The word resurrect has so many meanings that apply to what Vis Major is accomplishing. Revive, restore, regenerate, revitalize, breathe new life into, bring back to life, reinvigorate, rejuvenate, stimulate, reestablish ... It is an amazing story of what the owners Tom and Lindsey Clements have been doing.
Even though it is slightly north of what is considered to be South Omaha by many, Vis Major is resurrecting the brewery industry that has a long history in South O. I would like to take you back in time to get a sense of how essential the beer industry was to the growth of the community.
Jetter Brewing Company was created in 1887. Balthas Jetter was a German immigrant who came to Omaha wanting to brew beer for the thirsty packing house workers. He initially partnered with an man named Mr. Young. The Jetter and Young Brewery was then soon built at 30th & "Y" street. By 1890, Jetter bought out his partner was producing 10,000 barrels of beer each year. From my understanding one barrel is approximately 31 gallons of beer, so we are talking about 310,000 gallons of beer. The packing industry was booming and so were the Jetter brews including their flagship named "Gold Top" which later was renamed to "Old Age". By 1902 production increased to 30,000 barrels and continued to grow all the way to 100,000 barrels before Prohibition began. August 10th, 1933 was the date when it became legal to produce beer again in Nebraska. Even though Balthas Jetter had passed away, the brewery under new ownership was poised to become the largest in the region. Jetter Brewing Company had a relaunch party and tasting at Krug Park in late August of 1933. Things were looking up but only for a short time as the "Great Depression" would be the demise of this brewery.
Please take the time to read the complete story from the link above highlighted in blue. I think you will find something in it that you can relate to. For me it is the fact the brewery was 10 blocks west of where my grandparent's house use to be. My grandfather worked at Wilson's in the meat packing industry for many years so I can relate to how important the breweries were to this industry and the community.
There are more great stories about the "Big 4" breweries of South Omaha including Krug Brewing, Storz, Willow Springs, and Metz. One of the best ones I found in the archives is from the Omaha World Herald - Cheers for Beers! This article is so intriguing. So some of us will remember the name Falstaff from our parents or grandparents. Falstaff purchased Krug Brewing and continued to brew beer until the mid to late 1980's. A rich culture of community, food, and beer had come to an end.
It wouldn't be for another 30 years until someone would breathe new life into the beer brewing tradition of South Omaha. That someone is the Clements and Vis Major on 35th and Center is the place where it is all happening.
Sometimes it takes a light to show you the way to what you are destined to be. For Lindsey and Tom, owning a brewery was never part of their master plan. Tom, an aircraft mechanic, and Lindsey who has a background in sales and marketing met each other while Tom was a personal trainer at a gym. The two hit it off and quickly found out that the shared a passion for craft beer.
The couple moved to Chicago where Tom would work at O'hare Airport and Lindsey in the interior design industry. Chicago has many craft breweries and bars to explore the various varieties of beer. Lindsey told me how trying different styles of beer really broadened her palate. Tom in the meantime had a coworker convince him to give home brewing a try. The first kit he go to brew was an IPA. A starting point for great things to follow!
Big cities like Chicago can be great until when the economy goes bad. Lindsey described to me the period of time where things become pretty stressful for her and Tom in Chicago. For starters, Lindsey was downsized out of her new position. Needing to find work in order to make apartment payments had Lindsey jumping between a couple of jobs including being a waitress and selling memberships for at gym. As a young married couple, you work hard together to get your life started. When things don't go as expected, you look to your heart to find where your passions lie.
Reestablishing one's own identity can be a very scary proposition. Lindsey sat down with Tom and discussed taking some time to figure out what direction to take her career. We have all been there wondering what we were meant to do and it can be a difficult endeavor. Lindsey still hadn't lost her passion for craft beer. Matter of fact the opposite was occurring. The more Lindsey read craft beer journals and brewing books, the more intrigued she became about brewing beer. Tom and Lindsey loved to research different ingredients for beers and soon started to create a decent sized recipe book for the beers they would soon brew. I had to ask Lindsey what was one of her favorite beers from those days in Chicago and she said Founders Cerise Cherry Ale. Beautiful color in this beer. Hang on to that thought...
A rejuvenated Lindsey now was back looking for the right opportunity. An initial introduction to Arbella Distributing from Omaha didn't yield a job for Lindsey but proved to be a great contact. Soon Ryan Penke, owner of Arbella would have Lindsey on his staff. Lindsey described for me that this opportunity was a key step in learning about the craft beer industry and what it takes to be a brewery. Zipline Brewing was the first local craft beer brewery that Arbella distributed for. It is amazing to learn about all of the relationships in the craft beer industry in Nebraska. I think there is no other state where the breweries work together so well and welcome new ones.
For Lindsey, being involved in the craft beer industry continued to ignite the passion of wanting to be a bigger part of it. So it wasn't long before Lindsey and Tom announced, "We are going to open a brewery". These were the words of the Clements back in 2014 to some of their closest friends. Now that the goal was out there, it was time to make it happen! Lindsey said that a whirlwind of activity soon followed that decision. There was still so much to learn to be able to run a brewery. The recipes were there and the confidence that they could produce great beer but how do you get started? Lindsey said she remembers being at the Nebraska Beer Fest in 2014 where Caleb Pollard of Scratchtown Brewing was giving a talk about what it takes from going from a home brewer to having a brewery. Lindsey and Tom then asked if they could tour the Scratchtown brewery to learn more. Mike Klimek, who is the head brewer, walked through the process of getting the brewery up and running. Lindsey remembers a key thing that Mike said to them ... "It takes creativity to realize a dream.". Other people in the craft beer community were there also to provide advice to the Clements including Bill Baburek who is the owner of Infusion Brewing Co and the Crescent Moon bar.
There are so many things to starting a business. Creating your business plan can be such a daunting task. Lindsey said going into the process her and Tom knew they wanted to be a neighborhood craft beer brewery. The desire was to produce enough beer for the taproom. This was important especially when it came to financing and finding a location. The search for the location included sites on Park Avenue, 13th Street, 25th and Farnam before finding the right spot at 35th and Center. This location use to be Clanton Grocery from 1913 until the 1980s. Back when the building was sold in 1989, it was going to be frame shop but that never happened. The building stood idle until the Clements decided to bring it back to life.
Old buildings have so much character but can have many challenges bring them up to current building code. The ceiling had these amazing tiles but had to be taken down due to the fire code. Lindsey and Tom were able to keep some and put them on the wall so that the legacy of Clanton Grocery could live on. There were many other challenges, but in the end Lindsey has designed a peaceful sanctuary where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The one thing I notice when I am there is how people are enjoying one another's company without the distraction of loud music or televisions.
There are so many stories of craft beer breweries reviving neighborhoods and communities. Take for example Benson, which has seen tremendous growth after the opening of the Benson Brewery, Infusion, and the many bars serving craft beer. Another good example is what Prairie Pride and Kinkaider Brewing taprooms have done for the downtown area of Grand Island. Tom and Lindsey are doing just that for the Hanscom Park and Field Club neighborhoods. While revitalizing a community is important, the Clements priority was to make sure that the immediate neighbors would know that Vis Major was a family friendly place not a loud nightclub that would take away from the piece and quiet of the area.
So I had to ask Lindsey what this whole experience of starting a craft beer brewery has really been like. She told me it is kind of like becoming a parent for the first time where you imagine all of the beautiful moments like rocking the baby, the baby's first smile, etc. The reality is you tend to be up all night at times getting things ready for the next day, tending to ills of the brewing system, and wondering what you have gotten yourself into!
Lot's of hard work to goes into each batch of beer. Brewing 3 to 4 times a week on the 4 barrel system keeps you very busy. Then testing each batch making sure the beer has enough time to finish before being kegged. All of this work in order to open your doors to the community for the first time. But you are not done yet. You still have the final touches, getting staff hired, and so many other tasks before pouring that first beer. I asked Lindsey what her approach was to all of this and she had a great response. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." If you look at the process as a whole, it can be overwhelming but if you break it down to smaller pieces (tasks) it becomes very achievable!
All of the research, studying of the brewing process, and dreaming up some amazing recipes paid off for Tom and Lindsey. Vis Major has a great rotation of 11 beers always on tap from Blonde Ales to Stouts. If you like IPAs then you will find some of the best around in the Elixir Citra - Single Hop IPA, If This Be Treason - New England Style IPA, The Guardian - Centennial Hop IPA and others. The Saisons are incredible also including the Thicket and Thorns Raspberry Saison.
As the season changes, so do the beers. For example the Wayfare Jack - Pumpkin Pecan Ale will be coming out soon. I love the fact I can come to Vis Major and there will something new on tap to tantalize my taste buds! Each beer has amazing flavor and wonderful color as seen in the picture to the left. I don't think this is by chance, I believe all of the years of researching craft beer can be seen in each of the Vis Major awesome brews!
In the end everything came together for Tom and Lindsey. I remember the grand opening day. I was first in line (I know that is probably not a shocker...) and got to chat with everyone else. There was great excitement in the air. I sat down at the bar and enjoyed a flight and so did many others. I believe on the opening weekend there were almost 400 of these served.
A well deserved opening for all of the hard work the Clements have put into Vis Major. The journey can sometimes be a long and hard road to travel. I think for Lindsey and Tom they are were they want to be and the community loves them for that!
Oh the name.... Many of you already know that Vis Major translates to "An Act of God". There are a couple of versions of how the name came to be. If you get a chance ask Tom about this and mention World of Warcraft and see if you get a smile!
I truly believe Tom and Lindsey are resurrecting the brewing industry in an area of Omaha that has had so much history. If my grandfather was still alive today, I know he would enjoy Vis Major. I can imagine sitting at a table listening to his stories of the days when he was a meat packer over a brew or two.
"Drink Good Beer with Good Friends" is happening each and every day at Vis Major. Stop in grab a flight or a pint and enjoy a great conservation with an old or new friend. Tell Lindsey and Tom, Joe says "Hi".
For more information on Vis Major check out their website: https://www.vismajorbrewing.com/