I made it into Omaha in the early evening and checked into my hotel. A friend of mine from college who lived in Omaha for a while before moving to Colorado had messaged me with some incredible ideas of how to spend my time here. My plan for the evening was to go to Farnam House and then a few doors down to the Crescent Moon, a craft beer bar that gets rave reviews and was named one of the top 100 craft beer bars of 2015. I also had a meeting with the owner of Nebraska Brewing Company in the morning so I wouldn’t be out too late. Tomorrow would be my journey back home with a quick stop in Des Moines so I could check el Bait Shop off my bucket list.
After a little bit of R and R in the hotel room, I headed out to find Farnam House Brewing Co. My Omaha source told me that the food there is delicious and I had worked up quite the appetite lugging my coolers to and from the car. I arrived and saw a spot open at the bar. The space is very open and it has a full kitchen along with a stage area. Lucky for me, tonight was open mic night and I was in for some laughs because some local comedians would be trying out some new material. I decided to sit at the bar and chatted with a guy who knows the owners through a homebrewing club. He could not say enough nice things about the beer and the food and I was giddy with anticipation. I decided on the buffalo wings and a taster flight consisting of 7 beers. The wings were stellar. They came drizzled in a blue cheese sauce and the spice levelwas perfect for pairing with my craft beer flight. The offerings at Farnam were perfect for summer, Biere de Garde, Belgian IPA, Berliner Weiss, Saison and Kriek all made up their light and refreshing offerings. They also had a stout that clocked in at 5.6% ABV. Most of the beers came across very well and all of them were refreshing. My top three favorites were the Belgian IPA, Papio Kriek and the Taft Stout. The Belgian IPA had a wonderful Belgian yeast flavor and aroma. The hops were balanced and light, to add a great element of complexity to the beer. The Papio Kriek had a defined tartness that was tempered a little bit by the sweetness from the fruit. It was something that I could have had several more pints of. The Taft Stout had a strong coffee aroma and the dark roasted malt flavor was perfect. It drank really smooth and I really thought it was a perfect beer to go along with my wings. The open mic performers were all different levels of amusing and made the stay more enjoyable and unique.
It was on to the Crescent Moon, which was just three doors down the block in the same building. The interesting thing about the Crescent Moon is that there is also a Belgian Beer Bar connected through the main bar and a German Beer Bar downstairs. There is literally something for everyone at Crescent Moon. They had a great tap list and I made sure to order all local beers of places I wasn’t going to be able to make it to. I went with the Upstream Brewing Castaway Coconut Porter, Brickway Brewing Oatmeal Cream Stout, Zipline Country White and Infusion Tart Cherry Wheat to fill out my tasting flight. I really liked all of them, but the clear winner for me out of the four was the Zipline Country White. It was a crisp and balanced craft beer that was great for summer. Kylie, who was tending bar, was chatting with a few of the regulars who were hanging around. A group of ladies to my left were giving me other suggestions of places to go, but I was fading fast. I had a big day tomorrow and after finishing my flight, I called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
The final day on the road started bright and early with breakfast and my last hotel breakfast hurrah for a while. I made sure to savor the lackluster Belgian Waffle made fresh in the waffle maker one last time. I packed up my car and
headed over to Nebraska Brewing Company. I arrived a little after 9 am and the brewery was already bustling with activity. I was greeted by Paul Kavulak, the founder of Nebraska Brewing Company. He introduced me to the rest of the staff and I came to learn that this brewery was truly a family affair. Paul’s wife and co-owner, Kim, and both of their sons work at the brewery in some capacity. The older son was orchestrating the loading dock to make sure things were running smoothly while the younger son was filling kegs. Paul started the tour out by showing me the enormous grain silo where they store their base malts. There are also huge containers that are filled with spent grains that are picked up by farmers to use as feed. The smell of spent grains on a hot and humid day is truly unique smell.
The next thing was the barrel room. Nebraska does a lot of barrel-aging and the room was filled with barrels in varying states of the aging process. As impressive as this room was during the tour, Nebraska hosts events in this room and I can only imagine what it would be like to party in the barrel room well into the even
ing. There is a constant rotation of barrels and they actually start out in the main area of the brewery. Once they are sealed and the wood has expanded, they are moved into the barrel room to be stored. It is an impressive sight to
look up and walk around. You realized that barrel-aging beer is not just a challenge because of cost, but also because of all the logistical elements that go into making sure you know how long something has been in a barrel. There were barrels of Black Betty, Melange and Hop Anomaly stacked up and it was quite impressive.
We left the barrel room to head out to the main area of the brewhouse. The array of shiny, large and plentiful fermenters almost brought a tear of joy to my eye. The combination of 30 and 60 barrel fermenters allows Nebraska Brewing Company to keep up with the demand for their craft beer as they expand their distribution. The vast array of brewing equipment allows Nebraska Brewing Company to brew between 14,000 and 16,000 barrels of craft beer a year. They have two locations in Omaha, the distribution location and taproom where I was and then a brewpub not far away. From what I heard in talking to a few locals, the food at the brewpub is spectacular and pairs very well with what they have on tap.
The canning line was up and running and they were canning their fall seasonal, Wick For Brains, a very good pumpkin beer. One of the highlights of my entire trip was watching this process unfold. I was standing so close to the action, that I was actuall
y in range of being splashed with delicious pumpkin ale. Paul asked me if I would liketo try one and I tried to appear calm and relaxed, but I am sure it was pretty obvious when I yelled, “Sure!” that I was ecstatic about what would happen next. Paul then just reached for two cans that were just about five seconds old! I have never experienced having beer this fresh from the canning line before. I love pumpkin beers. I know that pumpkins beers are very polarizing in their flavor, but Nebraska’s Wick For Brains is tremendously drinkable and balanced. With just a hint of spice, you taste more of the vegetal pumpkin and it is so refreshing. I was in a state of beer geek heaven at this point. I asked Paul if we would be getting these in MN towards the end of summer and he said that will probably be the case. I am happy to report that Wick For Brains is, in fact, available in MN. I asked Paul why he was canning a pumpkin beer so early in the season and he said that despite the fact that he doesn’t like putting them out so early, it is a necessary evil to keep up with all the other breweries that do the same thing with their pumpkin ales. You certainly cannot fault them for staying competitive.
From the brewhouse floor, we went to the taproom which was about the prettiest place to have a beer I have seen in Nebraska. Their logo covers the wall in the corner and the ample space and tables would allow for this place to get pretty crowded. Lots of wood makes the taproom feel very warm and cozy despite its size. Paul got out a Nebraska-shaped flight board and talked me through a tour of what they had on tap. Luckily, for me, there are a lot of things that are taproom only things to try and so I was able to really experience the best of what they had to offer. Before I knew it, I had tasters in front of me that were being curated and explained in real-time by the owner of the brewery. As Paul was describing the beers, the stories behind the beers were filled with a passion for craft beer. The Hefeweizen was one of his first homebrew recipes and has a fantastic effervescent mouthfeel along with all the flavor components of a great hefe. The Brown Ale had tremendous notes of roasted malt and caramel. The Rye Pale Ale is very smooth and balanced as a result of Rye only making up 25% of the malt bill. One of the seasonal specialties available was Hop Anomaly (Formerly Hop God). This DIPA is packed with fruity and citrus hops to deliver a very balanced 100+ IBU craft beer. Hop Anomaly benefits from a nice Belgian aroma and I think that as you drink it, you are constantly trying to make sense of how so many complex flavors and taste sensations come together to make a wonderfully imaginative craft beer. Right after having the regular version of Hop Anomaly, Paul served me up the version that was aged in a Chardonnay barrel. It was all the aforementioned flavors with hints of oak that really elevated the beer. Then it was on to the Black Betty, an 11.3% Russian Imperial Stout that is part of Nebraska Brewing Company’s Reserve Series. This beer is aged in a whisky barrel from a Colorado-based distillery. Black Betty is a world-class craft beer. If you like hints of coffee, chocolate, whisky and slight smoke from a whisky barrel, this craft beer is for you. I made sure to buy several bottles for the winter when I crave all those flavors. I was amazed by the complexity of this beer. It sure made Omaha, and more specifically, my trip to Nebraska Brewing Company worth the wait. Next, I had the Ardent Son, which is part of their Inception Series line, is a Belgian Golden Strong ale aged in a Chardonnay barrel. This beer had a great Belgian Yeast character to go along with a nice booziness. At 11%, this beer still has a lot of subtlety to it and that is a tribute to the skill of the Nebraska Brewing Company. The last beer I had here was the Franc Blanc, a Saison aged in a Sauvignon-Blanc wine barrel. There are so many lovely delicate flavors in this beer. If you were trying to convert a wine drinker to become a craft beer drinker, the Franc Blanc would be the ticket.
Since 2007, Nebraska Brewing Company has been brewing craft beer the way that they think it should be made. A family-owned and operated brewery that sets a very high standard for quality and taste. This was a perfect way to end my stay in Nebraska because it showed me why so many people are talking about the growing craft beer scene here. Paul and Kim could not have been nicer in showing me around and spending time with me. I will surely be back to visit again and if you are in Omaha, you have no reason not to stop by Nebraska Brewing Company to try some truly inventive and skillfully crafted beer.
I lugged out my box of beer and glassware to the car. Set a course for el Bait Shop and hit the road. Before I knew it, I was parking the car and walking into a building that I had seen many times in pictures and status updates of people’s’ social media streams. El Bait Shop is an iconic place to grab a craft beer and a meal. With 180 craft beers on tap, it is no mystery why they continue to show up on the best craft beer bars in the nation lists year after year. Since this was going to be my only stop in Des Moines, I wanted to try some of the local craft beers. I sat down at the bar and started perusing the tap list. I decided on the Exile Brewing Company Ruthie, Linon Bridge Workmans Comp Mile Ale, Confluence Brewing Co. IPA, Peace Tree Brewing Sound Check and Peace Tree Blonde Fatale. I also ordered their cheeseburger special along with some cheese curds.
As I began scribbling away in my notebook, my actions caught the attention of a gentleman sitting a few seats down from me at the bar. From some casual observation, I gathered that he had to be a regular due to the sarcastic repartee that he had going with the bartender. He eventually asked me what I was writing about. I told him that I was wrapping up a 3-week beercation and about to head back home to MN. It seemed almost too perfect that at the final destination of my trip, I would meet someone who so perfectly epitomized the entire reason I absolutely had one of the best times of my life. This man, Jimmy S., was a bombastic, surly and colorful individual. Jimmy was the perfect person to be seated to next at a bar. After talking a little bit more with Jimmy, it became clear that he enjoyed eating and drinking just as much as I did. He so excited about the concept of a beercation that he began telling everyone else at the bar about it. Not everyone there shared his level of enthusiasm for what I was doing as was evidenced by the fact that they were clearly working on laptops and consumed with other things. That didn’t hold Jimmy back, however, and he kept interrupting these people with side comments.
As I was telling Jimmy about my trip, he asked me, “You got a Michigan page in that notebook there?” I told him I didn’t, which was possibly the best thing that could have happened. Jimmy got this wild look in his eyes and took a huge swig of his beer and told me, “Start a Michigan page and write this shit down.” Jimmy’s mouth erupted with a stream of consciousness that put any Zagat’s review to shame. He started taking me on the very route I should take, all the while thinking out loud about whether or not to take the interstate or back roads. I found this to be extremely humorous and enjoyable. It was also incredibly informative. He was able to give me names of places I had not heard of before close to places that I would definitely go if I were in Michigan. He rattled off the places he visits when he comes to the Twin Cities and it read like a must-see tour of the cities. Then we got on the subject of things to do in Des Moines and the floodgates broke off the hinges. I was deluged with places to eat, complete with food descriptions. He told me the bars to go to, the bars to avoid. The tap rooms that were worth my time and the ones I could probably skip. He had a very unique way of conveying the idea that a certain menu item would be rated with a five-star review. He then paused and asked me where I was headed to after el Bait Shop. I told him that this was my last stop of the trip and that after this, I was headed home. The abject horror and disappointment on his face was akin to telling a child that Santa and the Easter Bunny are not real. Jimmy did not want me to leave. In fact, he continued going on with his list of places that I had to eat in Des Moines, Smokey D’s, Royal Mile, Hesson House and Mullet’s. At one point, he stopped mid-sentence and his face looked like he just realized he left home with all of his gas burners going on the stove, and he said, “Oh shit, is it Tuesday!?!?!” I told him it was in face Tuesday, to which he replied, “Oh, you gotta go to Jethro’s, they got half-priced wings on Tuesdays!” Again, I had to remind him that I was heading home. However, Jimmy is a problem-solver and an innovator. He then asked, “How good are you at eating in the car? You could go to Jethro’s and just get the wings to go!” I gave Jimmy points for thinking outside the box. I assured him that I would someday be back and would make sure to stop at Jethro’s for wings. I wrapped things up and said goodbye to Jimmy.
It had been a tremendous day of meeting great people and enjoying wonderful craft beer, but all good things must come to an end. Before I knew it, I was turning into my driveway and I could see my wife in the kitchen window. I began unloading the car and stepped back into the house after three weeks of absence. The aroma of brownies along with a smiling wife greeted me and I was happy to be home.