Lou Dog Events Expanding the Reach of Craft Beer Festivals throughout Chicago
If you’ve been to a beer festival in Chicago in the past few years, odds are it was put on by Lou Dog Events.
A craft beer lover himself, founder and president Josh Seago, along with his team, is producing 10 craft beer festivals this year throughout the city and the surrounding suburbs. From the Chicago Ale Fest to the popular suburban Naperville Ale Fests, there’s no shortage of opportunities to sample beer from a wide variety of breweries.
Started in 2013, Lou Dog Events came about when Seago was at a festival himself and thought he could put a better beer fest on himself.
“I don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse but I have a very good attention to detail,” Seago said. I worked on a business plan for about a year and it consumed my life for a year. I would always be running it past my wife and she eventually told me to just do it otherwise I’d keep talking about it. People say do what you’re passionate about. My passion is craft beer and traveling.”
Lou Dog’s festivals take place in unique and noteworthy locations throughout the city. From Navy Pier to Lincoln Park Zoo to Grant Park, it’s as much about the location as the beer.
“We like to do them in iconic venues,” he said. “Some place where you’d never think you’d be able to drink a beer and now you are.”
The lineup has expanded quite a bit over the years.
In 2018 Lou Dog kicked off the event circuit with the Chicago Ale Fest in January, in February the Naperville Winter Ale Fest, held outdoors (yes outdoors), draws a big crowd because of the uniqueness of the event, and then he shifts into the summer months with a slew of festivals all over.
The BeerHoptacular is one of the oldest beer festivals in Chicago and made it’s return last year after taking a brief break for a few years and comes back this September. To close out the year Lou Dog is putting on Brew Year’s Eve which will be a Dec. 31st craft beer fest to ring in 2019.
With all the festivals, Seago continues to learn how to develop better and more organized events. Early festivals didn’t always go as smoothly as they do today.
“For the first Naperville Ale Fest it was 95 degrees and we only ordered 1.5 pallets of ice,” he said. “It was almost comical. My brother-in-law was driving to every gas station and bought every bag of ice they had. That’s all he did for four hours. The next year we got eight pallets. It was just a learning curve. We will never run out of ice again.”
While his friends think he just drinks a lot of beer all day, it’s far from it for Seago and his team of 4 full-time employees.
“There’s an incredible amount of logistics that go into a beer festival,” he said. “You’re managing hundreds of small moving parts like calculating how much ice you need, you have to make sure you have the correct permits and insurance. There’s fencing, port-a-potties, extension cords and so much more that has to be coordinated. It’s a giant spreadsheet you need to check everything off.”
With so many festivals, it’s important to Seago to make sure he’s able to offer something new to those that attend. It can’t simply be the same brewers pouring the same beer at the same location.
“Four or five years ago to see a sour or lager beer at a fest would be rare,” he said. “At the Naperville Summer Fest we had 15 sour beers and almost 20 lagers. We don’t want the same 100 brewers with the same beer every year. We’re always bringing in new brewers and new beers to make sure we’re expanding so there’s something new and exciting. It gives people a reason to come out year after year.”
It’s not just rinse and repeat for Lou Dog, as craft beer changes Seago knows he and his team must keep the festivals fresh and up-to-date.
“We do a strategic planning meeting at the end of every year to plan out the following year,” he said. “We’re looking for gaps in the market. Beers change with the season and we try to have a nice variety with winter and summer festivals. If you’re going to a beer festival in January vs. July you’ll see a completely different line-up of beers.”
While Lou Dog has brought in hundreds of different breweries to their events, Seago is still hoping to have Russia River someday pour at one of the festivals.
“We’ve reached out to them a couple of times to invite them, but they can barely keep up production in their home town – eventually we will get them.”