Thanks to our friends at The Roaming Pint, Merideth and I had the opportunity to beer travel to Omaha, Nebraska for the first time. The Great Nebraska Beer Festival was looking for someone to talk about beer travel in one of their seminars. When Brian and Maria couldn’t do it, they suggested us. It was an opportunity to not only introduce ourselves to a new audience and sell Merideth’s book but more important, to try a bunch of Midwest brews. The whole thing was just too good to turn down.
Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion (pronounced pa-PILL-yun) was the home of the Great Nebraska Beer Festival. Overnight, the empty parking lot in front of the Dick’s Sporting Goods transformed into a small tent city for the beer festival. The eighty or so breweries were grouped in six tents throughout the fenced in area.
Before the festival opened, Merideth and I wandered around trying to get the lay of the land. As I noticed all the brewers greet each other warmly via a handshake or hug, an odd feeling came over me. We didn’t know ANYONE. Most of the beer fests we attend are on the West Coast, where we do know everyone. We’re some of those people giving each other hand shakes and hugs. Not so in Papillion, Nebraska. We were definitely going to need all of our anti-wallflower powers.
The week prior our journey to Nebraska, we checked the weather regularly. As the week progressed, the chance of rain went from a paltry 10% to 80% the day of the festival. Sure enough, once the festival kicked off at noon, a steady rain began to fall.
We quickly learned a new lesson in our lives as book purveyors. It is very difficult to sell books at an outdoor beer festival in the rain. Despite the realization that book sales were going to be slow at best, all was not lost. There were all those new beer to try…
One of the hidden gems for us was Cigar City, not available in California. At the festival, a hand scrawled ‘CIGAR’ and a soggy program opened to its beers was the only designation for one of the biggest cult breweries in the country.
Cigar City Cucumber Saison won my best of show brew. I’ve had a cucumber beer and soda before but both were so subtle that my taste buds had to search for the flavor. Cigar City’s Saison, on the other hand, had a VERY pronounced cucumber taste. If they had added a bit of brine, I would have professed it the best beer ever made.
Given our friend and thebeergeek.com contributor, Renee is from Iowa, we made sure we tried some brews from her home state. Pom Pom Shaker, a Pomegranate Sour from homebrew club Iowa Brewers Union made my list of top 3 brews of the festival.
Peace Tree Brewing from Knoxville, IA had me won over before I tried any of their beers with their Partridge Family-esque bus. Their beers were pretty good as well, with the Red Rambler Red Ale and Hop Wrangler IPA tickling our fancy.
Throughout the afternoon, while Merideth (wo)manned the covered book table, I wandered out into the festival’s intermittent showers in search of beer. While some of the brewery names sounded familiar (Boulevard, Free State, Tallgrass), others like Ploughshare, Morgan Street and Beaver View, I had never heard of. On each journey, I would bring back two beers for us to try.
Other notable brews we tasted…
- Cask Mango Watch Man IPA – Empyrean Brewing, Lincoln, NE
- Zesting the Cone IPA – Nebraska Brewing, Papillion, NE
- 8-Bit Pale Ale – Tallgrass Brewing, Manhattan, KS
- Schwarzbier – Morgan Street Brewery, St. Louis, MO
- Powerhouse Pilsner – Gottberg, Columbus, NE
- Saison – Funkwerks, Fort Collins, CO
- Ethan’s Stout – Blue Blood Brewing, Lincoln, NE
- The Griffin (Hefeweizen) – Grimm Bros. Brewhouse, Loveland, CO
- Kölsch – Schlafly Brewing, St. Louis, MO
Topeka’s Blind Tiger opened our eyes to a beer festival first to us, a beer dispensing back pack. I never saw it loaded but I assume it held a five gallon keg. All during the day, one of the brewers wandered around with a keg strapped to his back filling empty taster glasses to appreciative festival goers. I availed myself of this great service on several occasions when I found myself with an empty taster glass.
Obviously, Merideth and I were disappointed that the weather didn’t go our way. But in the end, we met some great people and drank some wonderful beer at the Great Nebraska Beer Festival.