BEST OF 2011: Nebraska craft breweries thrive despite economic concerns

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December 28, 2011 - 6:00pm

This story is part of our "Best of 2011" series of reports, airing Dec. 26 to Dec. 30, 2011, on NET Radio, looking back at some of the top Signature Stories from NET News throughout the year. It originally aired Oct. 12.

It's the one luxury that's recession-proof, and the numbers show it: people are going to drink beer regardless of their income. While many beer drinkers may downgrade their brew of choice, American craft beer sales continue to go up. This national trend is reflected in Nebraska as well.

"The one area in beer that has been growing in the last decade has been American craft style beers," said Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission. The commission collects taxes on all alcohol that is made or imported to the state.

Clay Masters, NET News

A glass of Lucky Bucket Lager, the brewery's most popular beer. Brewery Owner Zac Triemert refers to it as "drink-all-day beer."

Clay Masters, NET News

Lucky Bucket Owner Zac Triemert started his brewery in 2008 when most businesses were failing.

Clay Masters, NET News

Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. in LaVista offers tours of the brewery every weekend.

"When you're seeing a growth in those American craft style brewers, you're seeing a decrease in imported (beer). Imports have really taken a hit the last couple years," Rupe said. "They're going after the same market share - the higher end beer drinker."

Sales have been increasing for Lucky Bucket Lager in LaVista since it started in 2008 during the outset of what's been dubbed the Great Recession.

"It was a little scary, but it didn't slow us down any," said Lucky Bucket President Zac Triemert.

Triemert started his career with agriculture company Cargill as a fermentation microbiologist, but moved to Scotland in the early 2000s to pursue a degree in brewing and distilling. His dream was to open a distillery.

"If you go back and look at the business plan, we were going to be a distillery that had a brewery attached to it, because the first part of distilling is brewing," Triemert said.

In 2007 Triemert worked with Sen. John Synowiecki of Omaha to pass a law that allows Nebraskans to distill within the state. In that time he focused on beer.

"The brewery has just taken off like gangbusters," he said. "We grew 400 percent last year, we're growing another 100 percent this year."

Hobert Rupe with the Liquor Control Commission said he doesn't expect to see craft beer sales in the state go down anytime soon, despite talk of a double-dip recession. That's good news for Trevor Schaben, who opened his brewery Thunderhead in 1999 in Kearney.

In 2008, Schaben stepped up his marketing and began distributing his beer in cans. When Thunderhead brewery started out, it was in the back of a restaurant. Now there's a separate building for the brewery.

"We are pretty much from Colorado to Omaha on Interstate 80," Schaben said. "We've got as much (distribution) as we can handle."

Schaben said they're still canning by hand, producing up to 200 cases a week. He said the new building was the first step in moving to automated canning, which will then allow him to focus on expanding distribution.

To hear more from Schaben in his 2008 interview as part of the NET News series Smart Investing, click here.



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