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Brew Fest takes root in formerly dry city

WHEATON – More than 30 brewers and 100 craft beers from across the country will pour into Wheaton’s Memorial Park for the third annual Wheaton Brew Fest on Saturday.

It was only a few decades ago, however, that such an event would have been illegal in Wheaton.

While Chicago is the local city that draws images of 1920’s moonshine, booze running and speakeasies, Wheaton has a history of banned alcohol, as well.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Wheaton voted to remain a “dry town” by a margin of 1,598 to 1,420, according to a paper from the DuPage County Historical Museum. The city kept the practice in place until a 1987 referendum.

The paper said that Wheaton was “cited as an example of the success of Prohibition,” although the surrounding communities of Itasca, West Chicago, Glen Ellyn and Winfield Township often were referred to as “Whiskey Creek.”

Sara Buttita, a museum educator at the DuPage County Historical Museum, said that the town’s decision to stay dry likely was due in part to the influence of Wheaton College and the presence of religion in the city.

Now, said Brian Whitkanack, the manager at Arrowhead Restaurant and beverage manager for the Wheaton Park District, the city has begun to embrace the craft beer craze that’s sweeping the nation.

“This festival gives us a chance to showcase Wheaton,” he said. “It’s a place that had that name as a dry and boring town, but doesn’t get credit for the great downtown and great population.”

Whitkanack said organizers believe all 2,000 VIP, general admission and designated driver tickets will be sold before the event, which lasts from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Those who choose to drink will have the opportunity to sample up to 20 different beers, served in two ounce glasses. Members of each brewery will be on hand to discuss their products.

Lisa Greggor, the owner of Church Street Brewing in Itasca, said that she and her husband, Joe, a chemical engineer-turned-brewmaster, have been well-received in the area, but attending local festivals gets the word out.

“It means everything. We have no money for marketing or anything like that,” she said. “This is our marketing program, basically – letting people come taste our beer. Simple as that.”

Whitkanack said the festival’s success, as well as the craft beer culture in general, is about quality beer and quality people.

“When you come to the festival, you can walk in by yourself and not know a single soul,” he said. “And within 45 minutes, you can be hanging out with two thousand people who want to be your friend.”

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