Lincoln Lager Barleyfest will welcome beer lovers to the Smith Center in Merrill for its 10th annual run on Saturday, Oct. 7. Merrill Parks & Recreation Director Dan Wendorf, one of Barleyfest’s organizers, is duly proud of the milestone.
“Anytime you have an event that has staying power, it means we’re offering a product that people enjoy,” Wendorf said. “We’re fortunate to partner with good people that put this on and fantastic sponsors that allow us to do this. We have businesses that took a risk on us in year one and have sponsored us all 10 years.”
Barleyfest at its core is a beer tasting festival. Craft breweries from near and far bring their wares to Barley Fest and give beer drinkers a taste of what they’ve been brewing. At this year’s event, more than 50 breweries will bring upwards of 200 products to Barleyfest for sampling. The explosion of the craft beer industry has been good for Barleyfest; and events like Barleyfest have been good for the craft breweries. Many other beer sampling events have popped up in the past 10 years, but Barleyfest has established itself as a favorite for brewers.
“We were kind of on the forefront of this 10 years ago,” Wendorf said. “We really put ourselves on the map. I get calls from people who want to know how we do it, and that pushes us to do it better.”
Attendance at Barleyfest has topped 600 in years past. Wendorf estimates that about 50 percent of those people come from out of town. The event hours of 2-6 p.m. give visitors a chance to explore Merrill before and after coming to Barleyfest, he noted.
“Some of these are people that would have no other reason to visit Merrill,” he noted.
As a special feature this year, retired Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame kicker Chris Jacke will make an appearance at Barleyfest. Jacke will be in attendance from 2-4 p.m. and will be signing autographs and interacting with Barleyfest patrons. Jacke’s appearance is presented by AmericInn, Arby’s and Pine Ridge Convenience Store of Merrill.
Jacke’s appearance could be a sign of things to come for Barleyfest, Wendorf noted.
“We want to start to turn the corner and do more unique things to enhance the experience,” he said.
From the very beginning, attendee safety has been a primary concern for Barleyfest organizers. To that end, the Merrill Go Round city bus service is on call that day to get festers to and from the Smith Center safely. Bluejay Taxi is also on call, and designated drivers always get in free.
“It’s neat to see the number of people that ride the bus or take the taxi,” Wendorf said. “People have really been responsible for themselves.”
Wendorf is seeing people make Barleyfest part of their fall tradition, with families getting together to attend and people tailgating in the parking lot before the event.
“I’ve been seeing some of the same people all nine years, and they bring new people with them,” Wendorf said. “It’s been kind of amazing to see it grow. It’s like a big old family.”
You don’t have to be a beer snob to enjoy Barleyfest – but don’t be surprised if you become one in the process. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell a porter from a stout or a lager from an IPA, the Barleyfest book and the servers at the booths can help you find your true brew calling.
Live music and sports on television in the corner add to the atmosphere.
Proceeds from Barleyfest are donated each year to local causes, totaling more than $30,000 over the past nine years. This year’s recipient will be the River Bend Trail. The Barleyfest sponsors are the key to being able to make those donations, Wendorf said.
“This is a unique event, 100 percent funded by sponsorships,” he said. “We absolutely would not be able to do Barleyfest without our sponsors.”
Wendorf is looking forward to growing Barleyfest into the future.
“People have come to know our show as a popular Northwoods event,” he said. “Our goal is to improve every year and make it a better experience.”
Tickets for this year’s Barleyfest are available at Dave’s County Market, Ballyhoos, the Merrill Chamber of Commerce and the Smith Center. More information is available online at llbarleyfest.com.