A green wristband and a necklace lined with pretzels was the mark of a beer taster Saturday afternoon during the second annual Wheaton Ale Fest.
The green wristband indicated a festival goer was a drinker, not a designated driver. And the pretzel necklaces? Those kept a carb-filled snack handy and offered an easy way to cleanse the palate between samples of beers offered by 53 breweries.
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Tasters like Steve Fieweger of Wheaton slid on their pretzel necklaces and made it to Memorial Park on time for the festival's noon start, planning to stay until the event's close at 4 p.m.
"There's just a different, diverse group of people here that are all here for the same reason -- they like different kinds of beers," Fieweger said.
Beer fans in attendance also liked the festival's atmosphere. Fieweger called it a step up from last year's Front Street location because the park offered more trees, shade and seating.
Brew enthusiasts brought out their best in beer-themed attire for the occasion, donning shirts reading, "save the ales," or advertising favorite breweries.
Wheaton resident Gina Juliano's "Beer Goddess" shirt was her apparel of choice for the Saturday afternoon event, where she enjoyed samples from breweries based in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and closer to home.
"It's great exposure because you're exposed to a lot of breweries and microbreweries," she said.
Even the dry grass of the park got its own taste of beers brewed by companies such as Emmett's Brewing Company of West Dundee and Stockholm's of Geneva when the occasional clumsy move resulted in a dropped glass and a collective groan of "aww, party foul!"
Along with casual beer tasters were restaurant and brewery owners attending the festival on business. Bill Wilson, owner of Bricks Woodfired Pizza in Lombard, said he was scoping out the event because he plans to sell craft beers when he opens a new restaurant this fall in downtown Wheaton.
As Wilson and hundreds of others sampled stouts, lagers, hard ciders and ales galore, volunteers associated with CASA of DuPage, a nonprofit that provides court-appointed special advocates for kids involved with the juvenile court system, directed guests to first aid when necessary and kept the event running smoothly, CASA's Executive Director Lisa Drake said.
Organizers brought double the water and soda to this year's festival to help keep everyone hydrated in the heat, and the Union Park location offered the added benefit of the air-conditioned Wheaton Park District leisure center building.
Sampling beer in a shady park near downtown Wheaton was an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday, tasters like Fieweger said, and even a bit surprising considering the dry days in the city's history.
"It's a far cry from Wheaton years ago," he said.