By Joe Shearer, Photo Editor
It happens in Denver. It happens in Austin. It happens in Kansas City. It happens in Philly. It happens across most of the United States: Week-long celebrations to commemorate the craft beer scenes in various metropolitan areas.
It’s been happening for years, and 2012 marks the year that Omaha will officially start following this trend.
Following certain models of other city’s “Craft Beer Weeks” and adding a few elements of their own, the folks behind Beer Corner USA generated the idea of their own multi-day beer fest in Omaha. Representatives from every facet of Omaha’s beer scene – breweries, restaurants, retailers and distributors – have come together to bring Omaha Beer Week to the public. From Feb. 3 to 12, denizens of the city and beyond are invited to take part in the plethora of events.
While some inaugural events can be poorly planned and unimaginative (I’m looking at you, Red Sky), Omaha Beer Week is shaping up to be a premier annual event, with a multitude of unique activities available for everyone from the biggest “noobs” to the most experienced connoisseurs to enjoy. During OBW, libations will be lauded, hops will be held high and malts will be made merry in many different ways.
OBW will kick off at numerous spots across the city on Feb. 3. The Crescent Moon of Midtown and Benson’s Krug Park are both hosting pint nights where commemorative pint glasses can be purchased and refilled at discounted rates. The same night, the Upstream Brewery in the Old Market is holding the OBW Cask Ale Fest, where several cask aged brews will be featured. Some brews are produced by one person or company and some are collaborative efforts. A couple mouth-watering recipes listed on the OBW website are the Belgian Mojito Tripel made between the Upstream and Jake’s Cigars and the one-year old Ebenezer ale aged with chocolate. The Ebenezer is an extremely boozy (9-10 percent ABV) winter classic from the Upstream, and having it aged in cask barrels with chocolate should make for a great way to warm up in the February chills.
Lucky Bucket, Brix, Schilling Bridge, Nebraska Brewing Company, Empyrean Brewery and CIB Brewery are also involved in the Cask Ale Fest. Tickets for this event are $20 and include beer samplings and face time with the area’s most esteemed brewers. The proceeds are to go to an undetermined local charity.
The next day could be a long one. On Feb. 4, there will be a free bus tour across the city, where stops will be made at participating OBW bars, shops and breweries. From noon until midnight a series of buses will cover the East and West sides of Omaha’s “beer map.” The buses will be in constant rotation so riders have the option to hang out at certain spots for however long they please. The central meeting point for the bus rides will be at Mojo’s Ale House in Aksarben Village. This complimentary service is being paid for by participating bars and businesses, and most stops will be offering OBW pint glasses and drink specials.
And what would a series of beer events be without tastings, tastings and more tastings? There will be a number of sampling events, some with food pairings and some without, throughout the duration of OBW. Classiness will be a must at the Crescent Moon’s vintage beer tasting on Feb. 6, where unlimited samples from around 200 different brews from the 1970s through the 2000s will be available. Only 30 slots are available for this $20 event.
OBW will wrap up with two big tastings. On Feb. 11, Beertopia is hosting the sixth annual Extreme Beerfest at the Tip Top Ballroom downtown. $31 gets you a souvenir tasting glass, a program and unlimited access to nearly 300 beers that all boast alcoholic content over 7 percent. This event sold out last year, so be sure to get on it if you’re serious. The night before, Beertopia and Lagunitas Brewing are hosting the Extreme Beerfest dinner. Lagunitas, a popular brew slinger from California, is spreading their distribution to Nebraska this spring, and this dinner will be a great debut. Only 100 seats are available for this $55 event featuring a four-course meal and plenty of Lagunitas to go around.
Obviously, a lot will be going on for OBW’s first year. There are many, many more tasting events to list and they can all be seen at omahabeerweek.com, the official website of OBW. Brix, Krug Park, Crescent Moon, Lauter Tun and the Upstream will be hosting “tap takeover” nights where different local and national breweries will feature numerous selections of their catalogue at a discount rate.
Omaha has seen its local beer scene grow immensely over recent years, and 2011 was another stellar year. Benson and West O are now hosts to new craft beer taprooms: Krug Park and the Lauter Tun. Nebraska secured distribution from two acclaimed Californian breweries: Green Flash and Lagunitas. Also, the Budweiser distributors of Lincoln, who are avid craft beer folk, acquired the Omaha division, which could mean even more esteemed breweries could be making their debut in future years. This expansion and growth wouldn’t be possible without the harmony between brewers and competitors.
Beertopia manager Aaron Bush is hoping that OBW will help further the local craft beer market in bigger and better ways.
“In the beer world, we always say ‘the more the merrier,’ and if you talk to other breweries and whatnot, you’ll see that they’re all best friends,” Bush said. “It’s not as much about the bottom dollar as it is about collaboration and friendships and spreading the good cheer. That’s our motto here in Omaha. We’d love to see more distribution and more breweries.”
It’s the same love of quality between Omaha’s beer competitors that makes the local beer market more attractive to the public.
“We know that people don’t just go to one place anymore. They fall in love with the product, not the place. And I say that if you make a good product, people will become loyal to your place,” Bush stated. “Omaha is much more than Midtown, and we’re glad that people have a craft beer place to go in every corner of the city. As long as we all support each other, we’ll be good.”
With Omaha Beer Week, the public will not only get a chance to try out the latest, greatest and most unique of Omaha’s beer scene, they’ll also be able to meet and mingle with the head honchos of the area’s most acclaimed brew pubs and breweries. And for those who just want to sit back and enjoy a few cold ones, well they can certainly do just that. Bush is excited for the “monster” that OBW has become, and he’s certain that the festivities will do nothing but help the scene flourish.
“We just want to make Omaha and Nebraska a destination for beer,” Bush said.
For more information on Omaha Beer Week, visit omahabeerweek.com. Every event is listed chronologically for easy navigation. Tickets for the sampling events are not all available at the same venue. Please refer to omahabeerweek.com for all ticketing information. Crescent Moon and Beertopia paid events are available at Beertopia on 36th and Farnam streets.