I had the good fortune to visit the Oldenberg Brewery in
Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky in the early nineties.At the time, Oldenberg brewed
mainly German-style lagers, including Oldenberg Premium Verum or OPV ( full
bodied and golden with a crisp maltiness and dry hop finish), Blonde (slightly
lighter in color and flavor than the OPV), and Outrageous Bock (deep amber hue,
plenty of roasty maltiness and slightly bitter finish). They also produced a
fine nut brown called Holy Grail, as well as a Raspberry Wheat, and contract
brewed quite a few brands, including Rhode Island's own Union Station Beer in
Besides brewing great beers, Oldenberg also held Beer Camp twice a year, in March and September. Yes, Beer Camp. If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say, "Is there really such a thing?" or "You're kidding, right?" when I informed them I would be attending the March,1996 session, I would easily have enough to finance a return trip for the fall session. Yet, Beer Camp does exist, and it's a great place for a beer lover to spend a weekend.
Upon arrival at Oldenberg, I was swept right into a brewery tour which covered the brewing process from the grist mill right on down to the bottling line. Our guide was none other than the informative and entertaining Gregg Smith, author of several books on beer and all-around beer expert. One of the great things about Beer Camp is the fact that you are constantly surrounded by knowledgeable beer-o-philes, whether they be staff members or campers. After the tour, we proceeded to the hotel conference room for draught Oldenberg, sandwiches and an often humorous speech by Camp Director Dave Heidrich. Dave told us what to expect from Beer Camp, gave us a bit of background on past camps, and on a more serious note, talked about the craft beer movement in general and the danger of elevating beer to wine snob status.
After a stirring rendition of the Beer Camp Song, the next event was "The World's Fastest Beer Tasting" conducted by Dan Bradford, publisher of All About Beer magazine. Starting with Miller Beer and steadily working up to brews such as Anchor Liberty Ale, Schneider Weisse, and Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Mr. Bradford explained stylistic considerations as we sampled each brew. This tasting lasted about one hour, and whetted everyone's appetite for the night's big event: the Brewffet! Over 350 beers were presented for sampling, including Thomas Hardy's Ale, Niagara Falls' Maple Wheat and Eisbock, Redhook Rye, Hart Espresso Stout, and far too many others to list here. Though I had yet to meet a New Englander attending
Camp, we were well represented by our beers, including brews from the Boston Beer Company, Catamount, Shipyard, Sea Dog, and Gritty McDuff's.
The most difficult part of Beer Camp is the Saturday morning breakfast roll-call at 8:00 A.M. The morning festivities, however, made it a little easier to bear, including the tapping of the Beer Camp Keg and the administration of the Beer Camper's Oath. This was followed by a series of interesting lectures on beer history by Dan Bradford and Gregg Smith. Gregg's lecture focused on beer in American history, including the fact that the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock because the pilgrims were low on supplies, most notably beer. An Irish buffet was served at noon, though if you attend the fall session a German-style Oktoberfest luncheon will be served. The food is every bit as important as the beer it is served with at Beer Camp, and after an afternoon pub crawl to nearby Cincinnati, the weary (and by now somewhat inebriated) camper returns for Saturday's highlight: the Beer Dinner. A five course meal, each was prepared and served with a different beer. Among the more memorable courses were a sweet and sour spinach salad contrasted nicely by the bitterness of the Oldenberg Bock with which it was served, flank steak marinated in Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (the smokiness of which accented the meat nicely) served with Abita Turbodog, and a white chocolate mousse made with Dixie White Chocolate Beer and served with Lindeman's Peche Lambic. After this incredible meal, the Brewffet was reopened, and I truly believed I was in heaven.
Sunday morning arrived all too quickly. After the Hair of the Dog Brunch, Beer Camp was invaded by the Temperance Players, who attempted to dissuade us from our beer-drinking ways. Needless to say, not many converts were made, though a few wished they had been a bit more temperate the night before. The closing feature of beer Camp was a slide presentation by Stan
Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky, publishers of the Beer Traveler Newsletter. Stan and Daria spoke of some of the great beer bars they have visited, including Portland, Maine's Great Lost Bear and Boston's Sunset Grille and Tap.
Upon receiving our diplomas which declare that the holder is "an expert in the field of beer knowledge (and anything else which they propose to know about)", we were all saddened that the weekend was at an end. As Camp songmeister Jack Kenny put it, Beer Camp was a weekend that "most of us won't forget, and some will not remember."