Best Practices 2017 Best Consumer Tasting Program: Windom, Minnesota

River Bend Liquor wanted to bring something different to the town of Windom, Minnesota. The municipal store’s manager, Joe Audette, had plans to organize the city’s first large craft beer tasting event on October 8, 2016. Once other community members got involved, the event turned into something much bigger than anyone ever imagined.

Initially, the plan was simple. The tasting event, dubbed “Ein Bier Bitte!” (which is German for “A beer, please!”) was originally designed just to be a craft beer festival. However, once Brad Bussa, Director of the Windom Community Center heard of the plans, he approached Audette with another suggestion.

“Brad and his colleagues at the Community Center had the idea of hosting a concert and bringing a local legend back to the city of Windom,” Audette explains. “We talked and decided to combine the events in order to appeal to more people.”

Randy Weeks, a musician whose unique style encompasses surf rock, folk, Americana and pop, was approached by the Community Center and agreed to perform at the event. A Windom native, Weeks’ appearance was billed as the “Back to My Roots” concert and was cross-promoted with Ein Bier Bitte. For a $20 admission fee, participants could sample tastings from more than 50 local craft beer vendors from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Additionally, attendees were invited to a hog roast and then to the Weeks concert, which began as soon as the tasting was over.

Audette says the event was a huge success and attracted even more people than originally anticipated. It was also great for the store, which didn’t have to spend much money to host the festival.

“There was very little cost to us because of vendor support, and because many local businesses chipped in for the musical artist,” he says. “We also didn’t have to pay to rent a venue because we held the event at the Community Center, which is another city-run facility that has a huge outdoor area.”

The Community Center recouped money from the tasting, and River Bend received a substantial amount of residual sales. Due to the success of last year’s event, River Bend and the Community Center plan to partner together on another event this fall. However, Windom residents can expect some changes.

“This year we’re going to include wine and spirit tasting along with the craft beer to appeal to a broader audience,” Audette says. “As a result, the event will be even bigger. We’re advertising more than 100 products to sample, but that’s probably a very conservative estimate. Also, instead of incorporating another concert into the event, this year the tasting will be followed by a big fireworks display.”

“Hopefully it will continue to grow and become more of a town festival instead of just a tasting,” he says. •

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