Brewery Super PAC Targets Johnson, Tiffany
Minocqua Brewing Company seeks donations to ‘free the Northwoods of sedition.’
Last week Tuesday the Minocqua Brewing Company announced it had started a Super PAC to unseat the two Republicans representing the area who were challenging the election of Democrat Joe Biden: U.S. Senator Ron Johnson and Congressman Tom Tiffany.
The very next day a mob of thousands of Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol and the donations began flowing into the new Super PAC. “We’ve raised $25,000 in a week,” says Minoqua Beer Company owner Kirk Bangstad. “It’s amazing.”
The company is also donating 5% of its profits to the Super PAC, which is also targeting state Rep. Rob Swearingen, for his opposition to efforts by Gov. Tony Evers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. All three politicians are up for reelection in 2022 and the idea behind the Super PAC is to help defeat them and “help free the Northwoods of corruption, sedition and conspiracy theories,” as the campaign puts it.
The original idea was simply to raise money to spend against the candidates, but Bangstad has begun to consider a more ambitious undertaking. “I’ve had people contact me about volunteering to work on the campaign. We might spend the money to get boots on the ground.”
Meanwhile Bangstad has turned his little brewery into a progressive beer maker, launching a Joe Biden beer, a blonde ale that is “inoffensive and never bitter.”
“We sold out the entire batch before we even brewed it,” Bangstad says.
So the company added a second political beer, Inauguration Day beer, a chocolate blonde ale that offers “a peaceful transition to flavor.” That run, too, has already sold out.
None of this was part of what Bangstad, 43, had originally envisioned for his life and career. A Wisconsin native born in Steven’s Point, Bangstad is a Harvard educated, former professional opera singer who was living in Manhattan and working as a marketing consultant for technology companies. And then his wife contracted stage four cancer, and the couple decided to seek a new, less stressful life.
They resettled in Wisconsin six years ago, to be near Bangstad’s family and chose Minocqua because it was close to Stevens Point, “but so much more beautiful.”
Bangstad created a new career by buying the Minocqua Brewing Company, hiring others to do the brewing and applying his marketing skills to selling it. “I knew nothing about brewing,” he says.
Concerned about spreading COVID-19, Bangstad served customers only outdoors, and when a teenage waiter became infected after attending a party, he shut down the restaurant for a long weekend and required all employees to get tested. Ultimately he decided he couldn’t run the restaurant safely and laid off his staff. By then he had decided to run against Swearingen, and the opera singer turned marketing consultant turned brewery owner became a political candidate.
“I was just mad,” Bangstad says. “I had to lay off all my employees because the state wouldn’t do anything about the pandemic.”
Bangstad knew he couldn’t win, but hoped to reduce the margin for Donald Trump by turning his campaign into a referendum on how Republicans have handled the coronavirus. He blasted Swearingen for his inaction and on Facebook posted lists of restaurants and stores in the Northwoods that have don’t require masks or disregard state limits on seating capacity.
Bangstad also erected a massive Biden Harris sign on his restaurant that drew the attention of the Oneida County Board, which which sent a letter informing him that it exceeded the allowable size of 32 square feet. Bangstad pledged to keep the sign up and pay the fines, and launched the #freeourbidensign fundraising campaign, selling Minocqua Brewery t-shirts to pay for the fines. The dispute generated a Journal Sentinel story and ultimately the county board backed down. But by then Bangstad had sold some $100,000 worth of t-shirts.
“We sold $100,000 in t-shirts in four days.”
As he expected, Bangstad lost the election, getting about 42% of the vote in a gerrymandered district, though he took comfort that Trump’s margin of victory was lower than in 2016 in the district. His campaign also generated a story by the New York Times. And from the ashes of defeat he realized he could change his business model to become a progressive beer company. He now leases out his restaurant space to another restaurant and will simply sell beer and t-shirts with an avowedly political slant.
He will probably lose some Northwoods customers, he says, but he has people driving up from south of Wausau to buy growlers of Biden beer and has expanded his base of customers to far beyond northern Wisconsin. He’s mixing politics and business while his brewmaster mixes up unique beers to sell. And when he needs to relax he can pour a drink of Inauguration Day beer and, as his ad notes, “transition smoothly from chaos to serenity with the first sip.”