My Beercation To Beer Mecca & Beyond: Omaha, NE
Among craft and independent beer enthusiasts, Colorado is known as the “Beer Mecca.” This is due to the vibrant and well-established culture of breweries and brewpubs that number over 300. I first visited the rocky mountain state in 2015. I fell in love with the people, pace of life, and the beer. In celebration of my 40th trip around the sun, I decided that it would be fun to beercation out west again and check up on the beer scene.
Kros Strain Brewing Company
Last summer, my neighbor brought back a crowler of an amazingly juicy beer from some place in Nebraska. That brewery was Kros Strain Brewing in La Vista, NE, and the beer was Supajuice (now called Juice and Desist due to a legal naming issue). My palate was dancing like a coked-up Kevin Bacon from Footloose. Intrigued, I realized that I had to check out Kros Strain for myself.
In order to break up the drive to Denver, I decide to stay a night in Omaha. Kros Strain is located just a bit south of town and so I am happy to check out the beers I have been hearing so much about.
I roll up to a strip mall just off of exit 442 and find some rockstar parking right in front. The first beer of a beercation is always a glorious thing. I am meeting with Jeff Hardy, a sales rep and brand ambassador for Kros Strain. Jeff is that perfect combination of friendly and knowledgeable. He greets me with a hearty handshake and immediately asks if I need a beer. I decide to go with the Fairy Nectar London. This double dry-hopped hazy IPA is absolutely delicious. It checks all of my boxes when it comes to the NEIPA style. It has a soft mouthfeel, it has a big burst of juicy hop character, and a bite of bitterness at the end.
Jeff and I begin chatting about how the brewery came to be. Kros Strain Brewing is the collective opus of Bobby Kros and Scott Strain. Bobby started as a mechanical engineer at a nuclear power plant in Fort Calhoun. Scott Strain worked in DC as a staffer for a senator. Scott received a homebrew kit as a gift and that is where his passion began. Bobby, also a home brewer met at a local brewery and their friendship began fermenting.
As they became friends, talk of starting a brewery of their own began and before long, they were fundraising and sketching out a blueprint for Kros Strain. Kros Strain Brewing opened in 2017 and things have been going pretty well for them.
GABF Silver Medal
At the 2018 GABF Awards, Kros Strain won a silver medal in the newly available New England IPA category for Fairy Nectar IPA. Because of Kros Strain’s Midwest inferiority complex, they are very humble about this achievement. However, I believe that winning a medal in a GABF category that had close to 400 entries is reason enough to puff out their chests a little. Fairy Nectar, as Jeff describes, “It is the IPA for people who don’t like IPAs.” Fairy Nectar put them on the radar of hopheads, but don’t think for a second that Kros Strain is a one-trick pony.
Kros Strain distributes to about 3/4 of the state of Nebraska. Kros Strain’s 20 barrel Alpha Systems brewhouse pumps out around 625 barrels of beer. The 17,000 sq. ft. brewery gets everything they can out of their space. Yet, they still are not meeting the fervent demand for their beers. Jeff says that this is a good problem to have. As they grow, they are adding a variety of spirit barrels for aging. Kros Strain also has a completely quarantined blending room to play with some bugs in barrels.
After chatting with Jeff, he graciously leads me on a tour of the brewery itself. We wind our way through the tanks, hoses, and kegs. I realize that they have maximized all of their space. Jeff points out an area that is earmarked for more tanks down the road. I am sure that they will need them sooner than later. They even have a fantastic event space with barrels stacked up in the corner. There is a homey feel to Kros Strain despite its newer aesthetics and high ceilings. The taproom lighting is soft thanks to the green hop-shaped light fixtures in the bar.
After chatting with Jeff for a while, I decide to work my way through a flight of beers. They have a myriad of styles available and I try to go for a variety. Doug is bartending and is as attentive and jovial as they come. The taproom is getting busy as the work whistle has blown for many people in the area. For a Tuesday night, there is a nice crowd gathered to watch the college World Series.
Kros Strain Beers
There is something for everyone at Kros Strain. I order a mix of styles that show the breadth of what they can do. Their Helles is effervescent and balances out a nice honey sweetness in the malt. Its crispness makes this a supremely quaffable offering.
The Magnum P.I.lsner is plenty crisp with a light cereal malt sweetness. My only gripe with this beer is that it doesn’t come with painted-on 80s shorts and a fake mustache. The Tan-Limes is a the Helles with limes in it. It is bright and refreshing, although, I think I prefer the base beer version more. Experimental 6300 is next for me. Holy coconut, Batman! This beer gives off aromas of pineapple, tangerine, and coconut milk. I bet this pairs perfectly with a nice plate of Pad Thai! There is a creamy coconut flavor and I think that there are flavors of peaches and nectarines in there, too. This beer is a fantastic example of how IPA can be ridiculously complex.
For the maltier options, I opt to go with the Dark Paradise amber ale, which is really a mild ale. It has the flavors of coffee and dark chocolate thanks to the malt. There are comforting aromas of leather and subtle pipe tobacco coming off this beer. I think I would order this every time I came in if I lived here. The MüMü milk stout is next. This stout has a roasty aroma with flavors of decadent chocolate all aboard a silky mouthfeel. Lastly, the Invictus Russian Imperial Stout is full of molasses and dark chocolate flavors. Thanks to the roast, it finishes with some nice bitterness at the end.
Kros Strain brewing is definitely worth your time if you happen to be in Omaha, Nebraska. They have quality beers and a fantastic place to drink them with your friends and family. The staff is phenomenal. Jeff Hardy is such a great person to articulate the ethos of Kros Strain. I am thankful that he was willing to take the time to show me around and chat beer.
Pint Nine Brewing Co.
As I walked out of Kros Strain, I noticed Pint Nine Brewing right next door. In the spirit of beer travel, I decided to stop in and see what was going on. What I found was the polar opposite of Kros Strain and a cautionary tale for beer.
I sat down at the bar and the bartender was friendly and helpful. I felt right at home at Pint Nine Brewing. Optimistic at seeing many of the styles that I enjoy, I ordered a flight of four. She poured my flight and also gave me a splash of their Mexican Lager because it was a crowd favorite and not one of the beers in my flight. I thought that was an incredibly nice gesture. I was really enjoying my time. . . until I started tasting the beers.
The Mexican lager lacked a crispness and was incredibly under-attenuated. It is almost like it was not finished fermenting yet and maybe was pulled off early to serve. The bartender agreed with me and said it doesn’t normally taste like that.
Next, I try the citrus wheat beer. This, too, is plagued by under-attenuation. I know that the wheat is supposed to give it more of a body, so I wasn’t expecting a pilsner level of carbonation, but it almost drinks flat. It had a nice orange peel aroma in the nose.
On to the Oso Café, a beer that smelled marvelous. Inviting roasted hazelnut aroma really makes this a nice sipping experience. The coffee flavor comes through nicely and I enjoy this one.
The Dark Matters stout is definitely a misstep. The body is not remotely close to a stout because it drinks way too thin. I almost think that it might be infected given the tinge of vinous character. The wine flavor is also paired up with an off-putting astringency.
The Belgian Dubbel is definitely the best beer I try. It has a nice caramel and dark fruit flavor. You get a nice aroma of toffee on the nose with a little bit of plum. The finish is really dry and the carbonation is good on this one.
The Craft Beer Conundrum
Pint Nine Brewing is an example of a big thing that is wrong with craft beer. The under-attenuation issues in the beer are simply because they don’t have enough time to finish fermenting. They get pulled early because they want to have a variety of options on tap. I poked my head back in the brewhouse and there is not much equipment. I am sure they are working like crazy to keep up with the demand.
If Pint Nine Brewing was not next to one of the better breweries in Nebraska, they probably wouldn’t be slammed all the time. In talking to a few industry people, they confirmed my suspicions of Pint Nine rushing their beer. They didn’t take out a ton of financing to get up and running. This is why they have a smaller brewhouse and are probably maxed out for capacity. As a result, they are rushing some beers to the taps that are not up to the standard of good. They need the money to continue operating and getting better equipment and this is coming at the cost of quality.
If a batch comes out with issues in quality, a bigger brewery doesn’t think twice about dumping a batch. I know that is a difficult pill to swallow for a small brewery whose margins are razor thin. However, I also know of smaller breweries that understand that dumping a batch, or being down a few tap lines in the name of quality makes more sense down the road.
A Difficult Takeaway
Will Pint Nine Brewing get better? Maybe. However, I wouldn’t recommend visiting there until that happens. People don’t want to hear this, but local beer is not always better beer. People work pretty hard for their money and they shouldn’t have to pay for a brewery to dial it in. A little extra time spent ensuring your product is good is the recipe for long-term success and growth. I hope that Pint Nine Brewing figures dials things in because the community deserves it.
Luckily, tomorrow is a full day in Nebraska and I will get to see more of what their beer scene has to offer. I will have time for lunch at a brewpub tomorrow and then on to Lincoln for some new beercation experiences.
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .