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W’bago planning first ever Brew Fest

By Staff | Mar 4, 2012

While brainstorming ideas on how to bring more people to Winnebago at an Economic Development Authority meeting in November, city administrator Austin Bleess took a shot.

“Going over our business retention survey, we learned we needed to bring more events to Winnebago,” Bleess says. “I recommended a beer tasting event and the EDA thought it was a great idea.”

Jump ahead four months and the throw-away suggestion made at an early-morning EDA meeting has morphed into a pretty big deal. As of Feb. 28, 20 breweries have signed up for the event and 40 beers will be available for sampling.

The one day festival has been given the name Craft Brew Fest, and will take place June 23.

Bleess says a sampling is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. and a beer garden will happen immediately following, from 6 p.m. until late in the evening.

“This is a big event for Winnebago,” he says. “It will be an opportunity for people to try brews they haven’t experienced before.”

The Brew Fest will take place in Whiting Park behind the Winnebago Municipal Center. Tickets for the sampling are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Designated driver tickets will also be sold for $5 with free soda and water available.

Right now, Bleess is scheduling space for 800 attendees and hopes to sell out of tickets quickly.

“A lot of people from out of town have expressed interest in coming,” Bleess says. “We are expecting a very wide audience.”

A fenced in area will host the sampling with IDs being checked at the door.

Outside of the fenced inarea, Bleess says food vendors will be selling hot dogs, brats and hamburgers.

For entertainment, two bands have been scheduled Calamity Jean and Tombstone Trio. Bleess says the two bluegrass/folk groups will be performing all day, each doing three different sets apiece.

“They are very easy to listen to,” he says. “Both bands will set a laid back atmosphere for the festival and will be good groups to sit down and enjoy a nice beverage to.”

The event will be one-of-a-kind for southern Minnesota. Bleess says the idea is not new, citing beer tasting events in St. Paul and Rapid City, but having it in a small community is rare.

In the past, a similar event has taken place in Mankato, but has since been discontinued making the Winnebago festival a novelty in the area.

“There is no real comparison to any other festival,” Bleess says. “It is a lot different getting breweries to come to Winnebago because it is a ways away from their distribution centers.”

The city administrator says those logistic problems for the most part have been solved and the festival has already received great commitments from a lot of nice breweries.

On the list are local breweries such as Brau Brothers, 3rd Street Brew House and Schell’s Brewery. National breweries committed to the event include Breckenridge Brewery out of Breckenridge, Colo. and New Belgium from Fort Collins, Colo.

Bleess says he hopes the list of 20 breweries grows as the event draws closer.

“There are a lot of craft breweries in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin,” he says. “This is the first annual and I am pretty sure the second annual will be even bigger.”

The Lions Club in Winnebago is sponsoring the event and all money raised will later be distributed back into community projects.

With the size of the festival, organizers are looking for volunteers to set up, pour samples, clean up and give wristbands.

So far, Bleess is encouraged by the reactions he is hearing from the community.

“I am always amazed with the good things we have heard so far,” Bleess says. “We have received a lot of good feedback from a lot of places.”

Brew Fest will be a big event for the city, but Bleess stresses it will not replace Moto Fest.

“This is just another reason for people to come to Winnebago,” he says. “Hopefully the people who come to Moto Fest will come and have a good time at Brew Fest.”

Those wishing to buy tickets or find out more information about the event are encouraged to visit www.craftbrewfest.com. Tickets can also be purchased at Roerig Hardware, Casey’s and the Winnebago Municipal Center.

Although many details have been taken care of, organizers have no control over one thing for the outdoor festival. The weather.

A number of tents have already been reserved, but the sun will be a welcomed guest on June 23.

“We will have it rain or shine,” Bleess says. “Hopefully no rain.”