I go to a lot of beer festivals.
And in some ways, they’re all pretty similar. Sample glasses, lines of excited beer fans, rows of jockey boxes, a few breweries you didn’t realized had opened since the festival the weekend before, and lots of tasty beer. It’s rare that I don’t have a good time.
And in the world of beer festivals, Lou Dog Events tends to host my favorites. For one, they’re incredibly well run and the breweries and distributors I work with are always shocked at how little they have to do. I like that. But perhaps more importantly, they know how to throw a great festival packed full of amazing beers. They really do a great job of curating interesting and well-rounded beer lists.
With that in mind, the team at Lou Dog Events invited me out to this year’s Naperville Ale Fest Winter Edition, and asked me to gather a few of my thoughts on what I like so much about the latest installment in their festival portfolio.
The Winter Beers
Most beer festivals take place during the summer months. That makes sense – it’s warm, people are thinking about beer, and Chicagoans remember the happiness in their hearts (even if it was buried down pretty deep from November through April).
At the same time, beer tends to be seasonal, which means that most festivals feature spring and summer beers. This isn’t a problem – I love those beer styles — but having a festival in the winter affords an unique opportunity to feature beers only available during the colder months.
Dark, rich, chocolatey, caramel-y, coffee-y, roasty stouts and porters. Beers that have graced barrels, or feature winter fruits, or mimic popular seasonal desserts. These weren’t the only beers available at Naperville Ale Fest, but they were in abundant supply.
It’s Weird Being Outside in the Winter
I’m not from around here. When I left my warm and sunny homeland years ago and experienced my first Chicago winter, I noticed something: you people are fu**cking proud of your bitter weather. There’s something about “being from around here” that gives Chicagoans the right to complain about the weather, while simultaneously being proud of surviving it. It’s that thing deep down inside that wells up when their West Coast friends whine about the temperature dropping below perfect. “You think THAT’S cold? You don’t know cold.”
So standing amongst the winter warriors outside for four hours, wearing a hundred layers of clothing was surprisingly fun. There’s just something cool about embracing the cold and drinking beer outside in February with a few thousand of your fellow beer-loving Chicagoans. As long as you’re wearing some serious gloves.
Plus, they had warm hats to wear:
The Food Trucks
Food trucks are awesome and if you say otherwise, I will fight you. Especially when you’re drinking big beers all day. Because Lou Dog shares my obsession with these wheeled wagons of wonder, Naperville Ale Fest is basically a food truck festival within a beer festival. There were 15 trucks, making it the largest collection of food trucks in Naperville.
Want some BBQ pulled pork? You could get that. Want a lobster roll? You could get that too. How about a grilled cheese sandwich with duck bacon, provolone, fresh spinach, and aioli on a grilled panini? Yeah, you could get that too. And french fries. So many french fries.
The Infusion Tent
Lou Dog is known for hosting unique “beer experiences” during their festivals – and the Infusion Tent is one of my favorites. It’s a simple yet surprisingly fun way to experience the recipe development process and experimentation that makes the craft beer scene so exciting.
The tent features four different beers from four different breweries run through Randalls, which infuse flavors from the ingredients packed in its chambers. This year Sam Adams ran their Rebel Juiced IPA through some fresh cut mangos, Pollyanna featured Behind Abbey Doors Belgian Brown Ale with raspberries and Ethiopian Coffee, Half Acre had their Pony Pils through mint, lime and cucumber, and Right Bee Cider contributed a version of their cider through fresh watermelon called “Wudermelon.”
It’s unique, fun and damn tasty.
It doesn’t matter how interesting, unique or thematic a festival is, if it doesn’t have great beer, it’s not worth the time. And at the end of the day, the beer selection was the real highlight of this particular fest.
First, the selection itself was massive. With over 150 beers being poured, it’s hard not to find something for any palate. The Lou Dog team really does a great job of making sure that all types of beer drinkers will find something they’ll like.
Second, Lou Dog Events has a reputation in the beer industry that defies the typical beer fest host. They just do things well — they buy every keg instead of demanding donations, they have volunteers available to pour beer so that the brewers can spend their time actually talking to guests, they have trained draft techs on site to set up all of the equipment and troubleshoot any inevitable issues. It may seem basic, but it’s something that’s important: they treat the brewers really well. As a result, they get some really amazing beer. Some of it rare and hard to get, some highly sought after, and some brewers you’ve never heard of.
I mean, they even featured a brewery so new, this was the first festival they’ve been to.
They’re one of the fest events companies that can truly count themselves as part of the beer industry family — and that’s hard to put a value on.
Naperville Ale Fest did both well – they featured a huge variety of brewers with a wide variety of styles and flavor profiles, and they also had a great selection of rare and hard-to-get options.
Naperville Ale Fest Winter Edition was a blast, and I have it on good authority that this year’s Summer Edition (which will be their 5th anniversary) is going to be extra special. I can’t say why here but they let me in on some of the things they’re working on for it and just trust me — you’re going to want to be there. I certainly will be.