My Beercation To Beer Mecca & Beyond: Lincoln, 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.
I wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a soaking night’s rain. The first day of my beercation was a lot of driving and I only fit in two breweries. Hopefully, this next leg will reverse that ratio a bit. The skies are cloudy and I know that I need some coffee before setting out for a big day of brewery hopping. I get on Yelp and see that Archetype Coffee is close by in the Blackstone neighborhood. I head there to get some caffeine in my system and carve out a plan for the day.
After coffee, it is time to switch to beer. Since the head brewer of Upstream reached out to me, I set my Google Maps to their brewpub and figure I can eat and drink before getting out of town.
Upstream Brewing Company
Upstream Brewing Company is Omaha’s oldest brewpub. When I posted a query on the Nebraska Beer Facebook page about places to visit while in Omaha, Mike Freeman reached out and invited me to stop by. I am never one to ignore an invitation for beer on a beercation so I oblige. I arrive shortly after they open and there aren’t many people in the place. The droves of college baseball enthusiasts will soon be packing this place, so I go and track down Mike.
The Man With The Plan
The brewhouse is separated by some windows for all to see. Mike is cleaning and moving around some hoses. I poke my head in the doorway and introduce myself. I snap a few pics and ask him what is pouring today that I should make sure to try. Mike gives me some suggestions and it sounds like it will be a good start to the day.
Upstream brews on a 17 Barrel system and they have 6 fermenter tanks. Their game is seasonal beers and they have about 35 different ones that they rotate through in the calendar year. Of the 1200-1500 barrels of beer a year they brew, 96% is consumed in the brewpub.
After chatting with Mike, I head over to the bar where Jill gets me set up with a menu, glass of water, and a taster tray of beers. The taster tray is the only way I can crack the surface of the 16 beers that they have on tap. I also put in an order of fish and chips to go along with the beers.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
A little advice to those who beercation, anytime you can combine food and beer, you should do it. Pairing beer and food is a practice that can really elevate and eating and drinking experience. Also, from a safety and practicality standpoint, food will help you enjoy the beers and still drive safely. You should never beercation on an empty stomach!
The beers are solid. They have an array of styles and flavor profiles to choose from. I start off with the Maibock, a seasonal from spring that is still around. The beer is nice and crisp, and there is a cracker malt note, but I wish there were a bit more of a hop bite at the end.
The Afterglow White Stout has rich coffee notes without any astringent acidity. The aroma is roasted coffee with a little toffee sweetness. The mouthfeel is smooth and easy to keep sipping. The Belgium’N Button has fruity esters of apricot and lemon. There is also a nice bit of clove in the nose. The flavors of stone fruit and bubblegum are pleasing to my palate. The finish is dry and illustrates Mike Freeman’s brewing chops.
The No Ragrets Juicy IPA is bright and fruity. I would say that this falls on the low end of the haziness scale. The hops provide a nice tangerine and pineapple brightness. There is also a bit of bitterness that is in the grassy zone. No Ragrets lacks the soft and pillowy mouthfeel that the great NEIPAs have, but it is a tasty beer.
The American Wheat pairs great with the fish and chips that I ordered for lunch. The bright and crisp beer cuts the fat in the fried coating and doesn’t overpower the flavor of the fish. The Flagship IPA has a nice malt backbone to balance out the resin and pine in the finish. This also is great with the fried fish.
The O! Gold lager is crisp and clean with a pleasing lemon aroma. There is a little hint of honey sweetness from the malt in the finish which rounds out the sip nicely. The Dundee Scotch ale is the best in show for me. The smell of smoked logs at a campfire is subtle and not overpowering. There is also peat and a little bit of caramel. Flavors of leathery roasted malt make the entire experience transformative and I am now sitting in a chair by a roaring fire.
As I mentioned, the College World Series is in town and by the time my food arrives the bar and restaurant area are packed. Mike stops over to check in on me and I let him know how enjoyable the whole experience is. Mike is humble and generous. He credits those around him for the success of the beers. For being the oldest brewpub in Omaha, Mike does a great job of keeping the beers relevant. Meeting people like Mike are why I beercation. He is so passionate about the beer he brews and it definitely shows.
That Chatty Guy From Michigan
I was not the only person enjoying the beers. As I look around the bar that has a ton of seating, Michigan and Vanderbilt fans are grabbing bar seats left and right. Two Michigan fans seated to my right are talking and I find out one of them is from Mankato, MN! I always run into someone from the home state on my beercations.
The other guy is waiting for his sons to show up from their scooter jaunt through the town. This guy is definitely a talker. He engages Jill, the guy from Mankato, and anyone else who will listen in whatever talking points are fresh in his chat hopper. To say he is impressed with the food and beer here is definitely selling it short. He cannot get enough of the white stout. While I was there, I saw him polish off at least two pints. After a few minutes, I can tell that he will be my beercation comic relief for the next hour if I pay attention.
He is definitely a foodie, but in the down-home, non-pretentious, and funny neighbor next door kind of way. I thought he was going to do a cartwheel when he heard the soup of the day. “You knew I was coming and you made the corn chowder, that’s one of my favorites!” Everytime he speaks, he addresses no one in particular and everyone in the place at the same time.
Buckle Up, Folks. . .
He begins to study the menu. His focus is laser sharp. As he scans each menu item, his body language is that of a bomb squad member trying to decide which wire to cut. Every now and again, he will verbally delibrate what items sound good to him. “Aww, man, some wings would hit the spot.”
He winds up ordering the corn chowder, a shrimp and slaw salad, and some wings. When the food arrives, he promptly puts down the rest of his white stout and orders a fresh one to go with his vittles. In the opposite of inside voice, he proclaims to everyone in a 5-block radius, “You’re right, that slaw is badass!” His hint of a country drawl only makes his enthusiasm more passionate and enjoyable.
Every now and then, chatty Michigan guy asks a question that causes me to look the other way to prevent myself from busting out laughing. At one point, with a quizzical look on his face and a tone of dead seriousness, he asks, “So, that root beer, is that non-alcoholic beer, then?” Typically, I meet one or two of these types on an entire beercation. The fact that I am encountering someone so colorful and verbose on the second day is a good sign.
Ultimately, the coup de grace of hilarity comes about ten minutes after the root beer revelation. Like a grizzled and worn-out detective cracking a cold case that cements his career, he exclaims to all, “You know what? Omaha steaks, this is where Omaha steaks come from! Dude! Omaha steaks are fucking good!!” It is at this point that I have to excuse myself to go laugh to myself in the bathroom.
Now, I am off to Lincoln, NE, to meet an old friend at Empyrean. I am sad to leave the comic relief as chatty Michigan guy is now amongst some friends and his sons have joined him. I want to stay and write down more of his lines, but the beercation trail is calling me.
Empyrean Brewing Co.
In 2015, a friend sent me down to meet Ben Matya, Sales Manager at Empyrean for a tour. Ben graciously showed me around the brewery and generously hosted me at the brewpub for some food and beer. Now, in 2019, I am going to meet with him again. This time, I am getting a tour of the location for their new taproom in a building a few blocks away that used to be an ice block factory.
Beer Friends Are The Best Friends
I meet Ben at the bar and we have some food and a beer or two. It is nice connecting with an old friend. Ben is a busy man, with three kids, and a wife out of town, he is in full-on dad-mode. I am grateful that he is taking some time to chat and hang out. We spend a good hour chatting beer and then he takes me on a whistle-stop tour of their new facility in the making. I cannot wait to see what the new taproom space will look like. Empyrean has a special place in my heart. I like their beers and I think that some of the new takes on IPA are exciting.
Ben is also a wealth of information on the Nebraska beer scene. We chat about places to try and how things are evolving from a sales perspective. I think Ben could teach a beer economics course because he knows his numbers and how the game works. After the tour, he loads me up with some beer for the road, including 12 bottles of their ESB! I thank him for the beer conversation and tour. I notice there is a brewery across the street and I go over there to check another place off my list.
Kinkaider Brewing Co.
As the temperature is hitting the mid-90s, an air conditioned taproom and some lagers are just what this beercation needs! Kinkaider Brewing Co. has a modern, yet cozy feel. The beer lineup has quite a few offerings, but I am sticking with a flight of five beers. They have everything from light to dark, hoppy to malty, and I think that a local would really be happy with their offerings.
There is also a funky mural on the wall featuring “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Being that it is a Wednesday afternoon, there are quite a few people in the taproom. They also have a sizable patio that is filling up with people who are obviously impervious to heat.
For me, I opt for inside and cooling off with some beers. I order up a taster flight made up of a wide spectrum of styles.
The Dan The Wiser Kölsch-style beer is clean with a dash of honey sweetness from the malt. It is on the crisp side and a perfect way to relax in the summer. The Death in the Hills Pils is also crisp and clean. I like the dry finish on this one and the malt flavor is more in line with cracker or white bread crust.
The Vaquero Dark Mexican Lager is essentially a Vienna Lager. The malt flavors and aromas come across as rich toasted bread. It also has a fairly crisp finish. The Shot Caller Brown starts off roasty and finishes sweet. The notes of vanilla are pleasing and used sparingly so as to not overwhelm the beer.
The 4-County Pale Ale is close to being a good beer. There is too much residual sweetness that throws off the balance in this one. I suspect that there is a fermentation or carbonation issue with this one. It drinks flat and almost like the yeast wasn’t quite finished doing its job. There is a grassy aroma, but not much hoppy flavor due to the overwhelming sweetness in the beer.
All in all, Kinkaider is a nice find on the beercation and I would stop here again. Nothing earth-shattering like Kros Strain, but they certainly know how to brew a mean pilsner and Vienna Lager. Kinkaider’s proximity to other things and their space are all things that make this a nice option in Lincoln.
My time in Lincoln is waning and the Beer Mecca that is Denver is calling. However, there are two more taproom experiences that I have left before I traverse my way to the Mile High City. However, that will be in the next travelogue of my beercation to Beer Mecca. Prost!
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 .