Our trip to the Great Nebraska Beer Festival gave us the opportunity to explore the Omaha beer scene. Not generally a city associated with the craft beer revolution, good beer can definitely be found in America’s heartland.
We previously visited Omaha in 1992. At that time, I half-jokingly told a friend who played baseball for Cal, that if the team made the College World Series, we would go. Long story short, Cal made the CWS. In the infancy of our beer travels, I vaguely remember checking to see if there were any breweries in the area. There were not.
This trip was going to be different, though, and there was an air of excitement as we parked our rental car in an industrial park in the Omaha suburb of La Vista. The first stop, our 741st brewery, would be our very first in Nebraska. It had been along day of travel and our excitement might have been compounded by Merideth and I craving our first beers of the day. The honor went to Lucky Bucket Brewing.
The tasting room was already busy when we arrived late Friday afternoon. We grabbed the only available table next to the distillery and quickly ordered the sample flight.
There were six beers in the flight. While based on our history you might assume that the Lucky Bucket Lager and IPA would be each of our favorite beers, neither were. In one of those rare occasions, we agreed that the Cunningham Kriek was the star. From their Single Batch Series, the red-brown Kriek had a really pleasant, dry, fruit character. While not as tart as I like my Krieks, it was a great introduction to the diversity of the Nebraska beer scene.
Nebraska Brewing, host of the festival, was our next stop. Located at the end of Shadow Lake Towne Center’s faux main street shopping area, the cookie-cutter mall exterior contrasted sharply with the cozy, pub feel of the interior.
Merideth and I only experienced Nebraska Brewing in the context of the festival. Despite the frenetic air with festival goers coming and going, I got a strong sense of a neighborhood, family-friendly establishment.
They were popular at the Firestone Walker Invitational this past June and since then, I have had a number of “you HAVE to try their beer” recommendations from friends. However, unlike most every other brewery stop, we never did order a sample flight.
While Merideth pin-balled between the Infinite Wit and EOS Hefeweizen, I stuck with their IPA. With 2010 World Beer Championship Silver medal to its credit, the 6.5% ABV and 65 IBU IPA had a wonderful floral nose and a ‘did-I-just-finish-another-one’ drinkability. It could easily hold its own in the lineup of IPAs on the West Coast.
Obviously, we need to return to Nebraska Brewing in the future to try its full lineup.
In our schedule, we had one free day, Sunday, to explore Omaha. Despite the midday heat and humidity, the draw of a Lewis and Clark landing site had Merideth and I strolling along the scenic river front walk located downtown. While boats cruised up and down the Missouri River, we tried to take in all the scenery.
Lewis and Clark were just one of the draws in the 23 acre park. For me, its most impressive feature was the labor monument, the second largest of its kind in the United States.
We could only survive about an hour under the blazing sun. Luckily, I planned our walk to finish up in the cobbled streets of Omaha’s Old Market. The city’s arts and entertainment district, the Old Market was home to our last brewery stop of the trip, Upstream Brewing.
Housed in the district’s 1904 firehouse, the blast of air conditioning was a most welcome feeling as we passed through Upstream’s front doors. After enjoying the cool air for a moment, we settled down at the dark wood bar to drink some beer.
The ten brew flight was the largest and most diverse of the trip. Three fruit beers and a chocolate Saison rounded out the more familiar Pale Ale, Red Ale, and IPA selections. Merideth’s favorites, the crisp Groll Bohemian Pilsner and the refreshing I Don’t Know Tropical Saison (flavored with hibiscus flowers and passion fruit) paired perfectly with the hot and humid weather.
I quickly identified Capitol Pale Ale as a favorite until I tried Flagship IPA. The copper-colored brew had delicious citrus and pine hop flavors. If I learned one thing on the trip, it is that the West Coast-style IPA is alive and well in Nebraska!
As the afternoon heat of the day broke, Merideth and I were able to finish our heartland beer adventure on Upstream’s expansive patio. Enjoying a few brews on a pleasant Midwest summer evening, it was a relaxing way to end our whirlwind trip.