Lincoln’s craft beer scene brews strong community

Blue Blood Brewing Company, 925 Robbers Cave Road, is one of nine craft breweries in Lincoln.

Many people think about Huskers and corn when they come to Lincoln, Nebraska.  The craft breweries in town want them to also think about something else: beer.

Craft breweries have been on the rise in Nebraska, growing quickly in the last seven years, and Lincoln is no exception. Nine breweries are contributing to the craft brewing community and together they strive to put Lincoln on the map.

“We work together because we want people to come to Lincoln as a beer destination,” said Marcus Powers, co-founder of Zipline Brewing Company.  “So I want other breweries around Lincoln to be really good so that somebody from Denver will be like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go to Lincoln, get a hotel, and I’m gonna go visit six breweries and try something new.’”

This rise in breweries is a national trend. According to Powers, just five years ago, the U.S. had 1,200 breweries; now it has about 6,000.

When the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild started, the state had just three breweries, said spokesman Colby Coash. The National Brewers Association now reports 42 breweries in the state. Last year,1.25 million gallons of beer were brewed in Nebraska.

Coash and Powers attribute this growth to consumers returning to local products.

“Consumers are looking for more variety,” Coash said. “They are more adventurous with the beers that they like, and then the other thing I think is driving it is sourcing local. Consumers really like to have a beer here that was produced right over there.”

Desire for quality

Cory Sinclair of Backswing Brewing Company also sees the rise as a desire for the quality beer that craft brewing offers.

“Mostly, it’s a better product,” Sinclair said.

The flavors are what attracted Cora McKnight, a history and sociology major at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and craft beer enthusiast, to craft beers.

“I used to say I hated beer,” she said. “Because all I would see is like Bud Light, which is like pee water.”

Zipline was the first brewery she visited. Trying a variety of craft beers made her realize there were different flavors.

“And I was shocked,” she said. “I was shocked.”

Each of the breweries in Lincoln provide that local, quality experience. However, they each bring different experiences to the table.

Backswing focuses on distribution. Sinclair said they have five beers that are produced exactly same every time. They also make sure their patrons are enjoying what they are making.

“It’s a very community-oriented business, and you have focus your product on your community,” Sinclair said.

Boiler Brewing Company does the opposite. They focus on small batches that rotate often, exploring different flavors.

The other breweries in Lincoln fall along this spectrum from experimenting with small batches to perfecting brews for distribution. But each has their own story.

One example is Zipline. The name comes from one of Powers’ partners who had decided to build a zipline in his backyard. It resulted in his son breaking a few bones.

“Before they could make sure it’s safe, his son gets on and breaks his collar bone and his arm,” Powers said. “Fast forward a few years, and James tells his friends about wanting to start a brewery. They tell him how bad of an idea it is, and somebody equates it to his idea to build a zipline in his back yard, like it’s that bad of an idea. And they’re like you should call it Zipline.”

Future of craft brewing 

While this industry has seen enormous growth in the last few years, a conversation is happening about where craft brewing is headed. Coash and Sinclair see room for more growth.

“I think it’s just gonna keep getting bigger and bigger,” Sinclair said.  “I think there’s some point where we will get saturated, but I don’t think we are anywhere close to it yet. There’s people who will tell you every day like, ‘Hey I’m a Bud Light drinker or a Busch Light drinker,’ and then they find something else that they like.”

Powers said he thinks the growth will slow, but the industry isn’t going away. He said the fast rise to saturation has been reached, and now breweries with good business plans will continue and bad business plans will fail.

Wherever craft brewing ends up, it has created a new community in Lincoln. One those involved hope it also will make people excited to come to Lincoln.

“One of the things about breweries is that they do draw people in, you know,” Coash said. “Craft beer enthusiasts will stop at a brewery to try different beer, which is pretty cool.”

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