Many people think of Nebraska as just a long stretch of flat land in the heart of the country. If you never get off of Interstate 80 then you might be right. The state however is very diversified in terms of the landscape. One of my favorite destinations is the Sandhills. This great area of rolling hills resides in North Central Nebraska.
The Sandhills were thought to be a desert until the late 1870's when ranchers discovered that the land would be great for raising cattle. It took awhile for farming to spread throughout parts of the region. Irrigation would be needed to help supply water that mother nature doesn't provide a lot of for the area. The Ogallala Aquifer has been critical for providing water to the area and also as you will learn a blessing for brewing beer. For more about this area check out Visit Nebraska.
So I want to let you in on a little secret besides the scenic views in the Sandhills there are some really amazing breweries. I would like to show you how you can take a short two day trip and get to at least 4 breweries. I guarantee you some of the best beer and hospitality in the state!
So it was the Fourth of July and I was out the door by 9:00 am. Within 3 hours I would be in Ord, home of Scratchtown Brewing Company. A beautiful downtown location across from the county courthouse. Scratchtown opened in 2013 and you won't find a better group of people dedicated to their community and serving up some amazing beer. From the first time I was in the taproom in 2017, I was completely intrigued with the story behind how the brewery got started. A small group of my friends made the trip to Ord back in 2017 on a Saturday. Mike Klimek, brewmaster and one of the founding partners, took the time to give us a tour of the brewery. I will never forget that day of conversation and how welcoming Mike and Caleb were.
One thing you know when you come into the taproom at Scratchtown, is that you will always find a great selection of craft beer! I was particularly excited on this visit because there were two coffee beers on tap. Cool Beans is a coffee blonde ale that has nice coffee aroma and flavor in a very sessionable 4.8% ale. Normal Roasting Company out of Burwell provides the coffee for Cool Beans and the Normal Breakfast coffee milk stout. Both of these beers have incredible flavor which is a signature of Scratchtown. Small batches that have the utmost attention to every detail when brewed that puts a smile on all the local patrons and visitors alike. That is what Scratchtown is all about!
Before leaving, I needed to see what my options were for taking some beer back to Omaha to share with friends. When I called my wife and told her I had bought an elevator in Ord, she was more than just a little bit worried. Scratchtown calls there crowlers - Silos. When you purchase 3 of them together then you have an Elevator. Great names that tie back to the farming community around Ord and the state of Nebraska. My elevator consisted of Cool Beans, Normal Breakfast, and the Wonder Twins. Wonder Twins is a double IPA that has incredible hop aroma! The Mosiac and Citra hops are a great combination and the immense flavor of this IPA is something you will remember for a long time!
Thanks Shay for all of the hospitality! Now onto the next stop which was about 40 minutes away. Bootleg Brewers in Taylor, Nebraska.
If you had to think of a place to build a brewery that is the epitome of Sandhills, what better than a ranch. Bootleg Brewers just outside of Taylor, Nebraska is on a ranch owned by Ron and Dodie Worm. Ron has been brewing for about 40 years. What has been a great hobby and way to have fun with friends turned into a brewery in the fall of 2015.
As I walked into the taproom on the afternoon of the Fourth of July, Ron and Dodie were sitting at the end of the bar engaged in conversation with some folks. The first thing I noticed was the big smiles on both of their faces. You can tell that the brewery means a lot more to them than just brewing beer, it is a place for them to meet people and enjoy their company. We were greeted promptly by Sonny (or maybe it is spelled Sunny) who has been working at Bootleg Brewers for about a year. You know I don't think there was a time that I didn't see a smile on her face! It must have something to do with beautiful blue skies of the Sandhills.
Bootleg Brewers is a great destination for many reasons. You can enjoy some incredible craft beer, delicious food, and spend the night in one of their cabins. I had been looking forward to coming back to visit. Last year was my first time at the brewery for my birthday and I had a great time.
Bootleg Brewers has a great line up of sessionable beers. I always enjoy how refreshing they are like the Naked Orange Stinger. This orange ale with a kiss of honey is perfect in the summer time. The Hoppy Homesteader is a great IPA with a nice citrus flavor that will making you very hoppy! The entire lineup of beers are made with ingredients that Ron has choose over time including noble hops and the water from the Ogallala Aquifer. The clean, pure water from the aquifer is a definitive advantage of being in the Sandhills!
It was great to get to visit with Ron and Dodie. Ron took us on a tour of his 20 barrel brewing system. A very nice setup indeed! it would be a lot fun to get to brew with Ron. Up until recently, Ron only had beer for the taproom. Now they are starting to slowly distribute their beer in the state of Nebraska. The prior weekend, Ron and Dodie made their way around the Omaha area with some "Meet the Brewer" events at the Local Beer, Patio, and Kitchen bar and restaurants. Ron said they had a great time having people sample their beers and ask questions. Sounds like Dodie kept Ron honest on all of his answers! One thing did surprise Ron at the events and that was how people just sipped the beers. He said he was more use to people throwing back a pint versus slowly drinking from the flight glasses. I think everyone probably was really enjoying having a chance to try the Bootleg Brewer beers!
After spending the night in the cabin, I got up the next morning and had a very relaxing walk. Very quiet and peaceful. I think however I startled one cow who did a double take as I walked by. I bet the cow was thinking why is this person out walking on a country road so early in the morning!
Before leaving Bootleg Brewers, I had to get a picture with the sign of Ron that is on the road that takes you to the brewery. There are several different signs throughout Taylor and the area. This is one story that I need to find out more about!
Had a great time and now it was time to head to Broken Bow to visit Dan at Kinkaider Brewing Co!
Is what about 11:00 am on that Thursday, when we pulled into the Kinkaider Brewing parking lot. Walking towards the brewery, I knew right away where Dan would be and that was brewing. I was so thankful to be able to grab a few minutes of his time. Dan has to be one of the busiest brewers around. He told me that they are brewing 5 days a week and many times twice a day! The 10 barrel system will soon be replaced with a 30 barrel one which will help keep up with the demand for the Kinkaider Brewing beers!
Dan took us on a tour of the buildings that provide the space for the brewing, packaging, and storing of the beer. Wow what a setup! That morning before 11:00 am, bottling of the 4-County Pale Ale had just completed and there were pallets of beer ready to be shipped. Kinkaider Brewing has an impressive bottling line from American Beer Equipment ABE out of Lincoln. To date, there has been over 634,000 bottles of beer that have been bottled using this system. That is 105,667 6-packs that have made there way across the state of Nebraska!
Dan has a great line-up of creative beers:
- Dan The Wiser Kolsch
- Mango Habanero IPA
- Hiram's Bones Porter
- Snozzberry Sour
These are just a few from the list. I highly recommend if you get the chance to have some of Dan's barrel aged beers that you do so. Just as an example, the Snow Beast is fantastic! There were many other intriguing beers being aged that you will want to keep a look out for.
Besides the taproom in Broken Bow, Kinkaider Brewing also has a taproom and restaurant in downtown Grand Island. Just this past spring I made it to Grand Island and had dinner at the Kinkaider restaurant. Amazing food and atmosphere! This is a place you have to see if you haven't been there. Kinkaider is also adding a taproom in Lincoln in the Haymarket. Dan described what to expect for the decor inside the taproom. I can't wait to see it when it opens!
Dan, thanks for the hospitality! I had a great time and now for the final stop of the trip - Lost Way Brewery in Holdrege.
Lost Way Brewery is one of the newest breweries in the state being less than 1 year old. The founding couples - Mark & Jessica Kraus and Jason & Kimberly Hines have made a place where the people of the community can come together and enjoy great beer.
On this particular visit, Jessica and Mark greeted my son and I as we made it into Holdrege that late afternoon. It very much feels like meeting with family when you come to visit Lost Way. I think it is part of the small town culture but also how these two couples go about doing business. I was very excited to see what they had been up to since my last visit when they opened last fall.
There are so many fascinating things going on at Lost Way. I really enjoyed hearing about some of the charitable events they have been doing. For instance as part of a fundraiser, if the goal was reached, Jason would have to shave off his beard. Well the community had a great time with this one and more than doubled that goal! Jason I have to admit without your beard you look very young!
Jessica told us about how she has brewed a couple of batches of beer. I remember seeing Jessica in her pink boots on social media while she was brewing. The beer - "It's Not Ale About You" was done in taking part with raising money for the Pink Boots Society. Lost Way Brewery contributed $1 for each pint of the beer sold and was able to donate $370 for the cause which is huge for small brewery to be able to do!
While having a great conversation, I was able to try the following beers from the flight (top to bottom, left to right in the picture above):
- Saginaw River Brown Ale
- Boatface Blonde
- Poor Planning IPA
- Ye Olde Creamery Milk Stout
- RedLegs RIPA
- Corn Husking Red
What a great variety of beers including some darker ones, which sometimes are hard to find in the summer time. There is definitely something for everyone. I enjoyed each and everyone of them. The RedLegs IPA was so good. You don't see a lot of red IPAs out there. I remember from the last time being at Lost Way having the Poor Planning IPA. If poor planning is what it takes to keep making this great IPA, then keep it up! I know you will be hearing more from me about the Ye Olde Creamery Milk Stout very soon!
Jessica and Mark also told us about a collaboration beer they did with Thunderhead Brewing whose brewery is right down the highway in Axtell. The brew was a wee heavy, Scotch Ale with cacao nibs called Chocolate Thunder. The beer is a wee bit heavy coming in at 9.5% ABV. I can imagine myself sitting in the taproom on a cold, rainy day enjoying this one!
Well that's a wrap on my first Nebraska beercation! I highly recommend checking out the Nebraska Brewers Guild site to keep up with all of the breweries. Here is just a sample of other Nebraska Beercation ideas.
- Grand Island (Prairie Pride Brewing Company and Kinkaider Brewing taproom) -> Hastings (First Street Brewing Company and Steeple Brewing Company) -> Axtell & Kearney (Thunderhead Brewing) -> Holdrege (Lost Way Brewery)
- Omaha and Lincoln have great afternoon/evening combinations to travel a small distance to enjoy 3 to 5 breweries.
- Omaha (midtown) - Scriptown Brewing Company, Farnam House Brewing, 5168 Brewing Taproom, Vis Major Brewing
- Omaha (southwest) - Infusion Brewing Company, Lucky Bucket Brewing Company, Nebraska Brewing Company, Kros Strain Brewing Company, Pint Nine Brewing Company
- Omaha (downtown) - Brickway Brewery & Distillery, Upstream Brewing Company, Zipline Brewing taproom
- Lincoln (southwest) - White Elm Brewing, Zipline Brewing, Blue Blood Brewing Company, Backswing Brewing
- Lincoln (downtown) - Boiler Brewing Company, Code Beer Company, Empyrean Brewing Company
Let me know if have questions about Nebraska breweries or tourism. I will get you pointed in the right direction.