Beer has kept an Omaha couple's relationship brewing.
Now Mike and Liz Clark have brewed beer to celebrate a milestone in their romance. The couple filled roughly 1,300 bottles with various home brews to serve at their recent wedding reception.
With names like “Wedded Bliss Wheat” and “Hoppily Ever After IPA,” the couple poured a piece of their personality into every guest's monogrammed pint glass.
Mike, a 35-year-old chemistry teacher at Creighton Prep, met the former Liz Shanahan, a 29-year-old fundraiser for Creighton University, through a mutual friend four years ago.
It didn't take them long to figure out they had something in common.
“We had to wait two weeks before our first date, so we talked on the phone,” Liz said. “He asked me my favorite beer and I said Empyrean's Dark Side Vanilla Porter.”
“I told her, ‘Not trying to suck up, but I like it too,'” Mike said. “When she first came to my apartment, I showed her the glass so I could prove I wasn't lying.”
Craft beer became a common theme throughout their courtship.
They've visited breweries in Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California, taking pictures and collecting glasses at each. They're regulars at Lazlo's Brewery & Grill in Lincoln. They even got engaged there. (More on that story in a minute.)
It only made sense that beer was invited to the wedding.
“It's a good part of us,” Liz said. “It's the theme of the wedding. I would just hate to tell David Tutera (of TV's ‘My Fair Wedding') that my theme is beer.”
Mike began the brewing process about five months after he popped the question at the place where the couple had their first date and spent each anniversary after that.
Last July, he asked the Lazlo's staff to deliver a special dessert — a slice of cheesecake with a diamond in it — to Liz.
“He kept pushing the cheesecake,” she said. “Everyone was standing around. I had no idea what was going on.”
She said yes, and he began mapping out a brewing plan. He didn't want to serve any commercial beer at the wedding.
With help from a groomsman, he created nine specialty brews for their 250 guests.
He had been brewing his own beer for more than three years, and spent more than 200 hours on the wedding supply.
“I was a little naive about the work involved in the endeavor I was about to begin,” he said.
He approached the brewing like he was conducting an experiment for class.
He printed out worksheets and checklists to easily monitor temperatures and timelines. He created a system of boiling, pouring and stirring that enabled him to easily fit the pots, tubs and tubes into his apartment's kitchen. He perfectly portioned all of the grains he needed into labeled bins he stored in his guest bedroom with other miscellaneous brewing items.
“My process is pretty much the same as any brewery,” he said. “Just at a much smaller scale.”
With Liz's help, he sanitized 45 cases of beer bottles gathered from beer festivals and beer vendors he knows.
He stirred and sifted all of the different grains, hops and even coffee beans to create each beer. Two ice chests stored 5-gallon carboys, glass containers used to ferment the beer.
At each step in the process, Liz would taste-test the beers and be the final voice of approval.
“I usually stay away on the days he's brewing,” she said in the midst of the endeavor. “It's gets a little hot and you can smell the grains from downstairs.”
The couple said their friends and family were supportive, and excited for the outcome.
Mike's beermaking skills are known among friends and colleagues, with people requesting his brews for backyard parties, rehearsal dinners and work functions.
“It's a pretty easy hobby for our friends to support,” he said.
At least one wedding guest, however, was skeptical that the home brew would be acceptable.
“My grandma said ‘Are you having a taste test before?'” Liz said.
Mike was confident, though.
“I'm a tough critic by and large of my own beers,” he said. “We wouldn't serve them if they weren't good.”
One of the beers they served, “Clark's Coffee Porter,” came in fourth place out of 100 at last year's Crescent Moon's Homegrown Homebrewers Festival. He provided a 5-gallon keg of his wheat beer for a Fourth of July party a couple of years ago, and within an hour and a half, the beer was gone.
A week before the wedding, Mike, Liz and a group of their friends conducted a quality check on each batch of beer, 24 all together.
“We take one bottle from each batch and sample it. If the bottle clears, the batch will be released to serve at our reception,” Mike said at the time. “If a bottle is off, I'll pull that batch and check the other bottles. I'll make the final decision on whether it should be served or dumped.”
He admitted that the process didn't always go smoothly. They had to pitch batches and push back brewing dates because the beers weren't fermented enough. Two batches of wheat beer had to be fermented at a higher temperature and longer than Mike had planned on his timesheet. For their “First Date Vanilla Porter,” Liz said it didn't have enough vanilla taste and they added more beans.
Although friends and family were aware of the couple brewing all of the beer, the guests didn't know what kind of beer they'd actually be drinking.
“We wanted it to be a surprise for everyone,” Liz said.
She designed the beer menus for the reception — held at Creighton Prep after a ceremony at St. Leo Catholic Church — and both she and Mike came up with the beer names.
“We wanted each beer to either have something to do with getting married or with Mike and me,” she said.
She also created the design on the reception's favors: pint glasses emblazoned with a “Liz & Mike 7/28/12” surrounded by a “C.”
One of Liz's friends made a giant “C” out of beer bottle tops to hang above the bar, an idea she got from Pinterest.
The couple said they were excited for their loved ones to join them in something that is such a big part of their lives.
Though Clark plans to continue his hobby, he said he was looking forward to taking a break from brewing after the wedding.
And while craft beer will always hold a place in their hearts, the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Clark planned to sample different drinks during their honeymoon.
“We're going to Ireland and Italy,” Shanahan said before the big day. “We're looking forward to trying some wine in Italy and whiskey in Ireland.”