Like every year our Harpoon weekend started on Thursday night. Our good friend Stephanie Wilson comes in from Kansas City to spend the weekend with 'Her Man' Steve Farrin and hang out at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, VT. On their way up to Vermont they stopped by our home to visit with Kris and I. We had just finished up packing and trimming so the timing was perfect. We popped the cork on some great Prosecco, enjoyed some fine meats and cheeses, and talked with much anticipation of the upcoming weekend. It was going to be a fantastic time, I could just feel it.
Friday was hot. At one point it hit 100 degrees with plenty of humidity. We picked a great weekend to get a little help from our Nephew Zack. Kris and I do these competitions by ourselves. We set up, cook, and breakdown all the time; we have a good system that works for us. But this weekend having another pair of hands turned out to be a great thing. Zack is a good kid and is not afraid of hard work. After we set up our site in the sweltering heat we went inside the Harpoon Riverbend Taps and Beer Garden for a few pints, lunch, and some much needed air condition! We were joined by our friend Ted Lorson and his brother Cristiaan. We spent a few hours catching up and drinking some fresh Harpoon beer. There was a rumor going around that Harpoon had lifted the swimming ban on the river. With the forecast of more heat and more humidity on the way that news was awesome. We all went back to our sites, suited up and headed down to the Connecticut River. A short walk through The Path of Life and we were there. People hung out on the rocky banks and relaxed in the hot sun. Drinking, swimming, and enjoying the summer in Vermont was on the agenda for everyone here today. The BBQ contest seemed, not only miles away, but months away. As I sat in the refreshing water I tried to resist the swift current. Every once and a while you would lose your footing and start to float away. I felt like the river could take me anywhere that day. If I drifted out into the ocean it would be okay. Then something instinctually stops me and anchors me firmly on a rock or on another person. It was much like the dilemma I faced right then: Do I drift away with all my friends and continue to party on that perfect afternoon? Or do I anchor down and get back to business at the BBQ contest? I try to find a balance but it can be difficult at times. I grabbed my towel, rinsed off, and walked back to our site. The sun was setting on this wonderful day and tomorrow held much promise.
Harpoon is a little different than most New England competitions. KCBS is on Saturday and NEBS Grilling is on Sunday. I like this. Grilling comps can be a lot of work and it can throw you off a little. Your site gets messy and you spend a lot of time cleaning after the contest when you should be prepping for KCBS. Going into Harpoon we never have any 'great feelings' about doing well. There is a lot of drinking, a lot of distractions, and a very strong team list most of the time. So, we just stay focused and try not to embarrass ourselves. We had a good cook with no major issues and everything seemed to taste okay. Turn-ins ran smoothly and the Harpoon White was extremely thirst quenching on this hot Saturday afternoon. Another bonus of the Saturday turn-ins is that you can relax and enjoy some beers afterwards. Most of the time after the last turn in we would be rushing around cleaning and breaking down. I can't drink too much either because I need to drive home later. So this was nice to sit, enjoy a few beers, and not worry about cleaning up right away. We can do it after awards... and with the sound of the bagpipes in the distance, awards were upon us.
Awards are always stressful. They usually bring me a nauseous feeling in my stomach and complete anxiety. Today was no different. Ken Dakai took the stage and got right into it. As he read out the top 10 in the chicken category my confidence was fleeting. It's an odd feeling. You hope your chicken was at least in the top 10. But as he gets to 5th place, and you don't hear your name, you start to accept that it is not to be. 4...3...2...nothing. (This sucks, I hate this hobby.) '1st place chicken...Lakeside Smokers.' And in that moment that's all that matters. You made a walk at the top of a category; I'm happy with that. Which is good because we didn't get a top ten call in the rib category. So, the vicious circle continues. That 1st place chicken call seemed like it happened a month ago... Then we took a 4th place in the pork category and a 6th place in the brisket category. I'm thinking that's not going to be enough to win it. If we tanked our ribs we have no chance of a Grand. During awards I am an absolute pessimist so I start to accept that our ribs bombed. As Ken calls the top 10 overall I have mixed feelings; hopeful, but doubtful. He calls our friends and great neighbors Sweet Chicken for Reserve Grand Champions. The moment of truth is upon us, we're either 11th place or lower or Grand Champions. And until you hear your name never assume it. Because I've seen it go bad many, many times. But, today was our day: Lakeside Smokers Grand Champions of Harpoon. Hoisting that coveted tap trophy up high in front of friends and peers was a tremendous feeling. Smiles, hugs, congratulations, and many, many more beers would round out the rest of the day.
Doing Harpoon Grilling was a last minute decision for us. By 'last minute' I mean 2 weeks before the event. But, for us that is last minute. I really have to thank Ted Lorson and Brendan Burek for making some valid points on why we should grill at The Summer Sizzler. Thanks guys! After looking at the categories I realized that we've had some success at past events with all four of them. So, we'll cook what got us to the stage at previous comps and hope for the best. As always cooking a grilling contest is chaotic. It's a lot more work than BBQ and a lot more prep. With BBQ comps everything is pretty much resting and waiting for turn-ins. With grilling comps you kind of cook to order for most of the turn-ins. A much different experience. But Kris and I got through it and managed to turn everything in on time. Before awards it was time for our cleaning/breakdown rituals. We both have our jobs to do and it works out great for us. But this time around Kris had other plans. Her and Steph camped out in the RV and shared stories and libations. Kris has worked her ass off this year. She is the backbone of our grilling comps as well as the creative force. Her job schedule has been very demanding this summer and getting these weekends off can be really difficult. So, if she needs to decompress with her friend Steph over a bottle of Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Vodka, I say good for her! But where the hell is Zack?
Even the award ceremony is different at a grilling comp. It just seems a little more relaxed, a little less pressure I guess. They announced last call right before the awards. The mad scramble to the beer tent would explain why we were all double fisted at awards. Spirits were high, the last beers of the weekend were being consumed, and we were all happy for our friends when they got called to the stage. Lakeside received calls in all four categories. As they called Ique for Reserve Grand Champions it started to sink in. But as the crowd started to chant 'sweep, sweep, sweep...' I guess we knew... Lakeside Smokers were Grand Champions of The Summer Sizzler. Two grands in two days. A great feeling indeed.
It's been one week since Harpoon. The trophies are in the basement, we are well rested, the hotels are booked for The Jack, and we are ready for Eliot, ME. Reflecting about our time at Harpoon is satisfying. Even as the glory fades we are still left with great memories of a magnificent weekend. Our wins are over; soon forgotten. The headlines on forums and websites are already on to the next comp on the calender. Sure, I might remember our wins for a while, but that too will pass. But what I will relish more than anything else is the time enjoyed with our friends. Prosecco and cheese. Fresh beer and cured meats. Laughter with my wife. And the sun in my face as I drift down the river.