The Smith Center will be overflowing with craft brews Saturday for the sixth annual Lincoln Lager Barleyfest.
Barleyfest is based on taste testing beverages from small breweries and wineries from around the state and the country. Gourmet food, interactive games, prizes and live entertainment add to the experience.
Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Dave’s County Market, Beacon Bar, The Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce or the Smith Center.
More than 40 craft breweries have signed on to present their products at this year’s Barleyfest. Beer, wine, spirits and premium flavored beverages will be offered. There’s guaranteed to be something to please every taste.
Participants can sample from more than 100 beverages and even talked to the people who brewed them.
Barleyfest has grown significantly in both the number of breweries participating and in attendance. The number of breweries has almost doubled, while attendance has more than tripled. Barleyfest drew about 180 people in its first year and attendance has climbed steadily to nearly 700 last year.
“I’m excited for this year,” Wendorf said. “It’s been neat to see the event evolve. We want people to leave here saying they can’t wait till next year.”
The event is advertised in locally and also in regional specialty publications. But, word of mouth is also a powerful promotional tool, which Wendorf hopes keeps people coming back and bringing their friends.
Barleyfest is drawing people from outside the Merrill community, which is good for the area, Wendorf said. AmericInn of Merrill, for example, is catering to Barleyfesters with a “bed & brew” package. Wendorf said attendance is split about evenly between local residents and visitors. Last year, visitors came from 76 different cities in eight states to attend Barleyfest.
This year’s event, as always, will be held from 2-6 p.m. Holding the event in the afternoon gives visitors time to experience Merrill before they hit the fest and stay to enjoy the evening.
“We’re bringing people in to showcase our community,” Wendorf said. “It’s a good boost to the local economy for that weekend.”
Participant safety is a priority for Barleyfest organizers. For that reason designated drivers get in free. Barleyfest has also partnered with Merrill Transit and Bluejay taxi to make sure participants have a safe ride to their destination after the festival.
“We overemphasize safety,” Wendorf said. “We want people to enjoy the event and get home safely.”
The event is run solely on donations and sponsorships. The presenting sponsor of Barleyfest is Dave’s County Market of Merrill.
“We couldn’t do this without sponsorships,” Wendorf said. “Dave’s County Market makes it all happen, along with the rest of our sponsors.”
All proceeds from the event are donated back to the community. In the first five years, over $10,000 has been given to local causes. This year, the proceeds will go to the Merrill Parks Endowment Fund, which is being grown as a source of funding for future parks improvement projects beyond the constraints of the city budget.
Barleyfest is organized by a local committee made up of people with backgrounds in event planning, promotion and of course beer.
“We want this to continue to grow,” Wendorf said. “We want to make it a signature event.”
For more information, see the web site at www.llbarleyfest.com.