I moved to Omaha in April of last year and missed what may be the most magical time of the year for beer freaks.
So I had to head out and experience this week's festivities for myself. And what I found was a community simply in love with craft beer.
Every bar I visited was packed to the gills with people drinking and learning about beer. I talked to home brewers who were obsessed over crafting the perfect brew and beer enthusiasts who can't wait for this week to roll around every year. Beer Week is about more than just drinking: It's about celebrating brew and everything it can do.
This year's Beer Week was bigger than ever. Nearly 30 bars planned tap takeovers, parties, contests and more to fill the time between Feb. 14 and Feb. 23. More than 100 events were scheduled, way more than any beer nut could attend.
One of the founders of Omaha Beer Week, Bill Baburek, started it two years ago at a time where he noticed an upswell of bars that were starting to take notice of craft beers. Craft beer bars were opening throughout Omaha, and craft beer was becoming a bigger part of the culture. The owner of Crescent Moon Alehouse and Infusion Brewing Company saw cities that were the same size as Omaha kicking off beer weeks and being successful. He decided to put it in February, a sleepy time for the city, in the lull before a summer full of concerts, festivals and more.
The festival brings together bars that would normally compete against one another in a collaborative event to celebrate and raise awareness of craft beer.
To start off my week of beer, a friend and I hopped the Omaha Beer Week Craft Beer Bus Tour downtown at Wilson & Washburn on Saturday night. The bus route is one of the staples of Omaha Beer Week; it featured 12 buses and 21 bars on three circuits. All three routes are linked by an express route. Bars such as Library Pub, Fox and Hound and Brewsky's all have stops on the tour.
What appeared to be a relatively normal, boring black bus transformed the second we pulled away from the curb. 2Pac's “California Love” blasted over the speakers, and flashing colored lights strobed throughout the interior of the bus. I felt drunk and I hadn't had a sip to drink.
I sat next to a group of young women who were howling the lyrics to Beyoncé's “Drunk in Love” and showing off some dance moves. Middle-aged and older couples rode along, too.
Our first stop was the new Storz Brewing Company, where I sampled the Lumberjack 63 Lager, a bourbon barrel-aged lager. Good beer, even better because it was only $2. Next, we hopped off at Blatt Beer and Table, where I tried a beer cocktail made with Lucky Bucket's Certified Evil and Cut Spike whiskey, triple sec and maple syrup. The route continued to Crescent Moon and other spots such as Borgata Brewery and Distillery and Omaha Tap House.
The next day, I headed out to Benson to scope out the Benson Home-Brewoff, a huge event for Omaha home brewers. There were 86 beers entered in the competition. A team of judges pored over the brews to find the best beer. There were looking for things like aroma, appearance, mouthfeel and flavor.
Tom Malowski's Imperial IPA ended up the winner, which means his beer will be re-created in Benson Brewery's facility and served on tap at the restaurant and brewery.
Down the street at Jake's Cigars and Spirits, it was back to the 1920s for a Prohibition Party featuring Lucky Bucket. I didn't dress to theme, which was probably for the best — Russell and Denise Shroyer's costumes would have put me to shame. Denise dressed as a flapper, in a homemade, light blue dress. Her husband dressed the part, too, in a flat brim hat. The couple said they try to go to one Beer Week event a day. They've made good friends from attending these events over the past few years. They're beer connoisseurs; Russell is a home brewer and a member of the Railroaders Brew Club.
Even if you're not a huge beer fan, there are events for you to enjoy at Beer Week.
Beer Corner USA invited me to a beer potluck held on Tuesday night. The only requirement for dishes was that they be made with some sort of beer. And the results were delicious.
Attendees came with a plum and black currant sorbet made with lambic, a jalapeńo hummus made with Odell's IPA and cheese curds made with a blonde ale. There was so much food, most people were going up for seconds (and maybe thirds).
Caprice Golshani assembled a team of four people to create a multi-course beer-centric meal. They spent most of the day before the potluck smoking and grilling meat and making barbecue sauces from scratch.
“It's not Thanksgiving or Christmas or anything, but we still all got together and had a great time and (were) cooking for the same reason, which was really pretty cool,” Golshani said.
Golshani and crew made baked beans with La Trappe Quadrupel Oak-Aged Trappist Ale. There was also brisket, complete with a barbecue sauce made with Weyerbacher Blasphemy, a Belgian-style quad aged in bourbon barrels, as well as ghost and Trinidad scorpion peppers. The fiery sauce scorched my tongue — but it burned so good.
The best of Beer Week is still to come. The crown jewel, Extreme Beerfest, will be held at the Ramada Plaza on Saturday. It features more than 300 unusual and high-gravity beers, some of which you will have a hard time finding anywhere else. And bars such as the Dundee Dell, Brix and Krug Park still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve for the rest of the week.
If I learned anything during Beer Week, it's that there's always more beer to drink. Tap out too early, and you may miss the best of it. And you haven't seen anything yet.
“It's still in its infancy to me,” Baburek said. “It's only going to get bigger and better.”
Bill, I'll be there again next year, drinking the craziest beers with the best of them. I'll have a pint glass in my hand and a smile on my face.