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Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash: We Made it Happen

Mbbb 2011 Patio

TWO YEARS AGO, I was at Austin airport, waiting for a plane with my friends Brian Artka and Derek Dysart when the idea for the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash was born.

We were hanging out in the departure lounge, coming off a great week at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. We ate our last breakfast tacos while recalling our experiences when Brian suggested we throw our own Milwaukee party for everyone at SXSW.

It would be an opportunity to share a little Milwaukee culture with the variety of people at SXSW and create a fun atmosphere for them to meet each other and us. Most of all, our party idea would be different than every other party at SXSW.

We loved the idea, but as ideas often do, it hibernated for several months.

The Re-awakening

In December 2009, the idea re-awakened in Brian's head, as he prepared for SXSW 2010. He asked me if I was interested in taking the Milwaukee party idea seriously.

I was game, and so were several other Milwaukee SXSW attendees and a friend from Austin. So, in January, we researched venues, food and sponsors. We were going to make it happen.

A contract for a venue was signed and money put down, even though we didn't know how many (if any) people would attend the event, or without having all of the needed sponsors lined up. If this idea went bad it could have been costly, though bearable.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2010

For the first event in 2010, we arrived in Austin excited about the event, inviting everyone we saw to the Bash. Eventually our little Bash was mentioned in a variety of online newspapers and on Twitter accounts — a pleasant surprise!

When the day came it was rainy, so using the Cedar Door patio was out. The staff invited us to use the restaurant to serve our 200 guests beer brats, potato salad, cookies, and Milwaukee beer, all while enjoying the company of other attendees.

My favorite story of the day was from a guest who said his bratwurst brought back fond memories of Oakland A's games. As a kid, he would spend his summer days watching baseball and eating his fill of brats.

With a belief in ourselves and lots of hard work, our first Bash was a success.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2011

Happy guestsIn late 2010, with experience and a successful Bash already under our belts, we worked out the details, convinced sponsors to join the fun and put on another great Bash.

For the 2nd annual Bash, we finally had the Cedar Door's sunny patio as well as the interior of the restaurant. This helped us serve 360 guests delicious Milwaukee beer-soaked bratwurst, regular and Pretzel buns and Tofurky brats for our vegetarian guests. Of course we had potato salad, cookies and Milwaukee beer to round out the Bash menu for 2011.

For 2011, we raffled bags of coffee from Milwaukee's Stone Creek Coffee and 18 Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash t-shirts printed in Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packer green & gold.

The Bash was a hit. SXSW attendees had something fun and different to enjoy during the day. We were able to share a little Milwaukee culture and love with our friends and colleagues in Austin.

I was sick and couldn't make it to Austin for the event, but the team stepped up and did a great job of making the Bash a huge success. I was able to invite many of my friends to the Bash remotely and watch the event over a UStream channel, set up by the team.

Make it Happen

The key lesson learned from the Bash?

Take initiative and make something happen.

Nobody in Milwaukee or Austin gave us permission. We decided to do it for ourselves.

We had no experience organizing an event, but we had experience in other areas of life and business, which we used to make the Bash happen.

You can do more than you think you can.

Notes and Tips

For others considering an event, I want to share a few things we learned through the process of planning and running the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash, two years in a row:

1. Use a collaboration tool for your team. One of the best things we did was to create a Basecamp project for the Bash. It became a central hub where discussions happened. Basecamp worked well via email, freeing the team to reply on the web app or on a mobile device. Basecamp threads from '10 were very helpful in planning the '11 Bash.

2. Keep the team small and delegate. Because our team was small and everyone pitched in, the load was never overbearing for any one person. This year when I had to recover from a sickness, having others there to take up the organization was critical to making the event happen even with me out of commission.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for sponsorships. If you decide to seek sponsorships, ask everyone you can think of. We asked many more companies and individuals to help than accepted the opportunity. We also were open to small donations from individuals and small businesses, because every dollar helps.

4. Designate one person to handle the funds. It might be tempting to have all sorts of team members accept money, but we found having one person handle funds worked best and kept the process simple for our team and sponsors.

5. Say thank you. After the event we made it a point to contact every sponsor and say thank you for their help, with a report about the event and links to event photos and new coverage from local radio and news outlets.

Thank You!

Thanks go to the teams for the 2010 and 2011 Bashes: Brian Artka, Derek Dysart, Tracy Apps, Hung Nguyen, Andy Wright, Cindi Thomas and Kevin Ciesielski.

Thanks also to our sponsors who made the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bashes happen. We appreciate you all.


Here are articles and audio about the Bash in the media

Milwaukee BizTimes: Milwaukee beer and brats: a smash at national festival
88Nine Radio: Perceptions of Milwaukee (Audio)
88Nine Radio: Other Cities "Beer & Brats" (Audio)

Photos by Tracy Apps

Reader Comments (7)

Congratulations Mike! It sounds like a great time, and it is definitely an inspiration for a scaredy cat like me.

March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Fahrni

Sounds awesome Mike!

March 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReuben Whitehouse

Rob and Reuben, thanks! Our experience with pulling off the Bash has been a good one - it really gave us insight into the work done at parties and events than you had no second thought about before.

I hope this article provides inspiration for you and others to organize an event. :-)

March 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

(This isn't criticism, just an honest question.)

Even though you recommend one guy in charge of the funds, would you recommend open accounting outside the team? I've seen a handful of *Camps make their Google doc read-only to the outside world to show how it works, etc.

Disclosure: I was a sponsor and had a good time. :)

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Casey

Keith - interesting question.

I think transparency in financial info depends a lot on the event. BarCamps and other like events are built completely around these ideas at their core - as for the Bash we did, that wasn't really at the core of our approach - and I'm not sure who would have benefitted.

However, that does bring up an interesting idea for another potential blog post, sharing the breakdown of costs as a reference for others thinking of running a similar event at SXSW or another conference.

I do know that our group is very open to sharing details to others planning events, since we've been through it a few times - so it's not that we aren't sharing to be secretive - we just never thought of it as critical. :-)

Hope that helps!

March 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

So glad that this was a success. Combined, the partners of ImageThink have lived in 4 cities in Wisconsin, so we were happy to be a sponsor (yum veggie brats) My only regret is that we were too busy to actually attend the festivities.

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNora Herting

Nora, it was great to have you and Heather as sponsors of the event. The vegetarians who enjoyed Tofurky brats thank you as well.

Next year you definitely need to mark the Bash on your calendar! :-)

April 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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