Event Recap | 2016 Burning Can REEB Ranch
The light showers and skirting thunderstorms around the mountains in western North Carolina couldn’t hold a candle to the electricity coming from the stage at Oskar Blues Burning Can held at their REEB Ranch in Brevard the 15th and 16th of July. A weekend full of nature, funky tunes, great beer and fantastic activities swarmed festival attendees, with just enough rain to keep the crowd cool from the scorching summer heat many have been suffering.
The first evening maintained a rather relaxed vibe. The music kicked off as campers continued to arrive and stake claim of their tent spot that they would call home for the next 40 hours. Vehicles pulled through, coolers and gear rolled up, and various vendors started chatting up the crowds. Food trucks fired up their mini-kitchens, a man in jorts rode around a bicycle which powered a smoothie blender on the back, and sponsored riders performed a trick-riding demo as the bands cranked up. The official Oskar Blues beer tent offered their flagship line of brews at a reasonable price, which included their latest release Priscilla (finally being canned after a decade of exclusive availability on draft in CO).
A short wave of light rain didn’t put a damper on the Vendor VIP party in the barn overlooking the stage area, nor the concert itself. By the time the final band of the night finished the crowd was quite fired up and a few late night after parties stretched into the early hours. With one of my main goals being competitive at the Beer Relay Saturday morning, I had to let the local home brewers association rage on without me.
Saturday is what Burning Can is truly about; not only did the music get started early, but the outdoor activities got to shine along with the celebration of canned craft beer! Groups took off to go kayaking and paddle boarding at the river, more trick demos on mountain bikes took place to go along with BMX dirt racing, and the big event for my partner and I finally started: The Beer Relay. Teams of either two and four people lined their first racer up at the start line just before 10 a.m., and everyone grabbed a can of their preferred Oskar Blues race fuel; I went with Mamas Little Yella Pils for most of the event. I knew it would be a really long day if I went with a heavier or stronger beer so early. It was clear that just about everyone else felt the same way, skipping G’Knight and Old Chub Scotch Ale for the lighter likes of my choice or a Pinner Session IPA.
So how does it feel to chug a beer before a 2.5 mile trail run? Here’s my rundown of the experience: The first beer went down fast, no break during the chug prior to tossing the empty can into the recycling can after holding it over our heads to ensure it was emptied. An immediate uphill run started the race along a gravel service road that dipped back down and ran across a bridge over a small man-made dam and past a quaint cabin available for rent on the REEB Ranch property. This entire first uphill was spent trying to get a solid burp out to relieve some of the carbonation from the quick chug. After passing the cabin, the trail quickly converted to a single track switchback climb, zig zagging back-and-forth while climbing for a good four or so stretches. The trail eventually leveled out and began working along a more horizontal stretch easing into the eventual short downhill climb about a mile into the race.
Once we were off the “mountain” we jumped immediately out of the shade of the trees and into a sun-drenched pasture. This is the part where one could consider the course to have “obstacles” with a double creek crossing and several landmines placed by the cattle making runners weary of their steps. After finally leaving the pastures and a quick splash across another shallow stream we skirted the vendor camping area behind the stage before finishing along a gravel service road back up to the start line. A quick hand off of the race chipped PVC baton and my partner darted into the start-corral to choose a beer from one of the two ice-filled kayaks. A quick chug before heading out to the trails and he was off. It was time for me to rest and wipe the sweat from my face.
After almost a 25 minute break my partner trotted in to cross the mat and handed back the baton. I’ll admit, my second beer didn’t go down nearly as fast as the first one, but I didn’t have the horrible gut feeling of a desperate belch while repeating that first uphill. There is always a silver lining.
Knowing how the course was laid out this time allowed for a faster second lap, with a better feel of where I could push without burning out. The temperature definitely started climbing at this point, so the shallow stream crossings were a welcomed relief. Another pass off in the transition area, and considerations for nutrition quickly followed a splash of cold water to the face.
Waiting for my partner to finish his lap I refueled and checked both the time and results thus far and was satisfied with our second place division spot close to the halfway point. It was difficult to tell exactly what position we were holding from the start. There were not only co-ed teams but 4-person teams running alongside the 2-person teams simultaneously.
Another transition, another beer to chug and lap to start. I think it took two pauses before finishing this one, and that had me running angry up that first hill. The lap itself was a solid one, keeping a steady pace on the uphill switchbacks aside from one misstep and a slight stumble; I wondered momentarily if the slip was just a momentary loss of focus or maybe the alcohol was starting to play a role. I continued on and finished with good timing, passing right back off again. I spent the break nursing on electrolytes, water, pickle juice and enjoyed small talk with the leading co-ed 4 person team.
Lap 4 started to take its toll, with the slowest chug to kick off the lap and a little more walking/hiking on the switchback portions than any of the others. Once on the downhill, a sense of urgency swept over me to get the most laps done as possible and finished fairly strong. Another pass off, another check on standings, and some real math had to be done; were our splits fast enough to both get another lap in, totaling 10 before the 3-hour cutoff?
By the time Carlos Santana (my teammate, not the musician) came back through transition it was too close to know. I don’t know what came over me on that fifth lap. Knowing full well it would be my last, I said “Why the hell not?” and slammed a can of Old Chub almost as fast as my first beer. I then ran with all the grit and determination I could muster, knowing there was no holding back now.
I kept close track with my watch for strong pacing, and as I finally ran up to the timing mat for the last time I let Carlos know he didn’t have time to chug another beer if he were to finish one more lap in time. He heard it loud and clear, and dashed off up the service road in a race against time. For those wondering, the beer chugging is optional, awarding a 2-minute deduction from your overall race time per beer after all laps are completed. We built a good lead over third place, and weren’t closing the gap on our division winners (Marc Hodulich and Matt Burrell from Beerfit Series) so it didn’t hurt missing the beer as much as not snagging one more completed lap.
I sat at the finish, watching the clock and the last section of the course visible, waiting for my partner. I finally saw my him with only one minute remaining! He crossed the finish line with a mere 35 seconds to spare, and he was spent. If he came in one second later than the 4-hour mark, that final lap he battled with would have not counted. We had secured 2nd place for the 2-person male division.
The awards ceremony was short and sweet, as the actual beer festival opened for VIP ticket holders at the same time the race finished. Notable division winners that stuck around for the awards include:
2-person male 1st place: Marc Hodulich and Matt Burrell (Beerfit) 12 Laps
2-person co-ed 1st place: Cristyn Olenick and Kurt Wilson (WilsonOlenick) 11 Laps
4-person female 1st place: (Hooper) 2 Laps
4-person male 1st place: (RiceAshbyLopezWilliams) 9 Laps
4-person co-ed 1st place: Amelia Shea, Sean Herring, Greg Smith, and Geremy Skeen (Check Out Dem Cans) 12 Laps
For a full list of Burning Can’s Beer Relay results, click here.
Once the gift certificates for Oskar Blues merchandise were handed out, it was time for post-race celebrations! A quick shower in the chilly flowing waters from the dam in the woods before changing into some relaxing clothes and we were off to join the crowd at the multiple vendor booths where we found some much needed food. The Oskar Blues Chuck Wagon burger and fries truly hit the spot after my teammate and I each covered nearly a half marathon worth of trail miles.
Finally we made our way over to the beer festival, ready to try some of the best canned brews in the country. As the name hints, this festival is highlighted by the commonality of all available beers being poured from a can, in the spirit of Oskar Blues. Breweries ranged from all over the Southeast region but also included beers as far away as Crazy Mountain Brewing in Colorado.
Almost all styles and variations of beer were available, ranging from ciders to IPAs to a Blueberry Coffee Porter (compliments of Boojum Brewing in nearby Waynesville, NC). As my teammate Carlos described the last beer, “That’s some Willy Wonka sh!t right there!” A light rain shower thinned the crowd of ill-prepared attendees who forgot their umbrellas or ponchos. The various musical acts continued throughout all festivities and well into the night. Although the flow of free beer stopped, the fun didn’t take a break until late, long after the musical encore.
Sunday morning, campers raved and exclaimed over the weekends events while packing up for their trips home. Everyone had a blast no matter what the activity. The paddling excursion was well executed and the mountain biking didn’t disappoint. The beer was outstanding, the music was lively, and the action was well worth admission costs.
If you love adventure as much as great beer, then you must attend the nearest Burning Can to you next summer, whether in Colorado, Texas or North Carolina!