Door County Beer Festival Brews Up A New Story
Kyle Cherek thinks it’s time for tourists to get to know another side of Door County.
As host of the popular public television show Wisconsin Foodie he has toured the state in search of culinary treasures. He loves Door County, he said by phone recently as he drove to Madison, but it saddens him that so many have a superficial impression of what makes it special.
“There is so much more depth to Door County than people realize,” Cherek said. “It is like so much of Wisconsin, where we get into a box. But just below the surface or around the corner is what’s really interesting about it.”
When John McMahon approached Cherek about being part of the first Door County Beer Festival, Cherek jumped at the chance to be part of a new chapter of the Door County story.
“This is such a great idea for Door County,” Cherek said. “Beer crosses socio-economic lines. Anything I can do to reinforce that Door County is not just those kitsch gift shops, that there’s more to Door County than that, I’ll do.”
Cherek will give a presentation on his travels and television show as part of a full day that McMahon has planned to celebrate craft breweries, local food, and a different vision of the peninsula at the first Door County Beer Festival on June 16 at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall Park.
A different kind of festival
McMahon said the Door County Beer Festival will celebrate three ways people are changing the Door County image – connecting it to award-winning craft beer and spirits, silent sports, and the best in local food.
Door County has received reams of publicity since Middleton-based Capital Brewing Company introduced Washington Island Wheat Beer.
That beer inspired Death’s Door Spirits, made with island wheat as well. Death’s Door’s vodka, gin, and white whisky can be found on the shelves of the best restaurants in Chicago and Milwaukee and on craft cocktail menus throughout the region, where it introduces customers to the Door County story.
The festival will be run in conjunction with the Ride for Nature to benefit the Ridges Sanctuary, a bike ride that starts and ends at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall Park the same morning. The ride is part of the county’s fast-growing silent sports niche, a segment that attracted over 11,000 participants to running, riding and paddling events in 2011.
Finally, the festival will host only food vendors featuring locally sourced products. Those include Wild Tomato, Narrow Gate Farm, which produces grass-fed beef, and Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese, which features 30 of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese makers.
Cherek says the local emphasis of the festival attracted him.
“I love celebrating the food Wisconsin has to offer,” Cherek says. “We don’t realize how much further out in front of the rest of the country we are in many ways. We have some of the world’s greatest ingredients here that we’re sending to the rest of the country.”
In addition to local food producers and chefs, Door County’s only micro-brewery, Shipwrecked Brew Pub in Egg Harbor, will be represented at the festival.
Rod Fisher, Vice President of Sales at Capital Brewery, said the festival represents a great new way for people to appreciate Door County.
“People visit breweries to get a flavor for the area,” he said. “Tourists are looking for what’s local, what’s new, what’s different.”
Paul Salm, president of the Baileys Harbor Community Association and owner of the Cornerstone Pub, said the association’s board unanimously approved of the event.
“Anytime you can create an early-season festival, it means a lot to the business community,” he said. “We get a professionally run event from a person who basically just needed a beautiful canvas. If you were going to market Baileys Harbor you would want to incorporate local food, drink, and silent sports, and this weaves them all together.”
Turning talk into reality
The festival is a combination of ideas that were floating around the community over the last year.
McMahon and Wild Tomato owner Britt Unkefer had discussed creating a festival to celebrate locally sourced food. Unkefer suggested that McMahon talk to Dave Eliot, co-founder of the Peninsula Pacers, which organizes the Door County Half Marathon and the Ride for Nature, and co-owner of the Peninsula Pulse located in Baileys Harbor. Eliot connected McMahon with Salm, who had floated the idea of starting a beer festival in Baileys Harbor with other business owners and officials.
McMahon, who moved his family to Sister Bay 19 years ago, took the idea and ran with it. He had traveled extensively for his old job with Audinate sound technologies, taking him to festivals, concerts, and athletic events all over the world, where he sampled an array of different food and beer.
“I love food. I love beer,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to try all kinds of both.”
Salm and the Town of Baileys Harbor welcomed the combined idea with open arms.
“They have been incredibly supportive from the very start,” McMahon said. The festival will be centered at the town hall, with a one-block stretch of County Highway F closed for tents, live music, food and seminars.
Town Board Supervisor Bobby Schultz said the board is excited to help launch a new community event.
“We’re trying to help any way we can,” Schultz said. “We’re working with them to see where this can go, and hopefully we can grow it into a great event. It’s a fantastic example of people coming together to help the town do new things for the community.”
Schultz said the board is confident the festival won’t turn into “a drunkfest.”
“John’s big on making sure there are wristbands and no minors on the grounds,” Schultz said. “We want it to be safe, so we’re keeping in touch with him on how to control it.”
McMahon said the very makeup of the event is designed to prevent that.
Attendees must purchase tickets ($35 in advance, $40 on-site) to get a wristband that will get them onto the festival grounds, which will feature over 120 craft beers served in 3 oz. samples. There will be just two entrances to the festival, and patrons will not be allowed to leave with beer.
McMahon said it’s important to note that beer tasting is just one aspect of the event. The festival will host educational seminars featuring local producers and brewmasters from Hinterland, Capital Brewery and O’so Brewery. Peter Kordon of Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor will talk about pairing Wisconsin cheese with beer.
In addition to Cherek’s presentation, Robin Shepherd, author of Wisconsin’s Best Breweries and Brewpubs: Searching for the Perfect Pint, will discuss his award-winning book.
“I think the venue we have and the educational seminars we have wrapped into it will create an atmosphere where you’re not going to want to get fall-down drunk,” McMahon said. “It’s a party, but it’s not about getting hammered. It’s about an appreciation for beer and local food, and raising money for The Ridges Sanctuary.”
A silent auction will be held with proceeds going to The Ridges, and plans are also in the works for the Door County Home Brewing Championships. McMahon said details on that event will be released soon.