Small Craft Advisory—Craft brewing has fermented from bathtub hobby into full-blown cultural scene

July 2013 View more

N2013_07_01_016SMALLTalk to enough people in the craft brewing industry and a number of themes inevitably tend to bubble up time and time again.

Community. Connection. Collaboration.

This is a movement, in other words, that has a self-defined set of ideals. It’s a collection of businesspeople that don’t act like competitors or antagonists, but rather fellow enthusiasts intent on simply seeking out the best and most interesting beers possible and enjoying the journey along the way—just like their customers. Even as their chosen pursuit enjoys more and more visibility and profit, they maintain genuine enthusiasm for each other’s successes, perhaps because they see in their presumed rivals not a threat, but rather a shared passion for the craft that eventually stands to benefit all.

That this cozy corner of the massive brewing complex still produces only about 10 percent of the beer marketed for sale in this country may mean little to those within it, but it’s clear that the brewing behemoths on the outside looking in have taken notice of the potential. As the big boys snap up the more prominent names in the craft brew game and market their once obscure ales with little to no mention of the deep-pocketed corporate giant behind the curtain, it makes for strange days among the craft crowd.

Yet even in the face of tremendous growth, and the big-business interlopers that come with it, the craft brewing community retains its treasured roots as a locally-focused pursuit for those with an abiding love of beer. Here too in the Naperville area, the scene is growing every day and the ranks of true believers expanding one glass at a time, thanks in large part to several key local players.

The Cotillion

Naperville Ale Fest

Joshua Seago would appear to be the perfect candidate to marshal an event celebrating the inherently do-it-yourself spirit of the craft beer scene. A banker by trade, Seago for years had enjoyed sampling microbrews and attending beer tastings, and had repeatedly mentioned to friends and family that with its demographics and its reputation as a great festival town, Naperville would make a perfect place for an event centered on craft beers—if only someone would make the effort to put something together.


“Eventually people were like ‘why don’t you just do it yourself?’” said Seago. “So I decided to give it a try.”

The result? Just a little over a year after setting up Lou Dog Productions with a couple of partners, the organization’s inaugural Naperville Ale Fest is set to welcome more than 85 different breweries from all around the country to Naper Settlement on July 20. While beer lovers are sure to be dazzled by the wide array of pours available for sample, 180 and counting at press time, Seago and his partners set out to make sure that no matter how big the festival grew, it would stay true to both the convivial spirit of the craft beer movement with plenty of opportunities for interaction between enthusiasts and producers and the community spirit of its host city. A portion of the proceeds is going to the Naperville Heritage Society.

“The craft beer community is a very passionate and engaged group that has cultivated a very devoted following,” Seago explains. “We think this festival is going to be a great chance to bring all of these folks together, bring some new fans into the fold, and hopefully create a new tradition for the city of Naperville.”

The Big Little Brewery

Two Brothers

Despite the name, “microbreweries” actually come in all shapes and sizes. For every two-man hobby operation manning the tanks in a basement or garage, there’s a brewer who may have started down that humble road only to eventually grow into a capital-B brand, with the brewpubs and sponsorships and massive distribution networks that come with mainstream industry success.


Solemn Oath beers aging in whiskey and wine barrels.

That roughly-drawn trajectory more or less sums up the Two Brothers enterprise, the Naperville-founded and now Warrenville-based family-owned brewery started by the titular siblings Jim and Jason Ebel in the mid-90s that has grown into by far the most prominent craft beer name in the western suburbs. Not to mention the addition of a budding restaurant endeavor with the acquisition of the historic Roundhouse complex in Aurora to complement the company’s lower-profile but well-regarded Tap Room in Warrenville. As Two Brothers continues to expand its production capabilities and brand reach, Marketing Manager Rachel Sosnoski says the company knows that being part of the craft beer movement means holding on to the ideals that got the Ebels into the business in the first place.

“A brewery is a job and lifestyle,” Sosnoski explains. “Which is why we think it’s important to stay true to our style in terms of what we create and love.”

The Hometown Upstart

Solemn Oath


Heavy Metal Parking Lot Red Ale from Solemn Oath Brewery.

John Barley wasn’t a home brewer with big dreams—just a beer lover with a sense of adventure and, it must be noted, an almost comically apt last name. The idea for his Naperville-based Solemn Oath Brewery came to him on a 2010 flight back from visiting his brother Joe out west. From there the siblings’ upstart operation—opened in early 2012 in a nondescript industrial area off of Quincy Avenue with former Rock Bottom brewer Tim Marshall at the helm—has become one of the more recent layers in the firmament of the nascent but rapidly growing west suburban craft beer scene.

“The largest factor in the growth of the craft beer movement out here is the community element,” Barley explains. “With a brewery like ours, we’re completely involved. On any given night in our taproom, my brother and I might be behind the bar washing glasses or simply hanging out and talking beer. That resonates with people, they see how passionate we are and how we care about the culture within this community that we’re trying to build. I think people really connect with that.”

While brewing a great beer continues to be the name of the game as Solemn Oath’s reputation and influence in the area grow, Barley feels equally passionate about nurturing that community feeling that draws so many customers to the craft beer scene in the first place. As Naperville Ale Fest organizer Joshua Seago puts it when referring to Solemn Oath, they’re “in it for the right reasons.”

“Our top priority as a business is the culture we’re building, followed closely by our dedication to customer service both in our taproom and at our accounts,” Barley says. “The way we operate takes a lot of effort and a great deal of time, but we wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Drink Locally

Beer lovers in search of a great selection of craft beers around Naperville needn’t go thirsty after the Naperville Ale Fest taps its last keg. In addition to their own tap rooms, here are some picks for local places to sample a wide variety all year long.   

Emmett’s brewpub in Downers Grove conducts their home brewers forum the last Tuesday of every month.

Emmett’s brewpub in Downers Grove conducts their home brewers forum the last Tuesday of every month.

  • Bavarian Lodge
    1800 Ogden in Lisle
    630.241.4701 |
  • Heaven on Seven
    224 S. Main
    630.717.0077 |
  • Jackson Avenue Pub
    7 W. Jackson
    630.904.9400 |
  • World of Beer
    1727 Freedom Drive
    630.955.0399 |

Naperville Ale Fest

When: July 20, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Where: Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster
Tickets: General admission $75, designated driver $15
While the Fest promises a diverse collection of brews from Hawaii, California, New Orleans, New England and throughout the Midwest, a number of notable breweries from the western suburbs will be on hand including:

  • BrickStone (Bourbonnais)
  • Church Street (Itasca)
  • Emmett’s (Downers Grove)
  • Solemn Oath (Naperville)
  • Three Angels (Yorkville)
  • Three Floyds (Munster, Ind.)
  • Two Brothers (Warrenville)