"If you haven't liked any beers here, you're not trying hard enough," Josh Seago says.
The Naperville Ale Fest organizer will be among the expected 5,000 craft brew connoisseurs milling through more than 100 beer tents Saturday, July 19, at the festival. Winding through the historical Naper Settlement, the festival prides itself on its variety and adult-oriented selections in contrast to the many other fairs and carnivals offered in the Western suburbs.
If you goWhat: Naperville Ale Fest
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 19
Where: Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville
Cost: $45, includes samples and commemorative glass; $15 for designated driver, includes soda and water
"And Naperville sure loves their festivals," Seago said. "But I think we really stand out with sophistication and sheer variety."
Seago began the festival last year after seeing a surge in interest for craft and microbrews across the country.
"Bigger cities around us like Milwaukee and Chicago and Madison have really embraced this trend with festivals, and it was really a passion project of mine to get something similar in the Western suburbs," he said.
While he worked in the banking industry for 15 years, Seago's passion was always for craft beer, and an MBA course working with Two Brothers Brewing Company showed him the craft process behind smaller distributors.
He eventually embraced its surge in popularity by establishing Lou Dog Productions, which organizes beer festivals throughout the Chicago area. Places like Lombard, Oswego and even venues like Grant Park have welcomed the company's events, and Seago sees it as a realization of a longtime dream.
"It has always been a hobby and passion of mine, and now more than ever there's really innovative and artisanal things going on in the industry," he said.
And, as with the craft brew marketplace, the options for the festival are rapidly expanding. For diners, the fest offers deliberately more upscale food trucks like Tasty Cheese, with a menu of sandwiches and cheeses designed to pair well with the beers offered. This year will see the premier of Cider Alley, an area devoted to the uptick in interest for hard cider. Well-known (and well-advertised) breweries like Angry Orchard as well as small mills from Michigan and Vermont will be represented.
The festival also eschews the traditional festival ticket system. For $45, each participant gets a commemorative sampling glass and four hours to sample from more than 200 different brews from across the U.S.
"And what's great is that samples are 3 ounces, so if you don't like what you're trying, you can just throw it away," Seago said. "Around here we say that life is too short to drink beer you don't enjoy."
For festivalgoers not inclined for an ale, lager or shandy, the festival also offers a $15 designated driver option with unlimited soda and water.
But the festival's appeal remains with the beer itself.
"Craft beer is so rewarding, but it can be intimidating," Seago said. "We're trying to let people experience this in a fun and safe atmosphere."
The fest runs 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville. More information and tickets are available at napervillealefest.com.