The Thunderhead Brewing taproom has incredible service. So I am sure the question you are thinking as you are reading this is "So what do you mean by that?" Service is the little things that make me feel important as a customer. For example, when I am curious about a new beer on the menu, the bartender is quick to provide me a sample and explain more about the beer. I can tell Jake spends a lot of time keeping up with all of the nuances of the beers Thunderhead Brewing provides and other breweries also. You can ask Jake any question about a beer and he gives you an honest opinion of what he thinks. For me, this is important because I enjoy learning about different beers through someone else's palette. Another subtle but important point is that most taprooms are designed so that the customers come up to the bar and order their beer. I have been to many taprooms that didn't take into consideration as to a place that standouts out where I should go to order a beer. Beau didn't miss a beat on this one. The straight shaped bar has an area that is clearly lower than the rest which is a great visual indication. Then as you get closer to order, you notice the very cool natural tree cut piece of wood that is different than that rest of the bar top. When the taproom is busy, this really helps versus for example meandering around a horseshoe shape bar hoping that one of the bartenders will see you and take your order.
As I started to talk to Jake more about other things about the taproom, I asked him, do you allow events to take place in the taproom? Jake's response was "absolutely". The Thunderhead Brewing taproom welcomes special events like the Siberian Huskies & Alaskan Malamutes rescue event shown to the right. They have also had wedding rehearsal parties, birthday parties, college alumni reunions, and team building events. Wait the team building events might have been me thinking to myself about how great would it be to bring my team here for an afternoon! Beau told me they are in the works of acquiring additional space so that the can accommodate even larger events like wedding receptions. His vision for the additional space is incredible and even brings with it the possibility of having live music events!
So when it is comes to a having a great taproom, having a good variety of beers is a must for me. Granted my first love is coffee stouts and porters, but I like different beers throughout the year. When you come to Thunderhead Brewing Taproom you will find 10 year around beers and 5 or more seasonal beers. Wow what a selection! Beyond that, there are additional 5+ guess taps rotated frequently with beers that you might not normally get your hands on in Omaha. Jake does a great job of searching out the various beers that are on the guess tap list. I have to admit that I have had only one from the list, because frankly I enjoy the Thunderhead Brewing brews very much.
I started to think about all of the taprooms I have been to and why certain ones seem to draw me to frequent one more than another. There are so many new ones that keep popping up with the explosion of the craft beer industry (which is a good thing) that makes me wonder is it by chance that the establishment becomes great or is there more to it? I would like to take you through what I believe makes a taproom "great".
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with the owner Beau Starkel and manager Jake Heiliger from the Thunderhead Brewing Company taproom in Omaha, Nebraska. I had a great time learning about how they got there taproom started and their philosophy about taprooms. Beau stated that the key to making a taproom successful is service and atmosphere. I couldn't agree more with that.
The first time walking from the parking lot, down the stairs, and into the Thunderhead Brewing taproom, I got this vibe that this would be a great place to hang out with friends to have a couple of beers. Taproom location and design is not by chance. It takes a lot of time and consideration picking the right building and location. Beau described to me the process he went through and how important it was to find a space that had the key things he was looking for. For example, the Thunderhead Brewing taproom has an awesome patio with a good variety of seating choices from tables to cool cushioned tree stumps. The thing that makes the patio so nice is that it has the right amount of sun, and is between buildings to where you can have a casual conversation with someone without yelling. I have been to places where the street noise makes it almost impossible to have a good conversation, not at the Thunderhead Taproom, it is perfect!
You probably have been thinking when is this guy going to talk about the beer? Had to save the best for last! I was introduced to the Thunderhead Brewing beers last fall and I love the character of each and every one of these beers. Trevor Schaben and his wife Jenny open a very small taproom on Railroad Street in Kearney, Nebraska in 1999. The 3 barrel system they started with back then has grown to a 30 barrel system that now resides outside of Kearney in Axtell. The business has grown due to Trevor's great passion for brewing quality craft beer and also the unique twist he develops for some of the seasonal and small batches. One of my favorites... ok my favorite is the Calico Espresso Stout which won the brewery it's first gold medal at the World Beer Cup competition. Other incredible beers that are on tap everyday are listed on the left. I have been making my way through the list and find that the Cornstalker is one of the most unique wheat beers I have ever had. It has chocolate and caramel notes and brewed with a very special ingredient. You are thinking "love" aren't you. Well that is true, but the ingredient I am talking about is malted Nebraska corn! Hopluia is a recent addition and is now being brewed by Thunderhead Brewing after Spilker Ales in Cortland, Nebraska closed their brewery earlier this spring. I don't know if you can find a better staple of year around beers than the ones from Thunderhead Brewing!
I hope some of the tips in the article help you find the great taprooms that are out there. Special thanks to the Thunderhead Brewing taproom for all of the insight in to the making of their great establishment. If you are ever in Omaha, Nebraska, make sure you stop in at Thunderhead Brewing to enjoy a great beer, conversation, and maybe even pick up something to go. Cheers!