It’s Just Natural: Nebraska’s Craft Beer Breweries are on the Rise, Part 2
Part two of our story on Nebraska’s burgeoning craft beer culture will give us a sneak peek into a couple more of the current breweries in planning that happen to share a common starting point.
It’s official, for the first time since prohibition, America again has its own nationally celebrated beer culture. Here in Nebraska, there are now over 30 operational breweries in the state with at least 10 more currently in planning or build out. Is that too many? Not even close. It’s now part of who we are and part of how we enjoy time spent with each other. It’s our culture.
Please sit back with a fresh pour of your favorite brew and enjoy a few stories about the future of our new reality.
Kros Strain Brewing Company (La Vista, NE)
Like many others, it all started as just a hobby in the garage for Bobby Kros and Scott Strain. But Kros Strain Brewing Company’s story truly started when they left their careers to start making beer for Nebraska Brewing Company. Although the two did not know each other before turning pro, they quickly realized that they had similar ideas and worked well as a team. While sharpening their teeth gaining experience brewing on both of NBC’s brewhouses, a 10-barrel system at the Papillion brew pub as well as a 30-barrel monster at their new production facility in La Vista, Scott says, “After a year or so we began looking at the market and realized there was a real need for more packaging breweries putting out quality beers in Nebraska.”
Working long days in a hot brewery are usually exhausting enough to suck the desire for homebrewing out of even the most eager of hobbyist, but Bobby and Scott kept up with their recipe development and creativity on their home rigs in their spare time. It should be mentioned that these guys are good at it. Last October the two came away winning Best of Show at the Sower’s Cup, Nebraska’s largest homebrew completion, beating out a field of nearly 350 other beers of every style imaginable. Scott also didn’t exactly just waltz into becoming a professional brewer. Prior to Nebraska Brewing Company, he got a leg up by completing the Associate Program in Brewing Technology through Siebel Institute of Technology, which is the oldest brewing school in the country founded in 1872.
In order for the duo’s dream to become a reality, the first big hurdle was raising all of the capital needed for their venture. Scott shared, “We knew we had some people that would likely support us but we had no idea how much support we could get. If you don’t come from a wealthy family that is willing to fund you, and you don’t have a lot of personal assets, it’s not easy.” And he added, “Luckily we’ve got a good group of people supporting us now, and have been lucky enough to find a bank that has been willing to work with us too.”
After the financial side was completed, a seldom thought of dilemma for aspiring brewery owners is what would seem to be the simple process of coming up with a name. The problem is with the head spinning rate that breweries are opening across the country and all the new ones that are still in planning, finding a clever or fitting name that has not already been trademarked can seem like an impossible task. While the thought process behind Kros Strain may seem obvious, they also took the clever route, as Scott explained, “We went through a lot of options for the name but ultimately decided the combination of our own last names was a great option. We’ll also be making sour beers as soon as we can and we’ll work to develop a house cross strain of yeasts and bacteria for those beers.”
Locked and loaded, Bobby and Scott recently signed a lease for their brewery that will be located south of 108th and Giles in La Vista (just off the Cabela’s exit). Scott shared, “We are really happy with this location as it is directly off of a main road, has other businesses in the plaza, and a really large parking lot.” He added, “It also backs up to the newly paved West Papio Trail bike path. It’s a great spot to park and ride as far as you want and return for a drink after.”
Kros Strain Brewing Company has its sights set to open the doors as early as spring of 2017. The production facility will include a 15-barrel, 3-vessel brewhouse from Alpha Brewing Operations in Lincoln, with focus on packaging in 12 and 22 ounce bottles as well as kegs. They plan to produce an array of beer styles that should regularly include a variation of a lager or two, some hop forward styles, and some lower alcohol Belgian styles, to name just a few. For the more limited releases they have up their sleeves, Scott said, “In addition to barrel aged beers and sour beers, we have a long list of specialty beers to keep things interesting. As homebrewers we like to experiment with new ingredients and try new things. We feel this keeps things fun for us and for our customers.”
Get Lost Brewing Company (Lincoln, NE)
Lincoln is looking forward to adding another brewery to its ranks with Get Lost Brewing Company and its creator Sam Riggins, who just so happens to also be a Nebraska Brewing Company alumni and former head brewer at NBC’s Papillion brewpub. For Sam, it all began when, “A guy walks in to a bar is how this all started. Seriously. In 1993 I started college at the University of Kansas, and my family and I went in to eat at Free State Brewing. I had never been in a brew pub before. You could see back in the brewery and there were a couple of guys working. I remember thinking, “Whoa, this is actually a job?” I think I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.”
After college Sam started out at Nebraska Book Company where he worked with Matt Dinges, now owner of Good Life Provisions LLC (Get Lost’s future distributor). His friendship with Matt helped nudge Sam into brewing his first beer at home in 2007. During this period, Sam was also was somewhat of a “beer geek” who enjoyed seeking out and enjoying great beers from around the world while keeping a cellar at home to age some of his rare gems that improve with age. A few years later, in 2010, Sam found himself temporarily jobless without knowing what he would do next, when, “I ran into Paul and Tyson from Nebraska Brewing Company and found out they had an assistant brewer position opening up. I bothered them until they gave me the job a few weeks later,” said Sam. Over the course of the next several years Sam took part in NBC’s rise to becoming an award winning and nationally recognized brewery.
In 2014 Sam left the brewery to begin planning for his own. Since then he has managed to balance his time between brewing at home, working with investors and property owners, collaborating with other breweries on special release beers all over the country and being a Dad. Sam says, “The two biggest challenges for me have been investment and finding a location. Our location search has been difficult for a couple of reasons. It’s difficult to find a place with the right rent in the right area. We want a big portion of our business to be in our tap room. While it’s not so bad to pay higher rent for the tap room, you have what is essentially a factory in the back that needs lower rent. Finding that balance is difficult.” As for the all-important money side he added, “Investment in the brewery has been difficult too. A lot of people that have approached me just don’t have enough to invest. While I would love to take their money and have them be part of the brewery, I don’t want to see 50% of their investment go straight to legal fees. I need to have the investment work towards the brewery so that investors get a good return.”
With the real estate and financial requirements finalizing, he has been able to take some time doing what he misses most, professionally brewing. After taking the plunge to start off on his own, Sam has had the opportunity to slide back into his rubber boots and collaborate with several of his old compatriots at their breweries, while spreading the Get Lost name throughout the craft beer community before he ever opens his doors. “I’ve brewed beers at Free State in Kansas, and Metropolitan in Chicago. In Nebraska, I’ve been out to Scratchtown twice and also just did a three-way collaboration with Kinkaider and Scratchtown.” said Sam. He also hinted at a few more coming up that we can look forward before he gets his doors open.
In the meantime, all he is revealing now about the future location is that, “We are looking away from downtown. I feel that downtown Lincoln is already saturated with bars and breweries, while most of Lincoln is underserved from a ‘craft beer’ standpoint.” With an eye on being open around March of 2017, Sam plans to start with selling as much beer as possible from the taproom while keeping production focused on kegs and special release bottles otherwise. “People want a wide variety and selection, and it’s easy to get bored brewing the same beers over and over again. Part of this ties back into the name. Always pushing forward, always trying something new. That being said, my loves are pale hoppy American beers and Belgian or French farmhouse beers. You’ll probably see more of these styles than anything. As the brewery grows, we’ll expand into more barrel aging and start a sour and blending program as well.” Sam said.
When Sam looks into a crystal ball at ten years into the future, his daughter Olive will be at college age, so some of his plans will wait and see if she wants to be involved in the family business. Otherwise, Sam hopes for small manageable growth that will allow him to stay in the breweries operations, and not stuck at a desk. Sam finished with, “Maybe by that time we’ll have grown enough to open a second brewery out in the country that only does funky wild beers. Who knows, I’m not making beer to be on every shelf of every store.”
Jason is a Certified Cicerone, ranked National as a BJCP judge (Beer Judge Certification Program), is a craft beer aficionado, a writer for the Nebraska Beer Blog, and award winning homebrewer living in Lincoln. Jason spends time traveling around the country judging beer competitions, and attending related events. Beer tasting and evaluation is his passion, and he can appreciate a great example of any style regardless of hype.
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