by Vicki Ikeogu
It’s a phenomenon that has been sweeping craft breweries across the country since 2014. And no, it’s not just the uniquely brewed adult beverages.
From New York City to Seattle, beer aficionados have come together to express their love of a good brew. But in addition to chatting with friends and strangers over a stout or ale, brewery patrons wet their whistle, warm up their vocal cords and belt out their devotion to beer through song.
Choir is not just for church groups and high school students anymore.
Beer Choir, founded in St. Louis, Mo. by choral composer and conductor Michael Engelhardt, blends the social aspects of drinking with the performance arts. It’s vision is to create a social singing movement in every major craft-beer market in North America and Europe.
So far, that mission has incorporated 17 chapters throughout the United States, including a chapter in the Twin Cities.
A year ago Engelhardt approached Paul Wilson of Sartell through a mutual friend and asked if they would be interested in starting a chapter in Minnesota. Wilson, co-founder of Beer Choir Twin Cities, and fellow founder of the group, Adam Reinwald, agreed to give Beer Choir the old college try, but they were hesitant it would actually catch on.
“We set the bar really low for ourselves,” Wilson said. “But we thought it would be fun. Get about two or three dozen of our friends to show up.”
A public Facebook invitation was sent out for the January 2017 event. About 300 people showed up.
“And I remember thinking we have something here,” Wilson said.
But the Beer Choir phenomenon was not just confined to the Twin Cities area. Just ask Sartell resident Maureen “Mo” Putnam.
“I was visiting with one of the choral directors recently after they had the Beer Choir as part of the ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) convention,” Putnam said. “I just remembered hearing they had a blast.”
Putnam is director of music and liturgy for Christ Our Light Catholic Parish in Princeton and part-time faculty member at St. John’s University. She said word of the singing-and-suds combination began spreading across central Minnesota.
“And I just started asking questions,” Putnam said.
As part of her role at the church in Princeton, Putnam was responsible for finding entertainment for the annual fall festival. Typically, she said, the church would hire local musicians to play.
“But I saw this as an opportunity or an alternative to hiring a band,” she said.
Reaching out for guidance to Beer Choir Twin Cities, Putnam said she was able to get the information she needed to set out on her own Beer Choir journey.
“When Mo contacted me and said she was interested in starting a chapter, it was a no-brainer,” Wilson said.
He said while growing up, his parents were good friends with Putnam. Knowing her background in music and skills as an organizer, Wilson said Putnam was the perfect person to bring Beer Choir to Central Minnesota.
“There are tons of people who sing in central Minnesota,” Wilson said. “But there is just not as many outlets for them to do so. Beer Choir gives them not only the chance to sing but the ability to have a good time.”
The concept behind Beer Choir is simple. Patrons show up to a brewery at the pre-determined time. Each attendee is handed an official Beer Choir hymnal.
“Basically anybody who is at the brewery, whether they want to be or not, is a member of the Beer Choir,” Wilson said.
Music, typically piano, is played while the group leader conducts the beer-themed songs.
“There are German drinking songs and Irish drinking songs,” Wilson said. “Going through the song book is a good time. You see new friendships being forged.”
Putnam’s Beer Choir debut was in August. She said the event was well received.
“It was a ton of fun,” she said. “Musicians thought it sounded fun, but other people weren’t sure if it was something they should try or attend. So, we kept announcing and explaining that it wasn’t just for choir members and it wasn’t just for beer drinkers. It was for people who wanted to be in community together and experience something fun.”
With the success of the Princeton event being an indication, Putnam decided to bring her Beer Choir closer to home.
“I started chatting with Roy Dodds,” Putnam said. “And as a musician and local brewer he felt this would be perfect for the area.”
Dodds is the owner of Urban Lodge Brewery and Restaurant in Sauk Rapids.
“It’s kind of an odd concept,” Dodds said. “But people liked it and really took to it.”
At the Oct. 29 event, Dodds figured about 40 people came out to grab a beer and belt out a few drinking tunes.
And Putnam is hoping to continue to grow the attendance and awareness.
“The St. Cloud area has so many choirs to tap into,” she said. “And so many conductors too. It really is an ideal area to have something like this.”
The Central Minnesota Beer Choir chapter has undergone the official application process. As such, Putnam said the organization is asked to host four events per calendar year.
And with two under her belt already, Putnam is already hard at work promoting the third.
From 8-10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, the Central Minnesota Beer Choir will dust off their hymnals, fill their pints and perform some rousing songs.
For $10, patrons receive a printed hymnal and a commemorative Beer Choir mug. If previous attendees bring their hymnal and mug from the Oct. 29 event, admission is $5. Beer refills during the event are $4.
“No talent is required,” Putnam said.
In the future, Putnam hopes to spread the local Beer Choir to other breweries across the area. It is her way of spreading the arts – and more importantly, music – throughout central Minnesota.
“My goal is to just keep growing the experience of Beer Choir in the St. Cloud community,” Putnam said. “Because I am an advocate for the arts and music and uniting the community in one experience. And besides, it’s a really creative concept.”