Restaurateur Brian Besse thinks the 2008 sale of Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian company InBev changed the beer-drinking habits of many St. Louis area residents.
"It's almost like people are finally giving themselves permission to drink other beers," he said.
Besse, who owns Seven in Belleville, pointed to an explosion in the popularity of "craft" beers made in smaller breweries.
"Just in downtown Belleville alone, you could probably try 150 different kinds of beer on any given night," he said.
The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce is building on this trend by hosting the first Belleville Ale Fest on Saturday in a grassy area at Belleville Crossing Center.
"They have five or six (beer) festivals in St. Louis," said chamber executive director John Lengerman. "We figured we could do the same thing over here."
Brewery representatives and beer distributors will operate booths in two tents next to Buffalo Wild Wings.
The public can sample more than 90 craft beers, ranging from the lightest pale ale to the darkest stout.
"Craft beers are made in much smaller batches," said Patrick Sullivan, division manager for Koerner Distributor, which has an office and warehouse in New Baden.
"The larger breweries use a process called 'concentrate brewing,'" he said. "It's like the difference between fresh-squeezed orange juice and concentrate."
Sullivan gave the example of Anheuser-Busch InBev producing more than 100 million barrels of beer a year compared to 50,000 at the Schafly brewery, which will be representative at the festival.
"We invited as many local breweries as possible," Lengerman said.
People can sample 15 beers and get a souvenir glass for $25. A special $10 rate will be offered to designated drivers.
"I think (the festival idea is) wonderful," said Besse, whose restaurant carries about 70 craft beers in bottles and another 12 on draft. "It's a venue to give people more exposure to different beers."
Crehan's Irish Pub and Roy-el Catering will sell food at the festival while Catfish and the Big Boss Blues Band perform.
Another new beer event is planned this summer. Belleville Main Street's Brew & Que BBQ Challenge and Craft Beer Walk will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 8 in the third block of East Main Street.
At a glance
What: Belleville Ale Fest
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Belleville Crossing Center (grassy area next to Buffalo Wild Wings), near Illinois 15 and Frank Scott Parkway
Cost: $25 for 15 samples; $10 for designated drivers
Information: 618-233-2015 or visit www.bellevillealefest.com