Saturday, August 24, 2013 was the fifth annual Great Nebraska Beer Fest, but it was my first time attending. The fest was held in a parking lot area at the Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion, Nebraska (just south of Omaha). The area was between the Nebraska Brewing Company, a sponsor, and Dick's Sporting Goods. After a mostly mild summer, the heat came out and it was in the mid-90's as the fest rolled from noon (for VIP's) to 6:00 p.m. It was very hot by the last third of the fest. In a nice touch, the VIP's got a free lunch as part of their ticket price.
It was a very good festival, so let me get my two gripes out of the way first. The free lunch thing was great, but what was not great was that there was no choice in food at the fest. Anyone who was hungry could have a polish sausage and chips or nothing. My other gripe was that their program did not list the beers brought by the approximately 80 breweries attending. It is very hard to keep track of what you have sampled when you can't just put a check by it. The website for the fest had the list of beers well in advance, so I don't know why they didn't print it.
There was a good selection of breweries, including a number of Nebraska and Kansas breweries. There were not long lines compared to a lot of fests, and the VIP hour was particularly not crowded, despite all VIP tickets being sold. That indicates to me they sold an appropriate amount to keep it "VIP". Another nice touch was the inclusion of several area home brewing clubs who brought a large variety of beers to the fest, and some very good ones. The homebrewers had better beer than a few of the breweries attending. I also liked that there were plentiful kegs of drinking water (however, in the heat, they ran out near the end and there was not enough other available water at that point).
The Nebraska Hop Growers and Brewers Collaboration had a booth, and they were serving four beers from Nebraska brewers, all featuring Nebraska-grown hops. These were four of the best beers at the fest, all were very good: Zipline Brewing's Oatmeal Pale Ale, Nebraska Brewing Company NE Hopped Blonde Ale, Upstream Brewing Serenhoppitous India Brown Lager, and Lucky Bucket Heartland Cascading Wheat.
Schell's also brought a beer specially brewed for the fest, a nice Oak Aged Oktoberfest beer. As always, there was so much good beer, I hate to mention favorites only because I know I am missing many that I also really enjoyed. Two of my favorite overall brewers from the fest were 4 Hands of St. Louis, Missouri and the Zipline Brewing Company of Lincoln, Nebraska whose whole line-ups were solid. I give best new brewery at the fest to Zipline as a clear winner. I really liked the Session IPA from Peace Tree Brewing of Knoxville, Iowa and the Zwickl from Urban Chestnut of St. Louis, Missouri. The Zwickl was true to German form. The Blind Tiger Brewery of Topeka, Kansas had a nice selection of good IPAs. Finally, I don't profess to know really anything about mead, but the Moonstruck Meadery of Bellevue, Nebraska really had some tasty meads!
Winner of the not ready for prime time award from the fest goes to the newly revived Storz Brewery. Their history might be storied, but their line-up of beers was not ready for release. They better go back to the drawing board quick and get better beer or they won't last long.
Where you there? Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.