April 27, 2018 by
Photography by Rod Howe
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

It began as a simple adventure concocted by four bicycling buddies to explore local byways on two wheels and sample good beer from the state’s burgeoning craft brewery landscape. Four days later, they dubbed their adventure the First Annual Beermuda Triangle ride.

On a Thursday in mid-October, a pickup truck drove the thirsty explorers to their first destination—Bootleg Brewers—on a rambling Sandhills road eight miles northwest of Taylor, Nebraska. Behind the wheel was retired Union Pacific railroad engineer George Evans, 66, hauling retired USDA appraisal specialist Randy Darling, 67 (both of North Platte), Holdrege hairdresser Tim Rehm, 58, Grand Island CPA Mike Swanson, 57, and their four bicycles in the back of the truck.

Rest assured, drinking and driving (or riding) was not on the agenda. These veterans of Bike Ride Across Nebraska, The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, and myriad other long-haul trips have more than 20 years of experience responsibly sharing back roads and highway shoulders with automotive traffic. Once the bikes are parked and secured, another story unfolds. Ensuing evenings of mug curling have more than once resulted in a slow start to the morning-after ride.

“The idea came from Mike and I, not sure when,” Rehm says. “I guess we had both been to at least Scratchtown [Brewery] and Kinkaider [Brewery] and got to thinking originally about a self-contained trip [where bicyclists do not require a support team and carry their own camping gear, if necessary], but chose to do a credit card tour with lodging each night. At times we talked about including Kearney [Thunderhead Brewery] and Grand Island [Prairie Pride Brewery], but time and calendar constraints eventually determined how many breweries.”

Thus, the first leg of their craft beer tasting began at Bootleg Brewery’s idyllic setting. Imagine a brewery ranch materializing in the middle of the grasslands—a beer oasis. Conveniently, the cyclists reserved one of several cabins situated on the premises to crash.

“Bootlegger was good because of the on-site cabins, so over-indulgence was not a problem,” Darling says. “We also enjoyed their patio at the end of the tour.”

Owners Ron and Dodie Worm were very accommodating.

“Ron was a good guy,” Swanson says. “He allowed me to ride my fat tire bike in the pasture, plus he found my water bottle that bounced off the bike. The quiet in that pasture was amazing.”

On day two, a 39-mile ride through the rolling hills took them to Scratchtown Brewery in downtown Ord. The cyclists took time off their saddles to explore the town square on foot.

“We had a fun, extended happy hour with some of the locals who invited us to join them in the street-side beer garden,” Rehm says. “We toured the Standard station with some members of the local hot rod club, and before we knew it they were treating us to pizza as well. Some late-night shenanigans resulted in a visit from the Valley County sheriff; some of us were glad to get out of Valley County Saturday morning.”

Shenanigans, scenic rides, and opportunistic acquisitions have accompanied this fearsome foursome for many years.

Darling, whose cyclist handle is “Ranger,” has been riding the highways for “at least 30 years” with Evans, 10 to 15 years with Rehm, and on several occasions over the years with Swanson.

“I am not sure how many organized tours we have done together, but several BRANs, RAGBRAIs, and Pedaler’s Jamboree in Missouri,” Darling says. “We have also done several self-organized rides, which I actually enjoy more.”

On day three, a 49-mile ride against fierce headwinds through roller-coaster hills took them to the Kinkaider Brewery Co. just north of Broken Bow.

“On the third day we encountered some strong winds between Ord and Broken Bow, which challenged this aging group,” Rehm says.

On day four, the fearsome foursome closed the loop 47 miles later, returning to Bootleg Brewers’ patio for a trip-ending happy hour.

Of the hundreds of bike trips Darling has embarked on with these friends and others, he ranks the Beermuda Triangle Tour near the top. “I would rate our Beermuda Triangle Tour as one of our most fun,” he says. “We had good weather, good roads, moderate mileage, and good beer.”

Swanson also enjoyed the experience: “Our timing was incredible,” he says. “Despite being windy, the temperature for October was great. Microbreweries make a great finish to a day’s journey. As the industry grows in Nebraska, I hope the communities that are home to the breweries reach out to travelers of all kinds to enjoy. Our next trip visiting breweries could take us to eastern Nebraska in an urban setting or even here in central Nebraska. Who knows? Anyone can do a tour. Just pick a few destinations and peddle on.”


Brewery Highlights

Bootleg Brewers, Sandhills Brewing Co.

Rehm: “I got lost on my way and missed my turn on [Highway] 183 and ended up in Loup City, so I had to do a little gravel travel to catch up to the boys. Although the others had a head start, there was still a lot of fun to be had. I think by night’s end, Mike had his bike in the taproom. I was amazed at the considerable investment made at Bootleggers; it’s a beautiful spot.”

Scratchtown Brewing Co.

Darling: “Scratchtown was a pleasant surprise for me. They are a small brewery, and the beer exceeded my expectations. The locals were friendly. We nearly had too much fun and narrowly avoided trouble with the county sheriff.”

Swanson: “The locals we shared beer with and the stop at the high school football game were memorable.”

Kinkaider Brewing Co.

Darling: “Broken Bow is a pleasant rural town with all the services we needed in addition to Kinkaider Brewing. The Arrow Hotel provided a nice evening meal.”

Rehm: “It’s always fun to be there as we have gotten acquainted with the ownership in previous stops. It was probably our shortest happy hour of the trip as it had been a long, windy day. We had a great meal at the Bonfire Grill in the historic Arrow Hotel in downtown Broken Bow.”


Brewery Details

Bootleg Brewers, Sandhills Brewing Co.
45145 829th Road, Taylor, NE 68879
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tues.-Sun. (winter hours vary)

308.942.3440
bootlegbrewers.com

Nestled on 40 acres of ranchland in the Sandhills, Bootleg Brewers is a small brewery that fulfills a dream of longtime home brewer Ron Worm. In fact, its flagship beer, “Cling On,” was born in his basement 17 years ago.

As the brewery’s website details in its background story: “Out of this passion for brewing, Ron created an all-grain brew system in the basement of their home out of common household items. With a little ingenuity, he went on to work on creating a session beer he loved. From that hard work, Cling On was created. Cling On got its name because of the large amount of grains required to make this tasty brew, which also increases the ABV to about 7%. Easy drinking and high in alcohol can sneak up on you and before you know it, you are looking for something or someone to ‘Cling On’ to. Sorry, Star Trek fans, no relation here.”

The brewmaster garnered a reputation for sharing beer and advice with fellow homebrewers. In turn, he started his own brew club in 2001 called Bootleg Brewers. Finally, on May 17, 2016, Bootleg Brewers became a licensed brewery, the first to be officially established in Nebraska’s picturesque Sandhills region.

Owners: The family-owned brewery is operated by Ron and Dodie Worm (husband and wife) with support from daughter Jody Worm. Ron is head brewer and Dodie cooks and manages the kitchen staff. Other family members manage the bar and sales.

Facilities: The brewery features a two-tiered beer garden; full kitchen with extensive menu; main taproom; cabins (four eight-person cabins at $175 per night and one six-person cabin at $150 per night).

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Cling On (session wheat), ABV 6%
  • Sandhills Ale (cream style), ABV 4.7%
  • Ass Blaster (jalapeño spiced/herbed), ABV 5.9%
  • Horned Hereford (Irish red ale), ABV 4.4%
  • Hoppy Homesteader (IPA), ABV 5.4%
  • Naked Orange Stinger (spiced/herbed), ABV 5.4%
  • Muddy Duck (English brown ale), ABV 5.7%
  • I.E. Oatmeal Stout (stout), ABV 6.5%
  • 2nd Run (amber wheat ale), ABV 6.8%
  • Toasted Wheat (wheat ale), ABV 5.3%

Scratchtown Brewing Co.

141 South 16th St., Ord, NE 68862
4-10 p.m. Thurs. and Fri.;
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.
308.728.5050
scratchtown.beer

Located in the heart of downtown Ord, Scratchtown has made this quaint village a craft beer destination from its start in 2013. Its American imperial porter, called “Black Eye,” claimed the gold medal at the U.S. Beer Open Championship in 2015.

Scratchtown derives its name from the town namesake, Gen. Edward Ord, who remarked that swarms of mosquitos irritated his crew, prompting a lot of “scratching.” The brewery boasts that its beers are made with the purest water in the United States, drawing from the Ogallala Aquifer.

Although the owners initially founded the brewery on the notion that they could draw tourists in from nearby lakes and rivers, Jade Stunkel, one of the owners, was pleasantly surprised at the number of customers who are making the trek to Ord simply to drink good craft brew.

“The other day, a busload of 40 to 50 people came in from Grand Island,” he says. “They were stopping at two or three breweries and sampling a lot of beer. In November we are expecting another group.”

Plain and simple, craft brew lovers know their way to Scratchtown.

Owners: Mike Klimek, Caleb Pollard, Jade Stunkel, and Shay Reilly.

Facilities: Taproom, bar, and beer garden.

Events: Scratchtoberfest in October, The Darkest Day in winter, and other seasonal events (often to benefit philanthropic causes). The Darkest Day event is held the Saturday closest to Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, and features 10 to 11 of their dark brews.

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Sideburns’ (milk stout), ABV 4.3%
  • MMR (brown ale), ABV 5.5%
  • Wonder Twins (double IPA), ABV 7.9%
  • I Don’t Get It (honey blonde ale), ABV 5.4%
  • Big Joe (Pilsner), ABV 4.7%
  • Nugglehead (Nebraska pale ale), ABV 5.2%
  • (Bottle only) Barrel-Aged Lord of Ord (imperial oatmeal stout), ABV 12.9%
  • (Bottle only) Barrel-Aged Shay’s Calling (doppelbock), ABV 9.2%

Kinkaider Brewing Co.

43860 Paulsen Road, Broken Bow,
NE 68822
4-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.;
4-11 p.m. Fri.; and
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.
308.872.8348

kinkaiderbrewing.com

Located one mile north of Broken Bow, the brewery is named after the Kinkaid Act of 1904, legislation that increased the 160-acre land allotment of the Homestead Act to 640 acres in 37 northwestern Nebraska counties. The brewery sits on Fox Farms’ land, owned by Barry Fox. Kinkaider Brewery opened its doors in 2014.

Highlights for Kinkaider include being the first brewery in Nebraska to offer crowlers (32-ounce, fill-at-the-bar aluminum cans) and local ingredients, such as pumpkins, honey, apples, and jalapeños grown on the farm.

Crossover beers—some people call them “entry-level” or “gateway” beers for novice craft brew drinkers—are a hit with Kinkaider customers. Big sellers in this category are “Dan the Wiser Kolsch” and “Herd Law Honey Wheat.”

“Dan the Wiser [named for the brewmaster Dan Hodges] is their introductory beer,” says Thomas Cooper, assistant brewmaster. “Non-craft beer drinkers are like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good.’ There was a lady in here the other day who asked for Bud Light, and I believe Cody told her we only serve American beers here. She was like, ‘What do you mean?’ We told her Busch is now owned by InBev, a Belgium company. She was absolutely floored. She walked out with a case of Dan the Wiser.”

Kinkaider has bottled a dozen or so of its beers. The brewery always has 12 craft brews on tap.

Owners: Nate Bell, Cody Schmick, Dan Hodges, and Barry Fox.

Facilities: Taproom, bar, restaurant, beer garden patio, and indoor event center.

Beers on tap (as of March 2018):

  • Dan the Wiser (Kölsch), ABV 4.3%
  • Hiram’s Bones (porter), ABV 4.5%
  • Herd Law Honey Wheat (American wheat pale ale), ABV 4.8%
  • Stick’em (altbier), ABV 5.8%
  • 4-County Pale Ale (American pale ale), ABV 5.5%
  • Hopalong Cassidy (American pale ale), ABV 4.8%
  • Smoked Alt (smoked beer), ABV 6.4%
  • Story Horse Irish Red (Irish red ale), ABV 5.2%
  • Nitro Oatmeal Stout (oatmeal stout), ABV 6.3%
  • Snozzberry (sour), ABV 5.9%
  • Snow Beast Winter Ale (winter ale), ABV 7%
  • Devil’s Gap Jalapeño (spiced/herbed), ABV 4.7%
  • Claimstaker (Irish stout), ABV 5.4%
  • KBC Champion (cream ale), ABV 4.2%

About the author:

Rod Howe, 63, taught journalism at Westside High School for 23 years in Omaha. He retired in 2013. Although not a bicycle rider, he loves craft beer and country roads. In the summer of 2016, at a weekend gathering in North Platte at the home of Randy Darling (his brother-in-law), Howe became intrigued by the friends’ plans to embark on the brewery and bicycle ride in the fall. Thus, he conspired with the riders to follow them via automobile with camera, notebook, and tape recorder in October 2016. Cyclist ages noted in the article reflect ages at the time of the ride.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

From left: Randy Darling, George Evans, Mike Swanson, and Tim Rehm