For those lucky enough to attend the inaugural Brew Year’s Eve at Salvage One in near west Chicago last year, the perfect storm of craft beer, unique venue, live music and hors d’oeuvres created a memorable event that begged the question, “How will they top it next year?” Never ones to rest on their laurels, Josh Seago and his team at Lou Dog Events took notice of areas to improve, listened to attendees’ feedback and came up with some new twists for this year’s event. I sat down with Josh over a beer to get the full scoop on your best reason to get off the couch this New Year’s Eve.
What were the biggest lessons you learned from hosting last year’s Brew Year’s Eve?
JS: The biggest thing was people were looking for something different. They didn’t want the canned New Year’s Eve experience. Most parties are loud music and strobe lights. We really focused on doing something outside the box that’s going to surprise people when they show up. So the venue was really important to us. We didn’t want a hotel banquet hall or a big open space. We wanted something unique – a raw, industrial space – and Salvage One was perfect.
We also wanted to focus on the beer. Chicago has a very vibrant craft beer scene, so the ability to tap into that culture and creativity and highlight some great beers from local breweries was key. And one thing we heard a lot was ‘My significant other doesn’t like craft beer’ or ‘I have some friends that want to go but they don’t drink craft beer. Will you have a full bar or wine available?’ And we had to say unfortunately we won’t. This is a craft beer event. If your partner doesn’t like craft beer, this is probably not the event for you. In the beginning we worried about having enough people who were going to be all about drinking only craft beer, and we found out quickly that there were.
What was your favorite moment?
JS: At one point in the middle of the party, I stood back and took a look at everyone having a really great time. It was a completely different atmosphere than a beer festival. It wasn’t people wanting to interact with the brewers. It wasn’t people wanting to taste and learn more about the beer. It was people enjoying craft beer for what it was and enjoying the company of those they were with, the live music and the venue. It was really exciting for me because it’s a 180 from a traditional beer festival. And we really wanted this to not be one. It’s a New Year’s Eve party that just happens to have only craft beer.
And a really cool thing was that you’d see ladies wearing really nice cocktail dresses and guys with suits and bow ties. Then you’d turn around and see a guy wearing black skinny jeans and a Metallica t-shirt. Everyone got along and blended together. It’s just representative of the beer culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re clean-shaven and your shirt’s pressed or you’ve got a big beard and a beer belly, everyone gets along.
What made you decide to add a second location in South Elgin this year?
JS: Lou Dog has a really big demographic in the western suburbs with our fests in Naperville, Lombard and Lisle. Last year’s Chicago event sold out really quick, and there were a lot of people still wanting to go, so we knew we had the opportunity to add a second venue. Maybe even in Chicago. But we had to find the perfect venue. We were contacted by The HAIGHT in Elgin, and they said they had a very similar venue to Salvage One. Once we saw it, we knew right away that we had found our second venue. It’s a historic building with exposed brick walls, plank wood floors and timber ceilings, and a lot of character and ambiance. It’s got two levels and looks a lot like Salvage One but without all of the antiques, so it gives you a little more room to move around. It’s become popular as the non-traditional venue space in the western suburbs, so they’re booked up nearly every weekend for weddings.
What else is new for this year’s event?
JS: You might recall at last year’s event, at the end of the night, we had a dessert buffet. And after drinking, dancing and having a good time, people really didn’t want dessert. They wanted something a little bit heartier. So this year, we’re bringing in a late night pizza buffet. We’ve partnered with two local pizzerias – one in Elgin and one in Chicago – and we’ll have hundreds of pizzas delivered right after midnight. So we’ll have a cider toast at midnight, and then you’ll go get a big greasy slice of pizza. That’s what beer people want.
The live music will change a bit too. Originally, we planned on just having acoustic acts for a more laidback atmosphere. But we found out that people want to dance on New Year’s Eve, and you can’t dance to a guy playing John Mayer. This year, we’ve brought in 80s and 90s cover bands, so the music is going to be really fun and upbeat. We were specific about finding venues that had multiple floors because if you don’t want to hear a 90s Madonna song, you can go downstairs where it’s more laidback and you can converse. It was important for us to listen to what people wanted and still deliver on that within our vision for the event.
We’re also adding a photo booth. Everyone loves them, especially once you get a couple beers in you. We’ll have all the props for people to put on, and it prints the picture right away for you and emails you the electronic version of it.
What are you most excited about for this year’s event?
JS: Just the beer really. We have really strong relationships with the brewers, and they’re excited to have their beer at the event. We have a really great lineup of Chicago beers that span the full range of styles – from pale ales and saisons to porters and barrel-aged stouts. We’ll have some beers from Lagunitas that are normally only poured at their taproom. In total, we’ve got 12 brewers and 30 beers.
Why should someone buy tickets to your event instead of staying home with their family or friends?
JS: What I tell people is ‘Think about what the typical New Year’s Eve party is. Now turn it completely upside down. That’s what Brew Year’s Eve is.’ We’re really trying to create a more intimate feeling similar to having 4-8 people come over to your house for New Year’s Eve. You come in and don’t have to worry about buying beer, cleaning up or cooking food. And we’re not cramming thousands of people into the spaces. You can disappear into a corner, or find a seat or table like you’re in a pub and really talk with friends. That’s really the atmosphere we’re looking to create. The anti-New Year’s Eve party.