Nebraska has had a long and complicated love affair with beer.
Scores of German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries entrenched the ancient beverage in the palates of fledgling cities and towns, including Omaha. But amid the rising and falling tides of anti-alcohol zeal, we banned it and legalized it, banned it (again) and legalized it (again).
In the intervening decades, Nebraskans saw their beer options narrow (thanks to industry consolidation), then broaden (despite a sometimes skeptical State Legislature).
Now, following a national craft brewing explosion, the Cornhusker State has more than 50 craft breweries, spanning the eastern urban centers to the western edge of the Panhandle. So it’s fair to say: This is a good time to be a beer fan in Nebraska.
In a new book, “Nebraska Craft Beer: A History and Guide to Beer Made Here,” The World-Herald chronicles the rise, fall and resurgence of the state’s brewing industry.
The 120-page book also serves as a guide to Nebraska’s current craft beer offerings. Original maps, illustrated by World-Herald artist Matt Haney, and listings for each of the state’s breweries allow readers to chart their own craft beer tours on a city-by-city basis.
The book is available in bookstores Monday and is currently on sale online at Omaha.com/BeerBook.
Drawing on a wealth of archival material, early chapters profile Omaha’s first German brew masters — men with familiar names like Krug, Metz, Storz and Jetter — whose successes and failures were regularly documented in the pages of the newspaper. Early histories of the city named brewing as one of Omaha’s characteristic industries.
“The brewery interests of Omaha are very extensive, not only because of the importance of the city as a distributing point, but because the community is a liberal one and recognizes the fact that no man has a right to chain his neighbor’s appetite with legislation, much less his feelings,” declared one 1884 business publication.
But when Prohibition swept the country, the wealthy brewers were left to find their place in a country that had outlawed their product. Most never recovered.
Through the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, World War II and the postwar era, the beer industry came to be dominated by a handful of national powerhouse brands, and low-calorie light lagers became the standard.
But home-brewing hobbyists eventually sparked a taste for variety, and for the last three decades, small, independent breweries have been popping up in cities large and small, working their way into America’s heartland.
Now, Nebraska is ranked 15th in breweries per capita among the 50 states, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association. In the latest available estimates, craft breweries generate about $465 million for the state.
The story of beer is indelibly linked to the history of our state. Here, we offer a taste.
1 of 24
La Buvette the closest thing you'll find to a taste of Europe inside of a 50-mile radius. Read more
Lincoln's White Elm Brewing Company is a welcoming, dog-friendly environment. Read more
The Crescent Roadhouse Bar and Grill in Crescent, Iowa, is a dive bar with a good kitchen. It's largely a domestics-in-the-bottle kind of place. Blue Moon, Lagunitas and Corona are about as hip as you’re gonna get. Click here to read more.
There is likely room in your schedule somewhere for The Cabin’s happy hours. They last from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Click here to read more.
Pour Craft Beer & Spirits has two dozen brews on tap from local favorites like La Vista’s Kros Strain Brewing, Omaha’s Brickway Brewery & Distillery and fellow Lincoln newbie Cosmic Eye Brewing. Click here to read more.
Lincoln’s Pub sits where Dixie Quicks used to in Council Bluffs' historic 100 Block. It is turning into a worthy successor. Click here to read more.
Cosmic Eye Brewing opened in east Lincoln fall of 2018. Its location makes it unique for a couple of reasons — for one, it’s the only Lincoln brewery in a former laser tag place, and the only brewery in the neighborhood. Click here to read more.
Pat and Mike’s has Chiefs games, cheap tacos and arcade classics like “Ms. Pacman” and “Frogger.” Click here to read more.
As nice as it might be to go to a bar where “everybody knows your name,” occasionally it’s pleasant to go to a bar where no one knows who you are, what you do or where you’re from. The District offers that. Click here to read more.
Florence's New Frontier is a great dive. It is quaint, friendly, out of the way and time-worn, but clean and comfortable enough to exceed one’s most reasonably tempered expectations. Click here to read more.
Barley's, a saloon-style bar in Council Bluffs, offers 30 brews on tap, a friendly staff and an "epic" amount of parking. Click here to read more.
Not all dives are cut from the same cloth. George’s Tavern in Blair hits all the right notes for socializing on the DL and has what discriminating tastes aspire to, if not actually settle for, in a dive. Click here to read more.
Green Flash has some traditional brewpub offerings like wings, of course. But, in general, the eatery specializes in slightly more sophisticated eats, with more fresh vegetables and fewer fried foods. Click here to read more.
The Spillway in Council Bluffs is always family-friendly. There is an ATM, pool, darts, 11 TVs, free Wi-Fi and — the best idea ever — a Breathalyzer by the door reminding you to stay safe and never drive buzzed. Click here to read more.
You can enjoy drinking with strangers at Rathskeller Bier Haus, including a few real Germans. Wall art consists of European beer signs, a boar’s head and a reproduction of Berlin Wall graffiti. The back garden will still nurture you once warm weather returns. Click here to read more.
Want to be alerted for severe weather? Or maybe you want the latest in dining, local businesses or sports coverage? The World-Herald's newsletters have a variety of options to cater to your interests. Click here to sign up.