Kentucky Beer Cheese Festival continues to be a hit

Published 7:30 pm Monday, June 10, 2024

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With a bright sun and smooth temperatures, Saturday, June 8, felt like an ideal day for a festival. 

A slight drizzle later in the afternoon wouldn’t curtail the fun. 

The annual Kentucky Beer Cheese Festival occurred in Winchester, with thousands of individuals from inside and outside Clark County gathering for the occasion. 

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“Usually, we estimate around 20,000 people, and I would say that’s pretty on par with our sales,” said Winchester First Marketing and Events Director Cameron Correll. 

The event saw its development long before Saturday came around. 

Winchester First formed a Beer Cheese Festival Committee. 

They were far from alone as plans continued and the date took place.

“We had huge help from the fire department, public works, police, the [Clark County Detention Center] crew,” Correll said. “We couldn’t do it without [them].” 

As usual, while the beer cheese was the highlight of the day, many vendors and businesses lined Main Street. 

Among them were those selling other foods, including Kentucky Bad Dog Jelly LLC. 

Owner George McCord, who operates out of Georgetown, explained that the company specializes in a variety of spicy jelly flavors, such as sweet banana pepper habanero, blackberry bourbon habanero, and apple salted caramel whiskey habanero. 

“We’re in about 30 stores across Kentucky right now,” said McCord, who started experimenting with different jelly flavors while recovering from an injury. “I didn’t have [anything] else to do, so I just started making jellies and added habaneros [because] I like hot food myself.” 

Also featured were various arts and crafts businesses, including Moody Madness from Winchester. 

“It’s been something I’ve always wanted to get into, and I’ve just finally had time to get into it,” said owner Maria Lainhart, who specializes in crocheting art. 

“Everything is set up nice around here [with] a good crowd, good people, [and] good business,” added Cameron Couch, who was also present for support. 

Among many other vendors were Highside Boutique, Wild West Chili, JLynn Handmade, Bar Bee Ranch, The Abstract Side, West Sixth Brewing, Harkness Edwards Vineyards, Nugget & Co. Woodworking, JNeal Woodworks, and many more. 

Local organizations and businesses – such as WinCity Wildcats Football, the George Rogers Clark High School football team, the Clark County PVA, Clark County FFA, Clark Regional Medical Center, and Traditional Bank – also had a presence. 

Yet while people could dine thanks to the various food and drink vendors present – including Kirk’s Blue Smoke BBQ, Ice Dawgs Shaved Ice, MC’s Mini Donuts – and more, the motivating source of the day was plentiful. 

Forming a U-shape, beer cheese vendors lined the streets surrounding the Clark County Courthouse: Main Street, Wall Street, and Cleveland Avenue. 

While vendors lined Main Street in previous years, changes were made advantageously. 

“It gave them three blocks to spread out, and while we still had lines, no one was crammed into one little area,” Correll said. “It moved nicely…people have been pleased with it.” 

Approximately fifteen beer cheese vendors were present, including Yeti Cheese, Bootlegger Beer Cheese, Dueling Barrels Brewery & Distillery, Wild Bill’s Blue Cheese, Double D’s Beer Cheese, Inebriated Chef, Big Poppie’s Beer Cheese, The Mousetrap, Smokin’ Joe’s Beer Cheese, 2 Rivers Beer Cheese, and Hopewell Bake Exchange. 

Some, such as Wild Bill’s Beer Cheese, were new to the festival. 

“I ran a restaurant [previously], and everybody told me I should always sell my [beer cheese] recipe,” said Josh Holcomb, co-owner of Wild Bill’s Beer Cheese along with Mike Tackett. “He’s a beer cheese aficionado, so we combined recipes and made something special.” 

Other businesses, such as Bootlegger Beer Cheese, were returning once more. 

“The smoked [flavor] goes so fast. It’s unreal,” said owner Russ Kirkland. “I just enjoy coming out here…it’s always been a plus for us!” 

At the Beer Cheese Store along Main Street, the public could purchase flavored beer cheese not only from Bootlegger Beer Cheese but also from other vendors. 

For example, Double D’s Beer Cheese featured their habanero-flavored version. 

Big Poppie’s Beer Cheese and the specialty store Big Cheese Beer Cheese sold a selection of flavors. 

With a retail location in Nicholasville, the latter sold flavors including sharp cheddar, bacon cheddar ranch, sweet jalapeno, Carolina reaper, Vermont white cheddar, and pepper jack. 

“We’re backed up all day, and people are loving it!” said Big Cheese Beer Cheese owner Paul Cuccinelli.

With so many flavors and vendor options available, the event was easy for the many in attendance to enjoy. 

Stephanie Hurt, along with her husband Mike, came from Lexington. 

“Everyone’s been friendly,” she said. “I love beer cheese and Ale-8, so Winchester’s the perfect place.” 

Adam Kidd, local COO of DAM Holdings LLC, was also present. 

“The city [did] a fantastic job,” he said. “We did everything we could to stand behind them.” 

The event was a family gathering for many, who brought small children and pets. 

“[I enjoy] the varieties and just the people,” said Paul Gilvin.  “We appreciate the festival and Winchester’s ability to do things like this.” 

To simplify matters even further, digital tickets—used to allow others to sample beer cheeses—were available this year. 

“You could either order ahead on your phone or purchase from our ticket booth,” Correll added. “We had real-time numbers of how people were doing, so there was no counting at the last minute, which was amazing.” 

After several hours of sampling, the time came to announce the winners of the Beer Cheese Festival. 

On the outdoor steps of the Clark County Courthouse, where the band “Rock University” featuring youth from Leeds Center for the Arts had recently entertained the crowd, the winners of the Amateur Contest were read first. 

After Steve Childers finished in third place and Michelle Sidwel finished in second, Tonya Willoughby took home the first-place prize of $50. 

In the professional category, Double D’s Beer Cheese finished in third place, while Bootlegger Beer Cheese finished in second. 

Judges selected 2 Rivers Beer Cheese for the second consecutive year for first place. 

The business received $1,000. 

For winning the People’s Choice award, Double D’s Beer Cheese also received $1,000. 

With the festival complete, many took time to reflect. 

“I can’t speak more highly [about] this event,” Kidd said.