“I can see the flags flying high.”
“Tennis, Trees and Tea.”
“What is used to measure earthquakes?”
If you know the answer to those clues, you would have been on your way to a free keg of Baranof Island Brewing Company beer this March.
Each spring, a handful of esoteric Sitka history clues written on a blackboard at the brewery have Sitka residents crawling through state parks, peeking in volcanos and checking buoys in the harbor for one of four kegs covered with a mosaic of old brewery logos and beer labels. If they find it, they get to fill it with any of the beers (or the non-alcoholic root beer) in the brewery’s tap room.
Though the brewery has been doing the keg hunt for several years now, this was the first year Hal Spackman, executive director of the Sitka History Museum, had teamed up with the company to help develop the clues.
“They wanted the theme to be World War II, so I helped provide the person running it with information about different places that might be interesting,” Spackman said.
Some of the clues this year were:
- In 1942, homesteaders were replaced with guns.
- Speed limit to the brewery, 1802, number of Russian killed.
- Where I sit I can see the last battle…
“Some of the places were pretty obscure, so whoever has found them had to work hard to find them,” Spackman said. “They weren’t necessarily on the main island either, but I’ll let you read between the lines as to where it was.”
Spackman said he was sworn to secrecy about the details surrounding the clues, but even so, he didn’t know exactly where the kegs are hidden. Not that he’d want to participate — people get pretty intense in their pursuit of the kegs.
“We’ve had people looking in our yard,” said Suzan Hess, co-owner of Baranof Brewing Company.
Hess said they used to announce when the keg hunt would start a few weeks beforehand. Now, they surprise potential searchers with the first clue via Facebook post, because Hess believes a neighbor followed them as they hid the kegs the second year.
“I’m not kidding, I think he tracked us,” she said. “He found three of the kegs that year.”
Those first clues led Ashia Lane to 210 Seward Street, a site that is now home to the Sitka History Museum, where the keg was lying in wait under the front steps.
Spackman explained that there was once a tennis court and a tea garden there, the latter of which was filled with fruit-bearing trees planted by Princess Maria Matsoutof, the wife of Alaska’s last Russian governor. Those trees were eventually chopped down because crows had taken up residence in them, driving the family mad with their incessant cawing.
Victor Littlefield and his family are also devoted keg hunters — they have searched all the parks, walked miles of beach and have gotten stuck off the road system during their quests. But they’ve found two kegs in the last two years.
“It’s a big family deal for us,” Littlefield said. “We’ll all be out there crawling through the woods and under bridges looking for them.”
One of the kegs the Littlefields found was at the end of Halibut Point Road and the other was tucked under a bridge on Nelson Logging Road.
“We’d gone out three times looking for that one,” Littlefield said of the latter keg. “We knew it was there, but we just couldn’t find it.”
Eventually his wife army crawled under some tree branches that were overhanging the water and found the coveted keg.
“It makes sense, because the owner’s son hid it,” Littlefield said. “You’d only see it if you were a 7-year-old.”
That keg would be filled with Baranof Brown Ale. The other keg, found by Littlefield’s son, was filled with Ben’s Brew Rootbeer.
Littlefield was at the brewery having a post-workout, pre-hunting beer.
“We’ll probably get our flashlights and go out looking later,” he said. “It’s like looking for the idol on ‘Survivor.’”
Though the keg hunt only runs for a few weeks each spring, Hess said it has provided endless entertainment for her and her husband, brewery co-owner Rick Armstrong. During a recent costume ball in Sitka, another couple showed up dressed as keg hunters, one attired to look like a keg, the other in safari garb.
“We like to do the hunt in the spring before the tourists show up,” Hess said. “We like that it’s our local thing.”