I started All Plaidout on a dare. In a rut with work, one of my oldest and closest friends found me a job assisting him at a publishing company in New York. While there, he encouraged me to start writing about my knowledge of men’s dress. Shortly after my 28th birthday, I hit “Publish” and a short time later, I was off and running with this thing. If I knew then that my musings on clothing — its fit, fabrication, stories, histories — would have opened the door to so many meaningful relationships, I would’ve been kicking myself to launch it sooner.
Fellowship. It’s a word I use to describe the male camaraderie I sought for much of my life, and yet only recently, thanks mainly to my blog, have I found it. And in a big way. With this contraption, I’ve been able to put myself out there, sharing my thoughts on a myriad of subjects: from the hand-stitched moccasin on my feet to the handcrafted beer that I’m enjoying while I write this. More than anything, I intend to write about relationships — my relationship to people, places, and things — and I think by reading and sharing in that relationship, those who’ve become friends as a result of this blog have become really good ones.
One such friend is Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting. When we met, in fact, before we met, I remember thinking first, “man, that’s one hell of a beard,” and second, as he was pushing his iPhone map in the middle of a small gathering of people, furtively pushing it on us, “he must really want to go to Annie’s Burger Town.” Diners. Drive-ins. Dives. Before ol’ platinum-haired Guy Fieri opened his behemoth space in Times Square, they weren’t bad words, and I maintain that I’ve had as good a time in a diner as I’ve had in a five star white glove establishment. I digress. A couple years ago, Michael and I, his wife, my girlfriend, and a coterie of other attendees to Camp Wandawega’s Memorial Day Friends and Family weekend headed for the old drive-in. That did it for me. Diner-loving Michael and I were meant to be friends.
Later that summer, Camp Wandawega’s Tereasa suggested I invite some of my “blogger friends” to camp. I reached out to Michael and asked if he wanted to co-host something that fall. Wow. Within a couple weeks, he had a logo, a beer glass, and a bunch of breweries involved, and I had a pancake mix from Buckshot Sonny’s, the online shop I run with Joe Gannon, and even a coffee with my name on it, and we found some compadres to make a cocktail using ingredients from Wisconsin. Then, we got to inviting some dudes. The outcome was more spectacular than I could’ve imagined. A true spectacle of the amalgamation of interests: brewers, designers, makers, photographers, writers, and a few wild hairs came together in the Wisconsin wilderness for a… wild time.
That weekend was such a success that in its aftermath, we were inundated with requests to collaborate. So, this fall, when it came time to put the wheels in motion, collaborate we did. We never had want for anything, in fact, it was as gluttonous, entertaining an experience as I’ve ever had.
Photo of yours truly c/o Sam Macon.
Much as they did last year, Naperville’s Solemn Oath boys set the tone perfectly on Friday night as the campers arrived to an outpouring of Solemn Oath’s special brand of small batch, multi-style beers and a sprinkling of sarcasm. They also very graciously loaded our plates with a selection of charcuterie and cheese from Publican Quality Meats.
The man they call “Skittles.”
Morrissey from above.
Only the most virtuosic baristas know the entire Randy Newman canon.
Then, Saturday morning, holy hell, Matt “Skittles” Sliwinski, the sous chef at Longman & Eagle, rolled in like a thunderclap and drenched our appetites with heavy torrent of biscuits, sausage gravy, and these bocce-sized pork balls, all of which precipitated alongside professional pour overs from Jay Cunningham and 2008′s “World Barista Champion” Stephen Morrissey of Intelligentsia.
That afternoon, in the camp chapel, Wirtz Beverage’s Phil Kuhl, a truly kind and cheerful man, cracked open his cellar and let it flow for the lot of us. Professor Phil expounded on his doctorate-level beer education, while we exhausted his collection of the rarest of rare beers and some of the best beer I’ve ever tasted.
Cleetus Friedman. Cleetus. That smile. That bald head. Mr. Friedman is a performer. How he can handle being locked up in a kitchen for all the hours his employer Fountainhead must require is beyond me. Any time I visit Fountainhead and Cleetus is there, he’s at my table, my neighbors’ tables, smiling, laughing, telling funny stories. You see, Cleetus is a talker. For those of us who’ve met him, who know him, when he lost the contest to host Check Please! it came as a shock that anyone, literally anyone, was better suited to host a TV show on the local restaurant scene than him. His love for locally sourced food and drink, his relationship with his farmer verges on pornographic, and man, am I thankful for that. With the help of his trusted sous chef, Peekay, and — from the look of things — a certain Madison clothier (more on him later), Cleetus dished up a dinner that rivals any of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. Please, don’t tell my girlfriend.
Paired with Cleetus’ handiwork, was handiwork of another kind, a wide variety of Belgian-inspired beer from an upstart brewery out of Geneva, Illinois, called Penrose Brewing. What a treat. We were the first large group of people to try the beer from Chicago legends, Goose Island ex-pats, Tom Korder and Eric Hobbs.
At one point, during the dinner, I looked around at the group of 45 guys that had gathered largely on the impetus of two men and on the outstanding reputation of Camp Wandawega. Humbled, I got really quiet. The rest of the dinner was something of a blur as I walked around the dinner tent, doing my best to connect with each guy, realizing how each had found his way to Wisconsin, all to experience something akin to a retreat.
That is the face of a satisfied man.
With the help of another Longman & Eagle employee, beverage director Phil “Redbeard” Olson, I brought some Basil Hayden’s to share with the gang. We made a punch using Central Waters Brewing’s Mudpuppy Porter, a ton of oranges and way too much sugar. That recipe will soon be available on Whiskey. Among Other Things….
The punch was enjoyed while watching Sign Painters, a documentary co-produced and directed by a new friend of mine, Sam Macon. The rain cleared up just as we sat down in the outdoor chapel to watch it, and by-and-large it was one of the most talked about moments of the weekend. If you’ve not seen it yet, get in touch with Sam and his cohort on the venture, Handmade Nation’s Faythe Levine. Make a screening happen in your city or town by any means possible. This story is too important to pass up.
Bonfire images c/o.
Somehow, I found my way to the treehouse bunk bed to which I’d been assigned and arose with the sun. Stumbling over to the camp kitchen, I was not surprised to find another good friend, Context Clothing’s Sam Parker already up-and-at-em, slaving away over a brisket he brought from Madison’s very own Underground Food Collective. Sam brought steak and eggs to share with the fellas as they awoke and headed home. He also brought several tins of the Kickapoo Coffee made exclusively for Context, which — thanks to yours truly — flowed like a Lake Wandawega bluegill.
Andres Araya of 5Rabbit Cervecería was right behind me preparing delicious micheladas, which paired perfectly with Sam’s seasoned brisket and spicy scrambled eggs.
And just like that, it was time to say goodbye.
Standing around the fire, someone said to me, “We came to build a fire.” It was then I realized that was the ideal personification of the weekend. Forty-five men huddled together in the Wisconsin wilderness, many of them strangers; each carried something to feed the fire. Many brought large logs, some brought flint or tinder, and others still brought a hearty wind to bellow the flame. What followed was a chemical reaction. Without each element, there’d have been no ignition. Each interaction’s friction added to the chemistry, and by Saturday night, a well-contained bonfire burned bright, lighting the night’s good cheer, illuminating their warm and smiling faces. By Sunday morning, as the embers began to cool, these men who gathered together in common interest had formed a fellowship.
Shawn Colley of Noble County Gold.
Today, as we tramp through the ashes of another work week, may we marvel at the incandescence of camaraderie. To those in attendance, thank you for feeding the fire. May you pass the flame onto your friends and loved ones. Thank you, especially, to the firehouse, David and Tereasa at Camp Wandawega, and to our fire chief, Michael Kiser for being a beacon to these beams of light and life.
As a final note: though from the outset we’d agreed on a No Girls Allowed rule. It was well-received as a testament to the rare sense of fellowship that can only be achieved by gathering men around common interests. However, it cannot be overstated how indebted we are to the hard work of Michael’s wife, Hillary. She created, purchased, printed, FedEx-Kinko’d so much of what made the weekend look so great. So, thank you, Hillary Schuster.
Thanks also to filmmaker and new friend, David Burkart and thanks to one of my oldest friends, composer Mike Pietrus, for putting together something that so perfectly encapsulated what we experienced.