Tag Archives: craft beer

Brew Almighty

January 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “act of God” can conjure images of broken levees, tree trunks on car roofs, or even incredibly bad hair days. But for Belgian farmers, it once signified pints of seemingly heaven-sent brewskis.

After harvest, the farmers crushed and boiled leftover grains, leaving them in open casks. Fast forward a couple of months, and the farmers returned to their casks to find them miraculously filled with beer. We now know it was less miracle and more wild yeast blowing in to ferment the wort that created the beer, but the farmers considered it a brilliant “act of God”—or, in Latin, “vis major.” This history inspired the name of Lindsey and Tom Clements’ Vis Major Brewery, which has been a passion project since its genesis.

The couple met in Omaha in 2008, before relocating to Chicago, where they developed a love of craft beer.

“It quickly grew into a passion,” Lindsey says. “Before long, our interest [in] and love for craft beer evolved into homebrewing for fun.”

The couple married in 2011 and returned to Omaha in 2012. That is when they got serious about homebrewing—getting new equipment and graduating from the typical novice extraction process to mashing their own grain. Within a couple years, Vis Major was serving suds at beer fests and other local events. Now, the Clements are polishing off the plans for their brick and mortar Vis Major Brewery, located at 3501 Center Street and slated to open in spring 2017.

The three-story building on the cusp of the Field Club and Hanscom Park neighborhoods was once Clanton’s Grocery. Tom will make beer in the walkout basement. The main floor taproom will seat about 40 people, with an additional private party space.

“We were attracted to the neighborhood because it’s so community-centric,” Lindsey says. “Families there aren’t just neighbors, they’re friends, and they’re really engaged with each other.”

Tom, a former Marine who works as an aircraft mechanic, is the head brewer, pinning down the technical side of the couple’s craft beer vision and ultimately bringing it to life in the clinking glasses of happy Vis Major drinkers. Lindsey handles marketing for Vis Major and works for a local craft beer distributor, which has provided invaluable experience and knowledge of the industry.

vismajorWith Vis Major, the Clements aim to “push the palate of the true craft beer drinker” while also offering styles appealing to entry-level drinkers.

“We want to make beer for people who, like us, are passionate about craft beer,” Lindsey says. “We love exploring craft beer, and I think that’s partially why we had such a great response at tastings.”

The five flagship Vis Major beers are Amen American Wheat, Psalm Saison, Convert Citra IPA, 9th Plague Black IPA, and Almighty Stout. Seasonal brews like summer refresher Eden’s Apricot and autumn ace Proverbial Pumpkin, a Let There Be Hops SMASH Series, and several creative limited release beers round out the existing lineup.

In bringing their dream to life as 100 percent owners of Vis Major Brewing, the Clements have faced their share of financial and other hurdles that might have tried even the patience of Job. But if timing is everything, then Vis Major may be right on time in terms of consumer interest. According the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild, in-state sales of Nebraska-brewed beer have grown steadily for years, with nearly a 23 percent increase in 2015 alone.

“There isn’t a brewer out there that didn’t start as a homebrewer,” Lindsey says. “We hope to bring people into the fold of craft breweries. With our location, we see the opportunity to be the neighborhood brewery. Rather than focusing on mass production, we want to create a friendly neighborhood environment that’s welcoming to everyone.”

Visit vismajorbrewing.com for more information.

Beer Festivals

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For those not yet indoctrinated into the world of craft beer, the term “beer fest” is likely one that evokes images of Munich during Oktoberfest or something else in the realm of drinking for the sake of consumption.

In every one of these articles, we’re searching for deeper meaning, however. For our discussion here, we’ll be exploring beer fests in the sense of discovery, education, shared interests, and time spent broadening what the world of craft beer can mean to you.

Beer fests of late—those with goals such as those I’ve just mentioned—are built around a four- or five-hour experience where fest-goers pay a nominal fee in exchange for a fantastic day spent with brewers, brewery owners, beer zealots, and others just like yourself who are out to learn.

Sure, it’s entirely possible to spend your time at a beer fest tasting four-ounce samples at a rate that would be staggering to most. But those little four-ounce samples—the overall number of which is usually determined by your own tolerance of the day’s fun—are geared to allow you to taste a broad spectrum of breweries, particular styles, and unusual offerings, all under the auspices of fest organizers eager and ready to help you understand the particular pour. They bring along history, anecdotal information, and an introduction to the people and the culture behind the world that has become craft beer.

So are there beer festivals that exist locally that offer such learning opportunities? Absolutely. And the better fests out there actually provide for cab rides home and other people-friendly elements geared to not only get and keep your interest in craft beer, but to ensure you’re fully enjoying yourself and able to return to the next fest!

Nearly every single weekend in the Omaha area you’ll find some sort of beer or craft beer-related event. I draw a distinction because beer in general can be anything—imports, macro brands, and macro brands made to look like American-made small-batch craft beer. Both are good but, in my opinion, you’ll find the true culture embedded in the little brewery owner doing his best to get you to notice.

Timing is everything, so if you’re up for an afternoon of smiles, check out Sunfest in late July, which is put on by the folks at The Crescent Moon, 36th and Farnam streets. Or check out the Great Nebraska Beer Fest in late August in Papillion. You might also check in with some of your local Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits guys, as they have numerous educational mini-fests running quite often. I think you get the point though…Get out there, sample a few brews, and learn a little!

And as always, drink responsibly and designate a driver.

Follow a Craft Beer Calendar

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To many, reaching for a beer is a pretty simple affair—grabbing whatever is on sale or sits on top in the cooler. But I’m not here to advocate for simplicity when it comes to your choice of beverage. Putting some timely thought behind your selection can pay some great dividends!

As I write this, the sun is shining, the temperatures are finally rising, and the desire to get outdoors is overpowering. Just as certain craft beers pair beautifully with particular foods, so too do the myriad styles of craft beer find select pairings with the seasons, hence, the phrase “seasonal beers.”

Seasonal beers offer their peak appeal within a particular time of year. Certain styles have become the norm for the type of activities people find themselves involved in or the type of weather they’re experiencing. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Darker, maltier styles are well-suited to the colder months due to their more filling and higher alcoholic nature, for example; thus, they are popular in the fall and winter.

But we’re now several weeks into spring, so which craft beers marry well with springtime? Spring seasonals tend to have a straw or golden color, a lively effervescence, and a bitterness rate geared toward quenching a growing thirst.

Pale ales, “smaller” IPAs (just a bit bigger in stature than pale ales), and wheat beer styles are perfectly suited to the warming temperatures and activities of springtime. And like good wine, beers also have many intriguing variations and tilts on a style that will keep you entertained throughout the season. You need not chose just one seasonal option—you can find several you enjoy!

One of my personal favorites is wheat beer—American, German, Belgian—and with brews from so many little regions within these countries, the list is quite long. Wheat beers are generally made with 50 percent wheat/50 percent malted barley. Most are cloudy in nature due to the yeast and proteins left in suspension because of a deliberate lack of filtration. Differences emerge in the artistry of the brewer. American wheats are fairly straightforward, less challenging, or possibly a bit less entertaining, while the German wheats can be hugely effervescent and possess a nose bursting with banana, clove, and vanilla. There are many variations within the German ranks, but as I’m here to guide you, I’ll send you right to an immensely pleasing German Hefeweizen (pronounced “hefay veitzen”).

Most area grocery or bottle stores carry a nice selection of seasonal craft beers, and the local brewers either have one on tap year-round or are just gearing up for the seasonal change. This is one of the easiest times of the year to make your own personal-best seasonal choice.

Now, get out there and try a few!

Craft Beer & Charcuterie

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes, a craft beer is best when enjoyed all by itself. A singular item to cut away the day’s stress or a social lubricant to foster communication and social interaction.

The reality is that craft beer is best when paired with other fine things in life. Sure, events loom large when one considers a beer’s largest stage, but if you think about it for a moment, beer—and specifically craft beer—finds its shining light in moments shared with food.

Beer & Food pairings have become the norm. Detailed and very deliberate styles and brands of craft beers married up with very specific and extraordinary foods. The results are oftentimes completely beyond the expected. I mean, who would think that a very bitter India Pale Ale when paired up with a pungent bleu cheese would find taste descriptors that tend toward sweet, candy, or even dessert-like? Malty craft beers with smoked Gouda cheese resulting in an entirely new taste experience—a perfect creaminess on the palate, where the carbonation from the beer cleanses and washes, preparing the taste buds for the next encounter.

Some of the extremes in this Beer & Food pairing phenomena find sanctuary in charcuterie and craft beer. Craft beer, we understand at this point, is defined as small-batch, extremely flavorful, and painstakingly created beer. Charcuterie may be more foreign to some of you. Simplified, charcuterie is a French word for “cold cuts”—but not your fridge variety. Charcuterie is the equivalent of craft beer within the custom realm of sausages, salamis, artisanal meats, cheeses, accompaniments, and sheer culinary excitement. Paired with their counterpart in craft beer, we find a confluence of substance and liquid not found independently. You owe it to yourself to find some of the local venues who specialize in either and sometimes both.

Great craft beer can now come from almost anywhere—a grocery store, tap house, brewery, or bottle shop. And if I can provide some guidance, The French Bulldog in the Omaha area has some fantastic charcuteries to begin your path toward experimentation. They know the craft and understand how to convey to the first-time patron of a C&CB encounter a common language to impart understanding, remove doubt and fear, and open a world of flavor, taste, and sometimes extremism that is not elitist.

It’s a realm of discovery, Beer & Food pairing. You truly owe it to yourself and friends to seek out the corners of existence. Once you do, you’ll be forever changed.

Give these combinations a try:

  • The buttery and tender flavor of prosciutto complements Lucky Bucket’s soft-bodied Wheat and tangy sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Capocolla’s flavors of white pepper, cinnamon, and cloves taste great with Lucky Bucket’s Lager and smoked Gouda.
  • Lucky Bucket’s IPA gave bleu cheese a creamy flavor, balanced by Pancetta, an Italian, Croatian, and Slovenian bacon.
  • Certified Evil by Lucky Bucket pairs well with the spices of Genoa Salami and a smooth, fresh mozzarella cheese.

Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walk through the wrought-iron gates of Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen, and the beads and feathers tell you you’re no longer on 15th and Farnam. You’re on Bourbon Street. “I’ve had more offers than I can count for that,” says Jordan Jackson, nodding at a huge white show cape pinned to a wall. “Shangri La” it reads, letting diners know this is the place to laissez les bon temps rouler.

Jackson has been letting the good times roll as the general manager of Omaha’s Jazz for two years. “We have a full-on Cajun menu,” he says. “Like ètouffèe, it’s just not something you find much outside Louisiana.”CrawFish copy

The original Jazz in Lubbock, Texas, (and consequently all five other Jazzes scattered across the nation’s middle) was heavily inspired by celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme. The Louisiana native popularized Cajun cooking with his restaurant, cookbooks, and TV shows. Omahans can enjoy his time-honored flavors as prepared by head chef and co-owner Justino Gomez, who’s cooked for Jazz for 20 years. “I love the Cajun food,” Gomez says. “It’s healthy, and it’s just good, you know?”

How does the food compare to what you’ll find in The Big Easy? “This is a little more Midwestern,” Jackson admits. “Cajun food is spicy, and that’s not what everyone up here is looking for.”

Those looking for authentic heat need not sweat the Midwestern standard. Each dish is made to order down to the sauce. “You want it mild? I’ll just put in the garlic and chives,” Gomez says. “You want it spicy? I’ll add more cayenne.”Untitled 2

Night owls know that finding decent food downtown can be a chore with most kitchens closing at 10 p.m. Jazz’s full menu is available until two hours before closing (which is 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and midnight the rest of the week), but Jackson swears by the late-night menu. Basically the only part of the regular menu not included is anything using the sauté station, like pastas, house specialties, and the (of course) sauté menu. “You can still get a good meal late,” Jackson says. Get the crab cakes a la mer. The best appetizer, in his opinion.

If you’re the type that insists on unique drinks to go with your unique food, Jackson makes sure local craft beer is in good supply. “Whoever’s got the better beer menu, that’s where I’m going for dinner,” he says. Usually all but two of the restaurant’s 12 taps are craft brews like Keg Creek, Chefs in Black, Blue Blood, and of course, Lucky Bucket.20121116_bs_4037 copy

What is dinner without a little music? Jazz brings in local musicians to complete the ambience every Thursday through Saturday. “It’s mostly jazz and the blues,” Jackson says, “but we do have one Dixieland band.” The Street Railway Company performs every third Friday of the month. Bands play on a stage overlooking the dining area from 7 to 11 p.m. Diners looking for a mellower evening should come on Thursdays, when the music only lasts until 10 p.m.

“Downtown’s becoming more than just the Old Market,” Jackson said. “If someone’s going to a show at the Orpheum, I want them to just know, oh yeah, Jazz’s right around the corner.”

Jazz – A Louisiana Kitchen
1421 Farnam St.
402-342-3662
jazzkitchen.com

Blatt Beer & Table

August 17, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With a sprawling beer list and a food menu designed to complement the brews, it’s easy for pub grub fans and craft beer connoisseurs to hit a home run at Blatt Beer & Table.

Named after Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium, the restaurant and bar offers a wide variety of craft beers from microbreweries around the world. The selection includes 24 draft beers, as well as numerous bottled and canned beer.

The menu features flavors from across the globe: German bratwurst and spaetzle; American classics, such as chicken and waffles and mac ‘n’ cheese; an Indian-spiced char-grilled chicken sandwich with mango chutney; the popular Mexican street-food snack chicharones (fried pork skins dusted with chili powder); and Irish brownies made with a Guinness batter.

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Blatt is among the newest additions to North Downtown (NoDo)’s dining scene. Located directly south of TD Ameritrade Park, it opened in June, just in time for the College World Series.

When the CWS ended, a new crowd stepped up to plate. Blatt attracts a diverse group that includes residents of neighboring apartment buildings, downtown office workers, Creighton University students and staff, Film Streams moviegoers, and those attending concerts and other events at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

“It’s a great place to hang out,” says Kailin Sneller, Blatt Beer & Table’s general manager. “People have really started to catch on to us.”

The diverse crowd, laid-back atmosphere, and relaxed vibe fit in well with the eclectic and supportive businesses that comprise NoDo, says Sneller, adding that Blatt differs from other bars and restaurants in the area because it has an extensive and ever-changing beer selection, craft cocktail menu, and food that pairs with beer.

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Another part of its appeal is the rooftop patio, which Sneller said is a great spot to relax and take in the view, weather permitting. “You can see all of downtown,” she says. “It’s really cool.”

Blatt’s interior features a blend of styles, from rustic to industrial. The space gets a vintage feel from tin ceiling tiles repurposed to create part of the bar. Wood-topped tables and exposed brick walls provide a warm, classic flair. Modern elements include concrete floors, sleek metal stools, and garage-style doors that open in nicer weather.

Custom labels adorn bottles of ketchup, mustard, and malt vinegar. Food arrives on tin pie plates, and some items are tucked inside brown paper bags for a stylish and fun presentation.

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Blatt offers Zesto ice cream cones, shakes, and other frozen treats seasonally inside the restaurant and at a walk-up window on the south side of the Blatt. Both are operated by Flagship Restaurant Group, which also runs Blue Sushi and Roja locations in Omaha.

Tony Gentile, Flagship’s corporate executive chef, created Blatt’s menu with Mikey Hill, Blatt’s executive chef. Gentile said the menu showcases simple, unfussy, and delicious bar food that goes well with a wide range of beers. Blatt’s staff are happy to suggest food and beer pairings.

Blatt Beer & Table, 610 N. 12th St., is open daily at 11am. For more information, visit blattbeer.com or call 402-718-8822.