Barleyfest brings host of specialty brews to Merrill

You don’t have to be a beer connoisseur to enjoy Merrill’s Lincoln Lager Barleyfest, but a willingness to broaden your hops horizons can make the event a lot more fun.

This year’s 3rd annual event will be held Saturday, Oct. 2, from 2-6 p.m. at the Smith Center. Barleyfest is based around taste testing beverages from small breweries and wineries from around the state and the country. Gourmet food 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 30 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.

Merrill Park and Recreation Director Dan Wendorf has high hopes for attendance this year, and with good reason; Barleyfest drew about 180 people in its first year and attendance jumped to over 360 last year.

“I’m looking to top 500 this year,” Wendorf said. “The neatest part of last year was seeing the jump in attendance. That was the telltale sign that people enjoyed it.”

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.

“It’s a different kind of event and it’s something that people have to experience firsthand and share with other people,” he said.

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.

“Part of the idea behind this event is to draw people from outside our community,” Wendorf said. “It’s good for local businesses.”

Holding the event in the afternoon gives visitors time to experience Merrill before they hit the fest and stay to enjoy the evening.

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.

“One of the most important things that we stress is that this is a beer tasting festival, and our first priority is to make sure we run a safe event,” Wendorf said.

The event is run solely on donations and sponsorships. The presenting sponsor of Barleyfest is Dave’s County Market of Merrill.

“This would not be possible without the local business support,” Wendorf said. “Dave’s County Market has taken the largest leap on this one.”

All proceeds from the event are donated back to the community. In the first two years, over $4,000 has been given to local causes. This year, the proceeds will be split between the Lincoln County Humane Society and the Normal Park Restoration project.

Barleyfest is organized by a local committee made up of people with backgrounds in event planning, promotion and of course beer.

Wendorf has a long-term vision for the event to outgrow the Smith Center, currently Merrill’s largest indoor venue, and become the centerpiece of an even larger outdoor festival.

“It’s upon us to continue to run a quality event,” he said. “We’re committed to continually improving this event.”

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