What a wonderful visit to Hwy 14 Brewing Co. in Albion, Nebraska! The whole next week, John Denver’s song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” stuck in my head. The lyrics of:
I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And driving down the road I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday …
For Greg and Mandy Luettel, this has been the feeling for several years. The two grew up in Albion enjoying all of the things you come to love about a small community. Friends and family, high school, Greg’s family farm, and driving “The Circuit”. Both love the history of the area and the stories they have come to know over the years. For instance, did you know that Albion was named over a game of Euchre? Two men played for the rights to name it Manchester and another two gentlemen played to name it Albion. More things should be solved over a card game don’t you think?
Having a brewery in their hometown is no longer a dream, but a reality. Let’s find out some more about how Hwy 14 Brewing came into existence!
Greg and Mandy left Albion to go to college. Greg worked on his biology degree and Mandy on her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Counseling. After college, Greg worked in a lab using his degree and eventually found his way into doing sales. That would seem to be a pretty difficult transition, but when talking with Greg, I could see him in both roles. Mandy was growing her career building partnerships as an account representative at a technology firm. The couple had made Omaha their new home, but Hwy 14 was calling out to them.
In the meantime, Greg had picked up home brewing and loved creating different styles of beer. Greg began sharing the beer with friends and family who enjoyed what he was brewing. The first step towards seeking a larger audience was to take the beer to a festival. In 2017, the Luettels took some of their beer to the Bash in the Burg in Petersburg, Nebraska in 2017. The response was extremely positive and ignited the desire even more to take their brewing to the next level!
So many tough decisions would have to made by the Luettels in order to have their own brewery. There was no doubt though on having it in Albion. As we talked, Mandy said that she knew it was something that they had to try. Greg’s passion for brewing and their desire to have a place where people in the community could gather was the driving force in this endeavor.
The plan started to unfold, but it wasn’t an easy path to getting the brewery open. The first major decision was that Greg would go part-time at his current job in order to focus on the build out of the brewery. Mandy and Greg along with some of their family worked around the clock from April to October of 2018 getting the brewery ready. Mandy was making lots of trips back and forth to Albion and continues to travel weekly to Omaha for her job.
The prior business of the building where Hwy 14 Brewing was going in was a florist shop. Greg and Mandy said there were a few advantages to that like the cooler space. The florist shop though had hidden many of the charms of this early 1900’s building. I can imagine it was somewhat like a treasure hunt wondering what you might find as the drywall came down and the spectacular brick wall was found! The drop ceiling was removed and opened up to beautiful metal ceiling tiles.
In order to completely appreciate the process check out The Road to Hwy 14.
Now the focus was on getting the beer ready for the opening. Another big step was that Greg was now working full-time at the brewery. Most days, Greg is brewing twice a day on the single barrel system that he has. The small batches allow Greg to have more variety and to be creative with the beers that he is making.
Greg takes great care in the malts and hops he selects for his beers. All details down to the water are fine tuned for each one. Once the beer has finished brewing, it is off to the fermentation tanks that are in the basement. The basement also houses the cold storage for finishing and kegging. A great setup indeed!
The opening in October of 2018 featured the following 6 beers:
Luettel Red - Hibiscus Wheat
Mandy Jean Vanilla Bean - Blonde Ale
ALE-B-N - Blonde Ale
Peek-A-Boo-Hill - Pale Ale
Hopscotch lane - IPA
Ace of Spades - Stout
Within the next 3 to 4 months, Hwy 14 Brewing would expand to 12 tap handles. Rotating 12 beers provides lots of choices and the ability to find out which ones will become favorites. There is always something for everyone on tap!
One of the fun things that Hwy 14 Brewing does is to let patrons express their creative side by drawing the beer names on the tap handles! Each time a new beer comes on tap, some lucky person gets to design that handle.
The beer names too are very creative! Mandy said the goal is to tie the names to the area or to history about the area. Take for example, The Circuit - White Session IPA which was named for the downtown area that has been the main cruising area for young adults over the years.
Another great beer name that has historical significance is the Smoyer-Wathen’s Revenge - IPA. This one is to honor two local heroes, Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and his deputy Willam Wathen that were murdered in 1937 outside of Albion.
On this day, I was able to try the all the beers on tap. All were very good! So, here were my favorites:
The Circuit - White Session IPA ABV 4.2% IBU 61
The Circuit has lots of fruit aroma and flavor. I got apricot, citrus, and some melon out of it. A light bodied IPA that is full of flavor but lower in alcohol content. All the flavor of the 3-hop blend of Rakau, Cashmere, and Wai-iti without any hop bitterness in the finish.
The Mutt - Pale Ale ABV 6.9% IBU 46
What do you do when you have some extra hops but not enough to put them in their own beer? Well you combine them and see what happens! The Mutt has Cascade, Cashmere, Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo hops that blend well showcasing citrus flavor and a little hop bitterness at the end that I really love!
Ale-B-N - Blonde Ale 5.2% - IBU 15
For me, I like a blonde ale that accentuates the malt used in the beer and packs a lot of flavor from start to finish. The Ale-B-N hit the mark for me!
Luettel Red - Hibiscus Wheat ABV 5.2% IBU 18
I have had Hibiscus Ales and Pales before, but I have never had a wheat one. The beautiful color captivates you as you take the first sip. What I really noticed in this one was a slight berry flavor that I hadn’t notice in other Hibiscus beers. A slight sweetness throughout and very easy drinking. This is a beer Nebraska fans can get behind!
Ace of Spades - Stout ABV 7.7% IBU 35
This milk stout has lot going on. The chocolate malt flavor is forward. The mouth feel is silky. The finish is very intriguing. There is some sweetness but then I get more of the roasted malt. The chocolate flavor transitions to a slightly nutty one. A rich stout that you will want to sip and enjoy!
Beyond the taproom, Hwy 14 Brewing has a very nice event room. I can see many family and friend gatherings taking place in this space! Also, I am thinking as Husker football season arrives, this would be the place to be. If you can’t see Lil’ Red in person, you can enjoy Luettel Red in a glass instead!
The event room opens into a small patio area. A very nice quiet space that I envision would be incredible to enjoy a beer like an Octoberfest on a fall day! I highly recommend getting to try Hwy 14 Brewing’s Octoberfest. From an early preview, this beer is going to be excellent!
I could keep writing for days about Hwy 14 Brewing! I encourage you to get out to Albion and experience everything this brewery and small town has to offer.
I look forward to many more visits with Greg and Mandy to see where this adventure takes them. It is still hard to believe they have been open for less than a year!
I know in the still of the day if a listen closely I can hear Hwy 14 now calling. Give a listen!