Don’t look now, but Nebraska’s brewing scene is getting ready to make a name for itself. Sure, the state already had some great brands like Zipline Brewing Co., Empyrean Brewing Co., the Nebraska Brewing Co. and so on, but no industry can truly scale up and hit that higher level of prominence without help and encouragement from the state. This is why Nebraska is poising itself for a leap — the state is wising up and both rolling back regulations where appropriate and incentivizing behavior in other areas to encourage the growth of local craft beer.
This all started with changing the law that would force a brewery to close its taproom or restaurant if its production exceeded 20,000 bbls a year. Kudos on that. That would probably be enough to help grow the craft beer scene, but the state is looking for this burgeoning industry to help boost one of the state’s mainstay industries: agriculture.
From NPR Nebraska:
Last year the Legislature passed another measure supporting the craft brewing industry — creating tax credits for brewers who use Nebraska-grown ingredients, like barley or hops. Brewers like Caleb Pollard of Scratchtown Brewing in Ord said they haven’t taken advantage of that mostly because the supply isn’t there yet. But several people are working to change that, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln horticulturalist Stacy Adams.
Nebraska has more clay-heavy soils, but also more wind, good for keeping humidity down. Under a recent grant from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Adams has launched a new hops research project. He’s selected eight hop varieties he knows craft brewers want to use — like Willamette, Pearl, Crystal, and Chinook — to grow on test plots in four places around the state with different climates and soil types, to evaluate their performance over time.
“We want to see if there’s some consistency in the productivity. Given our environment is somewhat volatile, we want to identify varieties that the farmer will be able to market. ‘Cause the brewers are mainly looking for consistency from year to year to year,” Adams said.
We know the hop isn’t the easiest crop to get going. It is super temperamental, requires the perfect conditions to thrive and grow and (here’s the kicker) usually requires about three years of development before it is ready to harvest. Because of this time-consuming and expensive startup cycle, any prospective hops grower usually needs a little something, you know, for the effort, otherwise why waste the time? Here again is why state encouragement is valuable. From that NPR story:
This year’s bill also created the Nebraska Craft Brewery Board to support research, marketing, and promotion of Nebraska brewing and agricultural products used in beer production. Nebraska brewers said they’re encouraged by support from the state and university. Because, Kavulak said, it’s not about drinking.
“This industry represents jobs. And it also represents an investment in our people and our culture. So we [the Legislature] look for opportunity to help industry grow and to bring more people into our state,” [State Senator Colby Coash] said.
Nebraska brewers and hop growers are planning their first joint meeting in January 2017 to plan how they can work together to continue to craft award-winning Nebraska beer.
The state is now also home to its first commercial hops processing facility, which is another huge key in this whole equation. Read that entire feature on NPR Nebraska for more insight into how the brewer/grower alliance is taking shape in the state.