This winter has challenged Chicago-area residents to be ready for anything, even an outdoor beer festival.
The first Naperville Winter Ale Fest will cater to beer drinkers with a taste for the stouts, porters and spiced beers common to the coldest months, and it could bring up to 3,000 people outside to enjoy the brews.
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Naperville Winter Ale FestWhen: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22
Where: Frontier Park, 3380 Cedar Glade Road, Naperville; free parking at Neuqua Valley High School, 2360 95th St., Naperville
Cost: $45 for 15 beer samples; $15 for designated drivers
If natives of Wisconsin and Michigan can survive and enjoy outdoor winter beer festivals, there's no reason Chicago area residents can't warm to the concept, said Josh Seago, founder and president of Lou Dog Events, which is organizing the fest.
"We're used to the winter. We can handle it just as well as anyone in Wisconsin or Michigan," Seago said. "We thought, 'Let's do one outdoors in February and see what happens.'"
The festival, hosted by the same company that put on the first Naperville Ale Fest last summer and the first Lisle Ale Fest in September, now is giving Old Man Winter a shot with a its latest event scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Frontier Park in south Naperville, 3380 Cedar Glade Road.
It's outdoors, to be sure, but the 120 craft beers available at the festival all will be served under two large tents warmed with more than 20 propane patio heaters, Seago said. A courtyard with two large bonfires, vendors selling roasted nuts, artists creating ice sculptures before visitors' eyes, and food trucks set up to sell cupcakes, Indian fusion food, pastries and gourmet grilled cheese will complete the festival setup.
Sixty American brewers each will offer 3-ounce samples of their best winter blends, and a $45 ticket earns tasters 15 samples as well as a Winter Fest glass. Breweries from across the country will be represented, but Seago said the festival has a heavy Chicago-area influence.
Local brewers include Solemn Oath of Naperville, Two Brothers Brewing of Warrenville, Flesk Brewing of Lombard, Church Street Brewing Company of Itasca, Emmett's Brewing Company of Downers Grove and West Dundee, and Urban Legend Brewing Company of Westmont, as well as Chicago-based breweries Ale Syndicate, Argus Brewery, Chicago Beer Company, Finch Beer Company, Goose Island, Revolution Brewing Company and Pipeworks Brewing Company.
"This is the perfect opportunity to sample craft beers," Seago said. "Craft beer is just really popular right now and a lot of people are wanting to learn more about it."
The ales, Belgians, IPAs, lagers, porters and stouts available at the festival primarily will be of the winter style, with bolder color, spice and character than seasonal beers brewed for other times of the year. But a few spring beers will be on tap as well.
"It's definitely a winter fest, but some of those rare, hard-to-find, specialty spring beers that are just coming out -- we're going to grab some of those with fresh hops and interesting stuff," Seago said. "It'll really surprise people with a handful of spring beers peppered in there."
Hot spiced cider and other nonalcoholic beverages will be on hand for designated drivers, who will get in with a $15 ticket and can park for free at Neuqua Valley High School, 2360 95th St.
This will be the first time a beer-centric event is hosted on Naperville Park District property, Executive Director Ray McGury said, although other popular festivals on park district land -- such as Ribfest and the Last Fling -- certainly sell alcohol.
It also is one of the community's only outdoor events in February, and it brings a major festival to the south side of town instead of downtown or the north side, Seago said.
Lou Dog Events will donate a portion of festival proceeds to the Naperville Parks Foundation for scholarships for those who cannot afford to participate in park district programs, McGury said. Use of the scholarship program has increased every year since 2008, and the park district has budgeted $26,500 for it this year.
Tickets to the Naperville Winter Ale Fest are available at napervillewinteralefest.com, and Seago encourages tasters to buy them in advance in case the event sells out before Feb. 22. No one under 21 will be admitted to the event, which will be monitored by police from the Naperville Park District as well as the city.