Dining With Denise Neil

Iron ChileHead contest has become the ICT beer party of the summer

The guys from Central Standard Brewing won the best beer trophy at last year’s Iron ChileHead competition.
The guys from Central Standard Brewing won the best beer trophy at last year’s Iron ChileHead competition. The Wichita Eagle

Some local food-and-drink events appear, give it a go, then fizzle out from lack of interest or poor planning.

Others become so popular, their organizers struggle to figure out how to comfortably accommodate everyone who wants to attend.

That’s the story with the Iron ChileHead Competition, a craft beer and food truck extravaganza at Johnson’s Garden Center that returns on Saturday for its fifth year.

It all started in 2013 as a little event intended to draw attention to the annual Chile Fest at Johnson’s. Every August, owner Marty Johnson travels to Hatch, N.M., to get bushels and bushels of green chiles then drives them back to town to roast them up and sell them to his customers. Johnson’s adult children, Jeremy Johnson and Kristen Chalfant, dreamed up an event that invited food trucks to the center at 2707 W. 13th St. to prepare a dish that incorporated the chiles. The first year drew a respectable crowd.

Then in 2014, Chalfant, whose husband is a beer brewer, decided to add a craft beer component to the festival, asking local brewers to cook up a beer that incorporated the chiles and setting up a little tasting.

The crowd that year was crazy and has gotten bigger every year, always resulting in a crowded venue and a wild afternoon party.

“I really think it’s the excitement of the food trucks and the brewers that make this event what it is,” Chalfant said. “People love food trucks and love craft beer, and if they can try an exclusive beer at a beer fest, that really gets people excited.”

To accommodate all the people who want to come, Iron ChileHead organizers have this year doubled the space allotted to beer sampling. They’ve also nearly doubled the number of brewers they’ve invited to participate to 18. In addition to local favorites like Central Standard Brewing, Wichita Brewing Company and Hopping Gnome Brewing, this year the event is adding regional breweries like Radius from Emporia and Three Rings from McPherson. A few Kansas City breweries also will be there.

People who purchase a $25 ticket will get a commemorative tasting glass and will be able to sample all of the beers. They’ll be asked to vote on a favorite, and a judge also will be choosing one.

Meanwhile, nine food trucks will be set up on the perimeter of the parking lot serving food for purchase, and each will have a special dish that uses Hatch green chiles. I’ll join local foodie Joe Stumpe and Schane Gross, owner of The Anchor, on a judging panel that chooses the best dish. A People’s Choice trophy will be awarded to the food trucks, too.

This year’s list of food truck competitors are B.S. Sandwich Press, Hot-2-Trot Gourmet Hot Dogs, Let’m Eat Brats, Funky Monkey Munchies, Kamayan Truck, Lolo’s Crepes, LumpiaPalooza, Surly Mermaid and Uno Mas.

Another big attraction back from last year: The Bolzen Beer Band, a hip young polka trio from Nebraska that was the life of the party last year. The group plays modern tunes and beer favorites using a tuba, an accordion and a drum set.

Organizers also have found a way to improve the always-crazy parking situation at the event. This year, they’re not only adding bike parking but they’ve also gotten permission from nearby Asbury Church at 2801 W 15th St. to use its parking lot.

People also can buy roasted green chiles while there. They cost $7.99 for a starter bag, $29.99 for a half bushel and $44.99 for a full bushel.

Iron ChileHead Competition

What: A beer-sampling event and food truck party centered around Hatch green chiles

When: Noon-3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Johnson’s Garden Center, 2707 W. 13th St. N.

Tickets: They’re $25 and include a commemorative sampling glass, Iron ChileHead sticker and unlimited beer sampling. They’re available in advance at https://ironchilehead.com/ at at Johnson’s Garden Center store. If any are left, they’ll be available at the event.

Those who want to enjoy food trucks but not beer will be admitted free.