BEER BOOK COVER

“Nebraska Craft Beer: A History and Guide to Beer Made Here” is a new book published by The World-Herald. Blake Ursch is the author of the book, and its cover design is by Matt Haney and Christine Zueck-Watkins.

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.

Cheers.

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