Any time beer and sports are combined, I like it. Who wouldn't?
Sitka's great keg hunt begins anew 050714 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Any time beer and sports are combined, I like it. Who wouldn't?
Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Story last updated at 5/7/2014 - 1:22 pm

Sitka's great keg hunt begins anew

Any time beer and sports are combined, I like it. Who wouldn't?

I'm not a sports guy, but I picked up the concept by default. It all started when I was asked to pilot one of two beer carts for a beer-inspired golf tournament. How could I say no? Strap two kegs of beer on the back of a golf cart, send me out on the course, and I'm a happy camper. I'm sure it was the only legal drinking and driving sport at the time.

I always sucked at bowling until I attended a Great Northern Brewers Homebrew Club bowling tournament years ago. Each participant was afforded two pitchers of Deschutes Jubelale as part of the tournament entry cost. I bowled the best game in my life and began to experiment with drinking beer and bowling. I learned that I can map my performance on a bell curve. My bowling improves up to about a pitcher and a half, then my performance levels off. By pitcher two, I start to seriously suck again.

All manner of goofy beer-inspired sports have hit my radar over the years. I've slowed down of late and my taste for beer sports has tempered a bit. OK, maybe that's a not a good word. Let's put it this way - I still love beer and sports, but I've become more sedentary.

My beer-drinking son, Scott, introduced me to beer pong. I'm totally down with that, but I'm not too fond of drinking beer out of a red Solo cup containing a ball that has been on the floor and picked up by grubby hands.

Recently, Scott dreamed up an idea for an event. Teams carry full 1/6 barrel kegs along a pre-determined route. The teams take off at different intervals but are timed and the fastest team wins. I guess there's beer drinking along the way.

At this point, he's scrounging up both teams and sponsorship. He's hoping to get support from some of the local pubs and grog shops around here to come up with both prizes and to sponsor some of the many teams he hopes will compete. I think it's a pretty cool idea. I was lacing up my hiking shoes until I learned I'd probably have to carry the keg for at least part of the race.

I wonder if they need beer golf cart drivers?

Poking around on social media the other day, I found something that really made my athletic socks go up and down. It turns out that this is Baranof Island Brewing Company's fifth year of hosting a "keg hunt" in Sitka, where the brewery is located.

Basically, brewery employees stash empty Baranof Island Brewing Company ("BIBCO") kegs around the city and borough of Sitka and meter out a clue every day until the keg is found. The finder of the keg returns it to the brewery, and as a prize, the brewery fills a not-so-trail-weary keg with the beer of the finder's choice for free. Detective work is fun. I'd be a natural at this if I lived in Sitka.

"It's the best marketing thing we've ever done so far," admits BIBCO owner Rick Armstrong. He stole the idea from his nephew Chase who participated in a similar event in Montana and said it was a real hoot.

The gig's off to a late start this year considering that the brewery originally designed it as an Easter event. Historically, it's been an "Easter keg hunt."

I like the concept either way. "We try to hide four kegs every year," Armstrong said. "But if people find them too fast, sometimes we have to do six."

The brewery gives out clues each day until each keg is found. "It usually takes between four and eight clues for someone to find the keg," said Armstrong. "We just give out the clues and try to make it last a week for each keg so the whole thing lasts about a month."

Sleuths can get clues from various sources. "We give out clues on the local radio station first thing every morning. Later, we post the daily clue on Facebook."

Fans complained, because the weekends are the best time for working stiffs to join the fray. "We didn't give clues out on the weekends before because, well, the radio station doesn't air on the weekends," said Armstrong.

In response, Armstrong brings the crowd home on the weekends. "So, now we're releasing a clue in our taproom on the weekends." This is obviously a great marketing move, and I can see myself hanging around drinking beer waiting for the clue to be dispensed.

Obviously, something like this works quite well in a small community like Sitka where most people are familiar with their local digs and the surrounding confines. The annual event gets great participation. "People come out of the woodwork every year for this. It gets the whole town to turn out," said Armstrong. "We can release a clue, and you can watch people pour into the streets," he said.

Once, sleuths got the idea that the keg was at a local restaurant. Once the word got out, they descended on it in hordes. "Immediately, the entire parking lot was overflowing and people were jamming in."

Even though the keg wasn't there, I'm convinced that such a thing can't be bad for business. I'm sure the keg hunt has a positive ripple effect for the community.

There have been some interesting twists and turns over the years. "We hid a keg in the Mount Edgecumbe volcano," said Armstrong. "My nephew Chase came up and got a friend with a boat to take him over there. The boat dropped him off and he spent the day hiking up to the top to stash the keg. The boat came back that evening and picked him up."

When folks finally discovered where it was, the volcano was clouded over and there was a big delay in getting the keg. "People were a bit miffed when they found out it was over there," said Armstrong. "Not everyone knows just exactly how big the borough of Sitka is and that it includes Edgecumbe. Some folks didn't think it was fair because they claimed that not everyone in Sitka has a boat. That was easy to defend," he said. "Neither do we!"

Last year, the brewery took one of the kegs and sank it in the city's Swan Lake. A plainly marked BIBCO buoy was tied to it. "That one took a while to find. There's an old underground hospital here in Sitka as well," says Armstrong, and one of the kegs was hidden there.

I guess something like this would work in any community; big or small. It sure sounds like fun to me. I wonder if Scott would rather organize a keg hunt than a keg carry. I know which event I'd opt for.