Baraboo beer choir

Griffin James, center, prepared a beer made from a Ringling family recipe for the Baraboo beer choir's debut performance on the Al. Ringling Mansion veranda in July.


Just as Harry Reese combined chocolate and peanut butter, a modern-day genius has paired singing with beer.

Founded in 2014 by composer and conductor Michael Engelhardt, the beer choir concept has spread across the country. Baraboo singers formed a local beer choir this summer, celebrating two things that make them hoppy — er, happy.

“It’s just encouraging people to have a good time,” said director Wolf Calnin. “It’s having fun through song, with a little help from beer.”

Like beer choirs across the nation, the Barabrew Wisconsing Beer Choir downloaded Englehardt’s “beer choir hymnal” so it could sing choral music while enjoying craft beer. While celebrating microbrews is a pillar of the beer choir concept, singers can opt for other refreshments instead — consuming alcohol isn’t required.

“I’m in it for the camaraderie and the fun, plus I love to sing,” member Terri Schider said. “I’m a wine drinker myself.”

The choir held its first rehearsal at Schider’s home, and debuted for the public during Baraboo’s circus festival in July. The group’s bond was fermented — er, cemented — as it sang from the Al. Ringling Mansion veranda while sipping a Ringling recipe brewed by local musician, director and brewmaster Griffin James. The choir’s next gig is Oct. 16, when it will headline the St. Clare Hospital Auxiliary’s Oktoberfest fundraiser.

The group was the brainchild of Holly Powers, who heard about the beer choir concept and downloaded the hymnal. Fellow members of the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County Campus/Community Choir eagerly bellied up. “I thought it would be a fun venture for these friends to keep in touch for the summer,” Powers said. “I liked the idea of leading patrons in singing along from the official beer hymnal and promoting venues that sell craft beers.”

Calnin was chosen to direct because he previously led German choirs in the Milwaukee area, and the beer choir hymnal has an Oktoberfest vibe. Its selections range from pub songs to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The Barabrew Wisconsing Beer Choir meets periodically. Members need not audition. “It’s formally informal,” Calnin said.

Performing for the public last summer, with Holly Powers’ husband Mike accompanying on accordion, inspired the group to continue toward its goal of singing at four events each year.

“Our first venue was the Al. Ringling Mansion, and we had a blast,” Holly Powers said. “Patrons really enjoyed singing along and sampling the special brew.”

Like its counterparts across the nation, Baraboo’s choir has found singing and brews are two great tastes that taste great together. “It’s a good reason to get together,” Calnin said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley