They're clutching mugs and sipping frothy brews in places a few hundred miles from Nebraska and spots more than 5,000 miles away.
It's called beer tourism, and it's on the rise. A growing interest in craft beer and a growing number of breweries are fueling the trend.
These trips offer beer lovers a chance to sample dozens of brews and an opportunity to meet the brewers and learn how they turn grain, yeast and water into tasty regional suds of all kinds, such as porters, ales and stouts.
Destinations are all over the map.
Hot spots in the United States include big cities and small: Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Asheville, N.C. Breweries in the Omaha area and Iowa also are drawing visitors.
In Europe, beer lovers are showing up in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the U.K.
Phil Doerr of Bellevue took his first beer trip in 2008 and returned from his latest one to Belgium and Amsterdam in August.
Crescent Moon Ale House in midtown Omaha organized those trips. The bar has taken customers and staff on five European trips since 2008 and is planning another for next year, said owner Bill Baburek.
The Crescent Moon trips have drawn everyone from twentysomethings to 60-year-olds, from couples to buddies on a guy adventure.
The Crescent Moon tours have hit famous beer cities such as Munich, Germany, which hosts an Oktoberfest that drew more than 6 million people last year. The Crescent tour also has landed in the Czech Republic, where some breweries have been making beer for hundreds of years.
Another tour stop was Bruges, Belgium, where you can sample more than 200 varieties of Belgian brew.
On this summer's trip, the Crescent group visited 18 breweries in 12 days throughout Amsterdam and Belgium.
They even crossed the Belgian border into France, where they toured a brewery that specializes in saison beer.
Doerr, president of a local home-brew club, has always been a big fan of saison beer, a refreshing, blond brew.
Doerr makes his own saison, and it turned out he uses the same yeast as the French brewery owner. The owner gave Doerr a good tip for lowering the fermentation temperature, which can help reduce the banana and bubble gum flavors that are common in Belgian saisons. Some people like lighter hints of those flavors.
Julia Herz of the National Brewers Association trade group said those kinds of personal encounters are part of why beer trips are popular.
“There is something very satisfying for beer lovers to meet the makers in person,'' she said.
It's similar to foodies who enjoy meeting chefs, she said.
Beer makers have been opening their breweries to the public for decades. At first, the big breweries in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis offered tours. But as the number of breweries grows, there are more destinations for beer lovers. There now are more than 2,000 craft breweries across the nation.
Keg Creek Brewing Co. opened about a year ago in Glenwood, Iowa, and more than 1,000 people have taken a tour, said Grant Hebel, head brewer. Visitors have come from Colorado, Minnesota and other parts of the region.
Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. opened nearly four years ago in La Vista and tours have been popular, said Jason Payne, brewery president. So far this year, more than 10,000 people have taken the 45-minute tour.
People get to see employees making Lucky Bucket's popular lager, along with its new wheat beer and other brews. The tour includes a look at the brewery's 20-foot-tall stainless steel fermenters and the packaging line.
The tours draw a range of people — college students, retirees and families. People visit the brewery from the Omaha area and outside Nebraska.
Payne said the tours are important for Lucky Bucket because it helps the brewery connect with customers and the community.
“We want that one-on-one relationship,'' he said.
Robin Fuchs, owner of Beer Tours USA, said craft breweries like connecting with the public and will even open on days they are normally closed to accommodate tour groups.
Fuchs, who lives in Springfield, Ill., started offering tours nationally a year ago because of demand. He has tours planned this fall in Wisconsin and Illinois to breweries that in some cases opened in just the past several years.
Crescent Moon has taken groups on regional tours in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, and next year is planning to hit California.
European beer tours also have grown in popularity. Cultural Tour Consultants, based in Michigan, started offering European beer trips a year ago because of strong demand, said co-owner Melissa Reed.
Her company offers a 10-day fall trip that starts in Germany and ends in Prague.
The trip's cost, without airfare, is $2,390 per person and includes tours, tastings, motor coach transportation and some meals.
The Michigan company also offers custom beer tours for home-brew clubs and other groups.
Reed said all the tours include visits to museums and other cultural spots with local guides. She said it's important for tour members to get a feel for the history and culture of the places they visit.
Doerr, the Bellevue beer lover, said that through his European trips he's learned not just about beer, but how it fits into the local culture.
While visiting a small brewery and restaurant in northern Bavaria, he noticed there was a play area for kids.
“It was not a place to get drunk,'' he said. “It was a place where families go for dinner.”
Elliott Spilker, a home brewer from Omaha, has taken more than a half-dozen European beer trips. He's found time on his trips to visit gothic cathedrals in the Czech Republic and soak up other local culture.
But he said the best part is tasting amazing beers and learning how they are brewed.
One of his favorite brands of beer is Pilsner Urquell, made by a brewery in Pilsen in the Czech Republic. On one trip he got to sample some of the Urquell made using the original recipe dating back more than 100 years. The brewery makes only small batches of the unfiltered, unpasteurized original, and it was great, Spilker said.
“Those kind of things you really remember,'' he said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1122, email@example.com