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posted: 7/19/2013 6:00 AM

Naperville hosts its first craft beer festival

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  • More than 180 unique beers will be available for tasting at the Naperville Ale Fest on Saturday at Naper Settlement.

    More than 180 unique beers will be available for tasting at the Naperville Ale Fest on Saturday at Naper Settlement.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Sean Hammond

Josh Seago has been a fan of craft beer for years and considers himself an avid brewer. For many home brewers like Seago, craft beer festivals are a highlight of summer.

But when he recently started mentioning to friends how great it would be if someone put together a craft beer festival in Naperville, someone said to him, "You should do it yourself."

And that got him thinking.

Seago, a former banker who lives in Aurora, made a few calls, talked to a few people and wrote out a business plan detailing what it would take to make such an event possible.

He got together with friends Mike Peters and Judy Phillip and formed Lou Dog Events, an event management company specializing in craft beer festivals. On Saturday, July 20, thanks to Seago and Lou Dog Events, Naper Settlement will host the first Naperville Ale Fest.

"We wanted to highlight American craft beer and present it to festival-goers and to our hometown," Seago said.

The Naperville Ale Fest will feature 88 brewers and more than 180 unique beers. Brewers are coming to Naperville from all over the country, including as far as California, New York and Colorado.

But for hometown brewers, such as the Solemn Oath Brewery on Quincy Avenue, the Naperville Ale Fest is a chance to showcase the types of beers that can be found right here in the Chicago suburbs.

"One of our favorite things is when someone says they're not a beer person," said John Barley, co-founder of the Solemn Oath Brewery. "They just haven't had the right beer yet."

Barley and his brother Joe opened the Naperville-based brewery in May 2012. They don't have a flagship beer but are constantly tinkering with their formulas and coming up with new brews.

Barley says they plan on experimenting with new concoctions for the first couple of years until they can narrow down what beers are particular favorites. They focus on traditional Belgium-style beers with an American flare.

During the summer months, Solemn Oath usually attends at least one craft beer festival every weekend. But for the company, the Naperville Ale Fest is a chance to showcase itself to its hometown.

"Typically, we bring something like two beers to a festival," Barley said. "I believe we're bringing six this weekend. We want people to have a full Solemn Oath experience."

While beer will be just an arm's reach away, the ale fest also will have plenty of food and live music to keep everyone entertained. Ten local food vendors will be in attendance and bands The Walk-ins and Tres Moustache will perform. But Seago is making sure everyone knows what the purpose of the event is.

"We didn't want the food or music to overshadow the beer," he said. "We wanted to make sure that the beer was the highlight of the festival. It's a craft brew tasting; we want people to really try some new beers. Don't come in and try beers you've had before. Go and try something you've never heard of."

The festival takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville. Admission is $45, or $15 for designated drivers. Seago expects the event to be close to the 5,000-person capacity. And for him, the hope is that his craft beer festival will become an annual summer event.

For Barley, craft beer festivals like the Naperville Ale Fest are a chance to get together and see what other brewers have been able to come up with.

"It's really a celebration of a culture," Barley said. "We all run our businesses in different ways, and for all of us to get together, it's a rare opportunity."

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