March 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before breweries became all the rage, there was another craft alcohol manufacturer that was king in Omaha: whiskey distilleries. For example, Willow Springs, the third-largest whiskey distillery in the nation, once stood at 4th and Pierce. But once Prohibition hit, that niche of Omaha’s craft spirit industry took a hit.

Last December, former Lucky Bucket Brewery owner Zac Triemert and fiancée Holly Mulkins mixed a little bit of Omaha’s past with the present when they opened Borgata Brewery & Distillery, a new full-production brewery, production distillery, and craft cocktail tasting room at 11th and Jackson.

It’s not just another business for Mulkins and Triemert—they want Borgata to become Omaha’s beer and whiskey.  To do so, they’ve relied upon a network of people who are just as passionate about craft alcohol as they are.

“Borgata is an old Italian word for family,” explains Mulkins. “Anybody that shares in what we make and what we’re doing is also a part of our extended family.”

Borgata is the first full-production distillery in Omaha since Prohibition, and Triemert and Mulkins say they’re excited to add their own page to Omaha’s “incredible distilling history.” In fact, Borgata will be brewing a batch of an old recipe from the family behind the Jetter Brewing Company, the Omaha concern that closed one year after Prohibition ended.

“We’re literally going to be tasting history, which is kind of amazing. And doing what we’re doing with the whiskey, it’s history in the making so to speak,” says Mulkins.

Triemert and Mulkins have been hard at work perfecting their craft. Triemert, in addition to his two master’s degrees in distilling and brewing, is a diligent student in the field. He has three notebooks at home, containing recipes and revisions dating from the first batch of beer he ever brewed in college more than 15 years ago.

“It’s a terribly fun thing to have to study and learn about,” Triemert admits with a grin.

The studious crew of Triemert, Mulkins, and bar manager Brian Gummert have spent the past year and a half traveling and tasting in order to perfect their menu. They say Borgata will offer a wide variety of craft beers, whiskeys, and cocktails that will please both alcohol aficionados and customers who are new to the craft world.

On the beer side, Borgata’s flagship is their pilsner, which Triemert describes as “easy to drink, flavorful, nice, hot character with a great, thick, lacy, white head on it.” Borgata will also feature a “Bison series” that will contain beers with higher alcohol content, such as a double IPA.

Moving on to something on the stronger side, Borgata’s whiskeys will feature an “all-malt whiskey”—made of a group of single all-malt whiskeys, blended with Borgata’s own single-malt whiskey. According to Mulkins and Triemert, it’s a whiskey that’s never been done before in the United States.

Finally, Triemert, Mulkins, and Gummert are getting a chance to showcase their in-house spirits with their craft cocktail room.  One of their latest concoctions? Beer cocktails. Mulkins’ personal favorite includes champagne mixed with a stout, which she describes as a “kind of celebration drink.”

Perhaps fitting with their desire to be different, Borgata has faced some unusual setbacks. Originally scheduled to open at the beginning of November, Borgata’s permit approval was delayed because of the government shutdown.

Nonetheless, Mulkins and Triemert made the best out of the situation. They sent letters to President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, promising them their first two cases of beer if they came to an agreement. The effects of the shutdown have been long-lasting. Though Borgata has been able to serve its signature pilsner in its tasting room, its unaged white whiskey wasn’t available until very recently due to the delayed permit. An aged whiskey and a small food menu are still in the plans for the future. Despite the problems they’ve faced, Mulkins and Triemert continue to have fun with what they do.

“There is just so much that has happened, that is going to happen, and that is happening right now that we get to be a part of,” says Mulkins. “You could never get bored of this industry.”

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