Smoke & Ale Fall Festival in Chelsea

Oct 01, 2018

If there was an award for best-smelling local event, the prize would likely go to Chelsea’s annual Smoke & Ale Fall Festival, happening October 12-13.

For not only will more than 40 serious barbecuers from different parts of the region gather to compete in SAFF’s Professional Masters Series (now sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society); there will also, for the first time in the fest’s five year history, be a Cornbread Cookoff and a Backyard Barbecue Competition (for less serious hobbyists) – alongside loads of locally crafted beer, wine, cider, and food vendors.

“(Smoke & Ale) mainly started because fall’s a quiet time here in Chelsea, and we all love food, and we all love music and beer,” said Monica Monsma, executive director of Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce.

Launched in 2014, and held at the Chelsea Fairgrounds, Smoke & Ale offers not just tempting food and drink, but live music (this year from Metro Soul Band, Billy Mack & the Juke Junkies, Mo’ Easy, Root Doctors, and Sharon Broyles); a kid zone (with slime stations, a bike skills course, dance and martial arts performances, and appearances by a magician and a princess); and a Cornhole Classic contest that’s as serious or lighthearted as participants want to make it.

“Another new thing this year is we’ll be showing the Michigan football game inside the Beer Barn, and the live music will be outside … by the food,” said Monsma. “ … And because of all the barns on-site, rain or shine, it’s a great event.”

Lots of local barbecue vendors will be selling their wares, but contest competitors – who are vying for $6,000 in prizes – can’t offer samples to fest-goers without retaining a temporary permit from the Health Department.

“Out of 41 teams last year, only one team did that,” said Monsma.

So attendees shouldn’t expect to taste lots of the competitors’ creations. They will, however, have more food options than just barbecue on-site, which will likely be music to parents’ ears.

“We learned (after the first SAFFs) to have a lot of different foods, … so there’s something that everyone will want to eat,” said Monsma. “Thompson’s Pizza will be there, and they’re a Chelsea institution. They’ll be selling panini and pizza by-the-slice. … And thanks to the Lakehouse Bakery, a brand new business here in Chelsea, people will be able to get something sweet to finish off their meal. Sandhill Crane Winery in Jackson will offer a nice alternative to beer and cider. And we’ll have craft root beer for sale as well.”

As for SAFF’s raison d’être, the barbecue contests, this will be the second year that they’ll be KCBS-sanctioned, which involved an application process and a few changes to guidelines – including only using KCBS trained and certified judges. But the affiliation has also put SAFF on the map more in the regional barbecuing community, which is largely made up of hardcore, serious hobbyists.

“Some get sponsors,” said Monsma. “ … These are often people with full-time jobs, but they’re also super-serious hobbyists. Some who get ranked nationally may even get a national sponsorship.”

Finally, the Jiffy Mix Company, which has long called the Chelsea Milling Company home, hatched the idea this past year of working with SAFF to sponsor a cornbread contest, and fifty registrants have already signed up.

“Corny, Jiffy’s mascot, will be there,” said Monsma. “and he doesn’t come out to a lot of events.”

Maybe he can’t resist the smell of barbecue, either.

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