Monday, January 3, 2011

Omaha and Bottling at Nebraska Brewing Company

This year, my birthday coincided with release of Sam Adams’ collaboration brew with Weihenstephan, Infinium. I had toyed with the idea of flying to Boston and attending the release party on the ninth of December. However, I couldn’t find anyone to go, and it’s a pricey trip when you’d be flying from Kansas City. So I decided against it. Luckily for me, that weekend, Nebraska Brewing Company in Papillion, NE needed volunteers to help bottle two of their limited edition releases. If you’re a faithful reader, you’ll remember we stopped at Nebraska Brewing on Beer Trip VI and were blown away by their beers and the owners Paul and Kim. So I was really excited to get back up there and help out any way I could.
I emailed the head brewer, Tyson, volunteering for the early shift on Saturday. I would have preferred the afternoon shift and made a night of it, but that night was the first annual Beer Trip beer tasting at Andy’s, and I couldn’t miss that. He replied back to confirm and it was all set. Because my shift would start at 7:30AM and I’m roughly 3.5hrs away, I needed to go up the day before. Dan, Andy, and I had met a fellow beer enthusiast, Chad, through and actually met him in person at NBC on Beer Trip VI. Since he lives in Omaha, I emailed him too, and he agreed to show me the local beer scene in the Omaha area when I got up there.
I left Kansas City around 4PM on Friday. The trip to Omaha couldn’t be simpler and isn’t very long. I got into the city and checked into my hotel. Chad met me not long after that and we went to our first stop, Max & Joe’s.

It’s actually one of three beer bars in one. Max & Joe’s is the Belgian beer bar. It’s connected to The Crescent Moon Ale House, and above Huber-Haus German Bier Hall. The selection was amazing, and what seemed to be the theme of the trip, my phone was dying and I couldn’t use it to make notes of the beers I tried. Trust me, if you find yourself in Omaha, you won’t be disappointed. We had a couple at Max & Joe’s, along with some fries prepared Belgian style, complete with mayo. I wanted to check out the beer available to buy, and luckily enough, the three bars are connected to a beer store called Beertopia. We went over there and I spent way too much, but picked up some beers by Lucky Bucket (which is brewed in Nebraska, but is not available in Kansas). I had quite a haul of different beers when I left, and the bartender at Max & Joe’s was nice enough to let me store it at the bar while we went downstairs to the German Brew Hall. This is definitely the most popular area of the three. It was packed with people drinking German lager out of Das Boot, made famous in recent years by the movie Beer Fest. I didn’t have one, but I did have a great dunkel before heading out. We left after that and headed west to Upstream Brewing Company.

The original is located downtown (which we visited on Beer Trip II), but they had built a new brewery/restaurant on the west side of town that is beyond impressive. The lower level has a restaurant and bar, but there’s also an upper level with a bar and a pool hall. I tried their Snow Blind Imperial Stout, a great beer that I’d like to have more of the next time they release it. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to be up early to work at Nebraska Brewing and Chad had to get home to his family. He couldn’t have been a better tour guide and it was a blast to hang out with him.
The next morning I got up about 6:30 AM as my hotel was about a 20 minute drive to the suburb of Papillion. I looked outside and the nice weather the day before had been replaced by howling wind and blowing snow. There were blizzard warnings just north of the city. It was also the first time I’d had to drive in snow since the previous winter so that’s always an adjustment. I got to Nebraska Brewing after a stop at Starbucks for my caffeine fix around 7:20. Ironically enough, all the volunteers were there, but a couple of the employees were running late because of the weather.

We got started and were bottling the Melange a Trois and Apricot au Poivre Saison. The morning crew was bottling the Melange which is aged in chardonnay barrels thus making wine the predominant aroma in the air. I lucked out and got the easiest job in the line. All I had to do was dry the bottles before Paul put the label on them with their new labeler. Before that day, he had to manually place the labels, so it was a big improvement. It labels one at a time, but makes it much easier.

The only job I didn’t want was capping. I know from when I helped Andy bottle his homebrew that it’s the worst job. I lucked out and a perfect reason for that fear of capping showed up a few hours into the shift. Turns out the alignment went wacky and wasn’t sealing correctly. They had to go back through all the previous cases to make sure others weren’t affected. Several were and had to be recapped. Capping is the worst, if I hadn’t made that clear already. Our shift wrapped up at noon as we finished up the Melange and the second group arrived.

They opened up the bar for us and brought out some of their awesome food. Unfortunately, I had a three –plus hour drive back to Kansas City in the snow, so I only treated myself to a couple beers. It was great getting to meet Tyson who was out of town when Beer Trip made the stop there on BT VI. Also got to meet Paul’s dad and talk to him for a bit. Dan had sent up a bottle of one of Cigar City’s beers for Paul, and I had a bottle of Westvletern 8 I picked up in Belgium. Ironically enough, Nebraska Brewing and Cigar City had just decided to do a collaboration beer together and Paul hadn’t had a chance to try any of their beers. So needless to say he was very excited to get that bottle. Paul’s wife, Kim was there too and hung out for a bit as well. I had to get on the road to make the tasting so I dropped a bunch of money on more of their beer to bring home.

It was a great experience and I had a great time there. I was beyond impressed by the beer scene in the greater Omaha area. I look forward to getting back up there when I get the chance, and when I can spend more time. Although not in the winter. I don’t need any more experience driving in Nebraska snow.


  1. You'll be glad to hear that we invested in a "real" capper finally. I just fired it up yesterday for the first time and it is awesome. Seriously, people will be fighting over the capping station next time around!

  2. Other places (beer bars, that is) for you to visit on your next trip to Omaha: The Foundation (downtown, close to Upstream), Brass Monkey (south Omaha, 36 taps, only about a half-dozen wasted taps and great pricing), and I'm drawing a blank on the name at the moment, but a little dive with all kinds of breweriana on the walls and ceiling and sparkling wine on tap as a gimmick... someone will remember the name of it, short word ending in "y" and two syllables.... someone will know

  3. The place I was trying to think of is Homy Inn. (All it took was a clusty/yippy search on Omaha Champagne on tap ;-) )