Festival of the Angry Bear hopes to be a new U.P. tradition

The first annual Festival of the Angry Bear, a partnership between young Upper Peninsula natives who run the Ore Dock and Das Steinhaus, was a smashing success. Does it mark the start of a U.P. tradition?

Last month, thanks to a handful of ambitious U.P. natives and long-time residents, Marquette may have witnessed the birth of a new Yooper tradition. April 12's first Festival of the Angry Bear found Ore Dock Brewing Company, Das Steinhaus and Double Trouble DJs together in a massive, (mostly) heated party tent on a closed-off Spring Street. The event ran from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and was extremely well attended, despite slushy snow that fell intermittently through the festivities. 

The festival had plenty to keep attendees entertained, from Das Steinhaus's tender lamb kebabs and juicy brats (hot off the restaurant's massive new grill) to energetic musical sets from local acts--the Pink Violin Band and Nick Adams and the Aral Sea Divers--along with the Scott Pellegram Trio and Rootstand, two downstate favorites. But, this being a brewery-sponsored event, the centerpiece of Festival of the Angry Bear was its selection of barrel-aged beers from Ore Dock head brewer Nick VanCourt.

What, no bears?

Sadly, no. The "Angry Bear" was just another barrel-aged beer, specifically a Flanders-style brown ale, on tap for the festival. Yooper Wedding, a barrel-aged blonde brewed with Michigan cherries, was also a hit, as was plum-infused "Plummers Crack." For barrel-aged beers that tipped the scales at 8 percent ABV or higher, all were drinkable, even refreshing.

Adam Robarge, the Ore Dock's "brewery liaison/craft beer activist"--"I basically made that job title up, but it fits," he says--offers another explanation for the festival's name.

"These beers have been slumbering all winter long," he says, noting barrel-aged beers typically mature for a minimum of eight months. It's not good to let barrels dry completely after they're emptied, he adds, so VanCourt is already hard at work on the next crop. Co-founders Wes and Andrea Pernsteiner, longtime Marquette residents with roots in Wisconsin, are keeping an adjacent garage space on reserve to store everything.

How did this "celebration of beer culture in Marquette," as Robarge calls it, come about? VanCourt, a Menominee County native who cut his chops at Chicago's World Brewing Academy, had been experimenting with barrel-aged beers for some time. The Pernsteiners and their management team, Robarge included, decided to showcase his talents with a "community event" that would be free to the public (and, with $3 barrel-aged pours, affordable for attendees). 

Robarge called on Justin Fairbanks and Dave Cappeart, Delta County natives who are two-thirds of Das Steinhaus's ownership team, to add some German-tinged legitimacy to the event--and keep attendees' stomachs filled with more than just beer. Fellow Steinhaus owner Alex Kofsky, also a Delta County native, handled much of the promotion and coordination for the big day. Given the inaugural event's success, continued Angry Bear collaboration is a probability, but the partnership may bear additional fruit, including a beer dinner and (possibly) an Ore Dock-brewed house beer for Das Steinhaus.

In the estimation of Angry Bear's organizers, the U.P.'s unique culture makes such collaborations far easier, and more fun, than they might be elsewhere. "We live in a wonderful community," says Fairbanks. "Everyone is game to collaborate, which makes it a lot easier to get together on events like this."

For a collaborative event like this to be successful, of course, people actually have to show up. Festival of the Angry Bear easily cleared that hurdle. "Our concept is very locally focused, so we [didn't experience] too great of a challenge," says Kofsky. "You need to understand your market, deliver what they want, and tell them about it."

Robarge, VanCourt, the Pernsteiners and the other locals who made Festival of the Angry Bear a reality probably didn't have much time to themselves on April 12, but they know one thing for sure: On the second Saturday of April 2015, they'll be back in the tent on Spring Street for the second iteration of a new Yooper tradition.

Brian Martucci writes about business, finance, food, drink and anything else that catches his fancy. When he's not working out of his office on Marquette's East Side, you can find him stretching his legs on the trails or sampling local flavors at Blackrocks and the Ore Dock. You can find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci

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