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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ales tap Naperville’s lagering pastime

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Ale Fest taps off July 20 at Naper Settlement

The inaugural Naperville Ale Fest taps off from 1-5PM Sat., July 20, on the historic grounds of Naper Settlement to celebrate the liquid enterprise of craft brewing and the bibulous spirit of enthusiasts.

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Naperville has a rich brewing tradition and the Fest will feature 180 craft beers and an assortment of Chicagoland breweries including Two Brothers, Argus and Solemn Oath.

“We’re organizing the Fest as a true craft beer centric festival,” said Josh Seago, co-founder of the Fest. “That may sound pretty obvious but you wouldn’t believe how many fests out there lose sight of the beer. Everything at the Naperville Ale Fest is about the beer–from the food to the music to the vendors, it’s all about the beer.”

The Fest will fancy all palates with a wide sampling of ales (and perhaps a few lagers) for novices and enthusiasts alike.

“I’m excited about hosting a craft beer festival that is not intimidating to those new to craft beer, but also gets the craft ‘beer geeks’ excited. We will have some very recognizable craft beers and some rare and hard to find craft beers – something for everyone,” said Seago.

The Chicago craft brewing scene has exploded in recent years and its economic impact has created hundreds of jobs locally. A decade ago, there was a handful of craft breweries and brewpubs in Illinois – now there are several dozen.

“Part of our mission is to support the communities we live and work in. One of our goals for the Ale Fest is to drive commerce into the Naperville community. With the Fest ending at 5PM we are hoping the festival participant will head into downtown Naperville for dinner and shopping,” said Seago.

Craft beer enthusiasts enjoy many seasonal ales in the tap room at Solemn Oath Brewery.
Craft beer enthusiasts enjoy many seasonal ales in the tap room at Solemn Oath Brewery.

Naperville’s lagering pastime

Once burrowed beneath the house lined streets, where the Nichols Public Library now stands, was a series of tunnels from a once thriving liquid enterprise, the Stenger Brewery.

Emigrating from Bavaria, Peter Stenger purchased the Naperville brewery from Jacob Englefriedt in 1848, who erected the original structures beginning in 1842 on land he purchased from Joe Naper.

Englefriedt is considered Naperville’s first brewer.

The Stenger Brewery was located near Franklin Ave. between Main and Webster Streets and was supplied with water from a spring north of the CB&Q RR tracks. There’s a tunnel at the north end of Webster that allowed the spring to flow from the pasture through the Brewery all the way thru downtown to the river–now it is underground. The grounds and Stenger family farm extended north to Ogden Ave.

The three story Brewery and malt house were built with white limestone from stone quarries in Naperville in 1854 and 1856 respectively. A fire scorched the original structures purchased from Englefriedt to the ground.

Peter Stenger’s sons, John and Nicholas, took over operations in the 1850s. Nicholas passed away in his mid-30s, relatively young, in the 1860s, and John ran the operation until the early 1890s when he sold it to a Chicago firm. John Stenger had been innovative in brewing techniques, but lagged behind in the evolving bottling technology of the times. Beer was distributed mostly in wooden barrels to area saloons from Elgin to Joliet via horse drawn beer wagons.

Producing nearly 56 barrels a day of lagers and ales (its capacity was double that), the brewing complex was situated on eight acres. The complex composed of cattle sheds, hay sheds, a cooperage, twenty to forty horses, malt house, brew house and 200-foot ice house. During winter months, locals would cut ice from the DuPage River and area ponds, hauling it to the Brewery to earn extra money. Stenger supplied the cooperage with wood from timberlands he owned in Kane County.

When the railroad came through, bisecting the property, Stenger insisted a tunnel be constructed so the cows could reach the north side grazing pastures, however, the 1869 bird’s-eye view of Naperville shows a spring/creek running thru the tunnel. The “cow” tunnel later served as a popular walk-to-school route for Naper School and was boarded up in the 1970s, after accounts of high school hanky panky.

The tunnels stored barrels of beer that could be lagered for several months. It’s estimated the stone-arched tunnels are 12 to 14 feet wide, and dug up to 20 feet deep. In excess of 80 feet long, they were constructed with the cut and cover method. During WWII, residents proposed using them as air raid shelters.

The Brewery employed many German west-siders, many of whom lived on site and were allocated a reasonable amount of beer for consumption. They worked six days a week and many had immigrated to seek opportunity escaping the armies from the Franco-Prussian War.

One of the Brewery’s most promising (and now legendary), young brewers was Adolph Coors. Kuhrs, as it was spelled in the old-world, quickly climbed the ranks to general superintendent, gaining the affinity of John Stenger. He was employed from 1869 – 1872 and his salary in 1871 was $741.25, according to, Nicholas Stenger’s probate records at Naper Settlement. He spent three years perfecting his lagering craft before establishing his own brewery in Golden, Colorado. Legend has it he left for the Rocky Mountains after Stenger insisted he wed one of his three daughters.

Under the direction of A.V. Jackson in 1917, the windows were boarded up and the stone structures began growing mushrooms. The buildings were later abandoned and the last of the stone edifices were demolished in 1956.

Ales and lagers

Most ales and lagers, as most Americans know them today, are brewed with the same ingredients in accordance with the German Purity Law, circa 1516–water, hops and malt. The fourth ingredient, yeast, has always been present and has been amended to the general brewing recipe. The scientific process of fermentation, and yeast, was brought to light by Louis Pasteur in 1850s France.

Simplistically put, fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, giving beer its bubbles and ABV (alcohol by volume). And, there are several types of carbohydrates and yeasts.

Ale yeast ferments at the top of the brew at warmer temperatures (usually room temperature) than lager yeast (about 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) which ferment at the bottom. Ale yeast usually goes dormant at lager temperatures.

The cool continental climate of Germany has traditionally been perfectly suited for lagers and immigrants brought with them their lagering traditions to the new world. The German word “lagern,” literally means to store.

Ale fermentation produces esters, giving ales a wider spectrum of potential flavors and tasty outcomes. Lagers require longer fermentation times and additional time to condition, sometimes several months.

Good Barley – ales return to Naperville

Solemn Oath Barrels
Spent barrels aging Belgian style ales at Solemn Oath Brewery.

John and Joe Barley spent 18 months navigating local, state and federal regulations to legally ferment in Naperville. The Barley brothers (their last name is perfectly suited for the beer business) and head brewer Tim Marshall opened Solemn Oath Brewery in the Spring of 2012, off Quincy Ave. in the industrial park behind the Cadillac dealership on Ogden Ave.

Before constructing the Brewery, the Barley brothers went before City Council to seek a special amendment to the Naperville liquor code, obtaining a special brewing and on-site taproom license.

Their portfolio of seasonal ales is available to taste at the Brewery’s tap room. Patrons can sample the latest brews in a tasting flight and procure a 64 oz. growler for the road.

Sights, smells and sounds of brewing can all be observed from the tap room. A four-foot wall is all that separates the tasting room from shiny stainless steel fermenters. They’re socially responsible, too–there’s a three beer per person per day limit.

The Brewery produces Belgian style ales which change regularly. They often experiment with barrel aging and yearly production has just been expanded to a capacity of 3,200 barrels, from an opening capacity of 2,000 barrels.

Solemn Oath doesn’t bottle any brew, but Front Street Cantina, Heaven on Seven and Tap In Pub & Carvery at CityGate Centre are a few local establishments with their ales on tap. Beer is distributed in kegs to local restaurants and bars by Warrenville-based Windy City Distribution.

Solemn Oath is located at 1661 Quincy Avenue Ste. 179. Already tapped out and at full brewing capacity, tap room hours change frequently. For hours and info on all the latest seasonal brews, visit www.solemnoathbrewery.com.

Purchase tickets in advance

The Fest has developed a comprehensive digital strategy to engage the craft beer community and also sell advance tickets. VIP tickets have already sold out and beer aficionados are encouraged to buy tickets early.

“Social media outlets … have allowed us spread the word about the Fest in a very efficient and cost effective way,” said Seago.

Local bands will enhance the ambiance and food from area restaurants will be available for purchase. Home brewing seminars also will educate attendees rounding out afternoon festivities.

General admission tickets are available from 1 to 5PM for $45 and include 15 three oz. sample tickets. Designated driver tickets are $15 and include complimentary soft drinks and water. Advance tickets may be purchased by visiting www.napervillealefest.com.

Special thanks to Bryan Ogg, Curator of Research at Naper Settlement, for research assistance and fact checking within this article.

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Timothy Penick
Timothy Penickhttp://www.sommologue.blogspot.com
Timothy Penick is a classically trained sommelier and writes about food,drink and wine from Naperville, Ill.

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