There are more and more craft beer festivals popping up every year. And with the growing popularity of craft beer, almost everyone wants their hat in the ring. Some just want to be part of the wave, while others are trying to cash in. Joshua Seago, is neither — he's a man on a mission. He's a former banker who started working on the concept of an ale festival in his spare time, purely out of passions and a need he saw it the suburbs of Chicago: How to bring a world-class craft beer festival to Naperville that rewarded the brewers as much as their fans.
After sitting down with Joshua in Solemn Oath's taproom (my second office these days) and hearing more about his approach, it was clear that he's doing all the things right that others do so wrong. He's buying the beer instead of asking for "donations." He's finding ways for brewers to take part in the festival and meet their customers rather than just pouring beers for 6 straight hours. He's bringing in partners to provide unique food and experiences that you just don't get anywhere else. And he's doing it all at the Naperville Settlement right in the center of town with 5,000 people. In other words, he's charting new territory and making a lot of motivated friends along the way. In fact, I'm coming on as a sponsor myself, and I'm going to be documenting the entire festival come July 20th. So mark your calendars and get a ticket. It's going to be a ton of fun.
Read on for more about Joshua's own journey through craft beer, and what he's got in store for the festival. Spoiler alert — VIP tickets are already sold out, but stay tuned because I'll be offering a giveaway for one in the next month.
When did you fall in love with craft beer? What was your first?
I have been a craft beer fan for as long as I can remember but I fell in love with craft beer after working on a marketing project for Two Brothers Brewing Company. During one of my MBA courses I had the opportunity to work with Jim and Jason Ebel, the founders of Two Brothers Brewing, and saw first hand how brewing is an artesian craft.
What's the journey been like since then? Any particular favorites or styles that helped you develop as a drinker?
Over the years my appreciation and knowledge for craft beer has grown. In the early days I remember drinking a lot of different styles. I wanted to experience as many different styles as possible. I would drink anything and everything. What I found is I really enjoy the complex imperial stout that are coming out of the Chicagoland area. I also try to drink local whenever possible; when traveling I always try to find a brew pub tucked away in an industrial complex to visit.
Any favorite watering holes that supported your craft beer journey?
My wife and I became early fans of Two Brothers Tab House and it quickly became a regular date night destination. We also love Solemn Oath, Piece, and Revolution. Now that my wife and I have a new daughter, traveling to breweries has become a family affair.
Where did the idea for the Naperville Ale Fest come from?
One of my favorite things about summer is attending craft beer festivals and sampling beers from all the different breweries. I've been saying for years we need a craft beer festival in Naperville, so last summer I decided to make it happen. I figured I could wait for someone else to do it or I could do it myself and do it the right way.
What's it been like putting the fest together? Any major lessons so far? Surprises?
It has been a real pleasure putting together the Naperville Ale Fest. The majority of the people in the craft beer industry are very supportive and want to see the industry as a whole grow and succeed. I have found that if you’re in it for the right reasons, mostly the love of craft brews, things seem to work out.
What does it mean to you that this is in Naperville?
Over the years the Naperville community has provide me with many opportunities to grow and develop both professional and personally. The Naperville Ale Fest is a way for me to leverage my passion and experience for craft beer as a means to give back to the Naperville community. A portion of the proceeds from the Naperville Ale Fest will be reinvested into the community through the Naper Settlement, as a way to preserve the community’s rich heritage.
How will it be different than other festivals we've all been to? What makes it unique?
The Naperville Ale Fest will focus entirely on craft beer. Everything from the food to the music will complement and highlight the beer. The fest will cater to both those new to craft beer and the hard core beer geeks. Festival goers will see some familiar names and also some really hard to find and rare beers. You may even find something you never knew existed.
What are some of the highlights from the fest that you can share with us early?
The 2013 Naperville Ale Fest will feature over 75 breweries and 180+ different craft beers. Almost all of the participating breweries will have a brewery representative at the fest. The fest will feature many local craft brewers and also some regional and national craft brewers. From Solemn Oath, Finch’s and Pipeworks to Stone, Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada - the 2013 Naperville Ale Fest is going to have an incredible lineup of craft breweries.
Plans for the future?
Our goal is to continue to highlight and support craft beer through high quality festivals. I would like to see a large-scale “craft” beer festival that brings craft brewers and craft beer-lovers together.