate and coffee, malt and molasses; a medium roast coffee finish... tons of flavor without being too rich or heavy, and perfect being slugged right out of the growler by the light smokey smell of the campfire... and it paired extremely well with Irish whiskey and s'mores, which (of course) also happened to be on hand.
My show at Little Fish was only scheduled for two hours (as opposed to my regular three), so it went really fast, and left me with enough material that the next night's show would overlap some songs, but really be a rather different beast, which was nice.
We made it back to camp by 10pm or so, lit a fire, set up another tent, and continued the festivities. It being Memorial Day Weekend, the campground was packed and rather festive... except for the one guy in his twenties and his young bride just across from us, who seemed to be the only people in the National Forest who cared to observe the 10pm “quiet time” (no, they didn't have kids with them). About an hour into the fun he came around, “Hey guys, I don't want to be “that guy”, but quiet time is supposed to be 10pm...” This at like 11pm on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend, when the ENTIRE campground was still crackling with activity. We were polite and sent him on his way, and we did try to keep it down a bit... but he provided a good portion of the comic relief for the rest of the evening, into the wee hours. “Hey guys, I don't want to be that guy, but....”
Per the aforementioned weather forecast, we went to bed that night fully expecting to wake up to rain, pack up in the rain, and quite probably have a full day of rain as we ventured two hours north to the campsite near Wooly Pig Farm Brewery (which would also be an outdoor show, albeit under a covered patio). As such the guys cleaned up as much as possible before crashing for the night, and erected a canopy to keep us dry as much as possible come morning... (stay tuned for Part 2)
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