Fifteen years ago, on the day my divorce was finalized, I sat around a corner table with some friends at the Columbus Bar. This was not a celebration, but a solemn gathering of men who supported me through one of the most difficult times of my life.
A few months before, my best friend, Ben Stilson, and I had changed allegiances from Buffalo Wild Wings to Columbus Bar for a number of reasons – gigantic onion rings, best fish sandwich in town, first microbrewery in Columbus, and the kindness of the owner, Jon Myers. The Diesel Oil Stout was a revelation in local brewing beauty.
That night of the divorce, Jon was serving us. For old times sake, in remembrance of fun evenings I had experienced in England back in college, I ordered an absinthe. Jon brought it to the table, with the special glassware, spoon, and sugar cube. It was a bittersweet night, but one of remarkable fraternal bonding and creation of new memories as I started a new chapter of life.
Weeks later, Ben and I, along with our friend Patrick Fosdick, were forming a Columbus Young Professionals team to compete in a summer long “Amazing Race” competition. The goal was to solve clues that led us to special spots in town. We needed to take a picture at each location and write a blog post about it. We were looking for a fourth team member, so on a whim, we asked Jon if he would like to join us. He did and the 4 of us gathered at the front plaza of City Hall to begin the competition. We had forgotten to create a team name. In a moment of creative clarity, Ben offered up the name “The Local Drafts.” The double entendre of being recruited to this team and promoting Jon’s Powerhouse microbrewery immediately resonated.
So the Local Drafts ran around for 3 months, bonding while taking silly pictures holding empty beer mugs all over Columbus. We finished fourth in that summer of 2008. As we realized our formal time as a team was coming to a close, we reflected on the deepening bonds we had established and brainstormed how we could keep the fun going. So we organized a party called a Blind Beer Taste Test. We picked 8 beers in a particular style and randomly placed them into an elite 8 bracket. One person poured 1.5 oz samples into 2 separate glasses and after trying both, a vote was taken. There was then a Final Four round and a final head to head match to decide the champion of the beer style. In October of 2008, Keystone Light won the inaugural Blind Beer Taste Test competition in the Light Beer style. We loved it. And kept doing it.
I was not in a fraternity in college. I didn’t like the idea of hazing and the drunkenness associated with it. As the years went on and Ben, Jon, Patrick, and I invited more people to the taste tests, we realized that the fraternal bonds that developed through this ritual and all of the friendships that emerged outside of the taste test experiences were very special. No hazing required.
In 2012, we inducted a new “class” of 4 Local Draft gentlemen and 6 more by the end of 2018. The “organization,” and I do put that in quotes, waxed and waned in attempts to formalize, but in the end we decided we all just wanted to be together. Not to have meetings, but to have gatherings. Random happenings. Maybe it was golfing or hiking or helping someone move or supporting a Draft through a job transition, or planting trees, or volunteering, or organizing spur of the moment happy hours.
In 2017, we had our first overnight trip on a trip to Cave Run Lake in Kentucky – starting an annual tradition of a 3-night, out of state trip. It will take too long to tell the stories of Three Rivers, Michigan – other than to say the Drafts have all left a piece of their hearts with our gracious AirBnB host, Mary Doezema, and her idyllic acreage with its winding boardwalk through beautiful wetlands. The relationships with these men have all become such an incredible blessing for me.
I did not know any of these guys in high school or college. I hear about men struggling to have meaningful relationships as adults and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to cultivate enduring friendships. It’s not about the beer or working at the same company or going to the same church or following the same sports teams. The root is in sharing the same community and being committed to caring. In a way, it was born out of my suffering after the divorce and being full of gratitude for the men who walked beside me in my time of greatest need.
After my last hospitalization for major depression in 2013, my wife decided to share my bipolar II diagnosis with our church and friend group. When I returned home, the Drafts organized a game night at our house and a group of 8 men gathered around our dining room table to play for hours. The acceptance that I felt that night was an incredible experience of brotherly love. In the weeks that followed, I finally found peace with my diagnosis, knowing that I would be loved and supported through the recovery process. With that confidence, I have been able to cast aside the isolating effects of stigma to become a more steadfast advocate for mental health.
So to the original Drafts already mentioned and Robb Kelly, Joey “Yolo” Leo, Johnny Unitas Koefoed, Jeff Bradley, Josh “Draft Lite” Brown, Brian Hardy, Tyler Reynolds, Philip “the OG Quadfather” Roggow, Kevin Hurst, and Cruz Baisa – thank you. And since our motivation to formally initiate beyond 14 has waned over the years – shout outs to Mr. Brandon Andress, Derek Young, Chris “Toast” Myers, Darrin Clyde Myers, and Professor Slayer!
What a joyous occasion when we meet! Thank you for the last 15 years!
Circle table seat
Grief shared with friends, turns to joy
Mugs merge, cry of cheers!