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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Nebraska Brewing

A month ago, I got an email from a guy named Paul Kavulak, co-founder and brewer at Nebraska Brewing. He wanted to know if he could send some beer. (Answer: hell yes.) I forgot about the exchange until I received a sort of crude box, hand-lettered in Sharpie, a couple weeks later. Inside were two 750 ml bottles, wrapped in paper grain sacks. There was no information whatsoever about the beer--no press release, no stats sheet, just the beer. In an ever-more-sophisticated market for fine ales, I am used to all kinds of clever packages and pitches. So: no press release? Grain sacks?

I immediately liked Paul.

Nebraska Brewing is located in Papillion, a suburb of Omaha, spitting distance from neighboring Iowa. (This is relevant to me mainly because I map the Midwest according to conference boundaries, and that's right on the Big 10/Big 12 line.) Nebraska, you might think, is no one's idea of a brewing mecca--but you'd be wrong. According to not-too-recent stats, its 16 breweries made it the 13th most breweried state per capita, ahead of Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts. We have now reached the extent of my knowledge of the Cornhusker State.

The brewery produces a pretty standard line-up of regular ales, but they also have a barrel-aging program. They sent me two beers from this series, which Paul says should be available in Oregon.

Chardonnay French Oak Melange a Trois
A melange of three? Three what? I thought for awhile that "trois" was an allusion to the style of beer--a tripel--but the brewery calls this a "strong Belgian-style blonde ale." The riddle is yours to solve. As for the beer, a chard-aged tripel is a tall order. Wine barrels are tough to work with. They contribute substantial sweetness to any beer--though I'm not sure if this is actual sweetness or a trick of esters. In any case, wine barreling a beer has its risks. French chardonnays may be subtle or bold--and one imagines that delicate versions, like delicate pinots (the other famous Bergundian grape), would work well.

Unfortunately, in the case of Melange a Trois, it's too much of a good thing. The base beer is excellent. Extremely lively, producing a mousse-like head, and full of interesting spicy esters. It is a sweet beer, though, and here comes the trouble. The oak and wine add harmonious notes on the front end--the esters are having a fruity party--but it ends with a heavy, sweet note. The beer comes in at 10%, and I wonder if it wouldn't benefit being a little more slender and austere before hitting the wood. I'd call it a B- on the patented ratings scale--a near miss--though it's worth point out that the five reviewers on BeerAdvocate were all in deep love.

Black Betty Imperial Stout
The next beer was an imperial stout. I waited until a couple nights ago to have it, as a storm hammered rain down outside. Nothing is quite as delicious as stout in a storm--even if it's a pre-winter, 48-degree storm.

Although bourbon barrels are used too often in my view, imperial stouts age beautifully in them. The roasted malts balance the sweet whiskey, and the alcohol from each do a seductive little tango. I had high hopes for Black Betty, and she delivered. Betty pours out creamily, and rouses another mousse-like head (a potential vulgar motto springs to mind, but we'll leave it unsaid). The nose, even fresh out of the fridge, is dense with bourbon and roasty malts. It begins sweetly, a bit of cola, a bit of plum, and there's a vanilla note that runs throughout. The blance comes with fairly insistent roast malt and hop bitterness; they work with the sweetness to produce a dark chocolate treat. It is a hair sharp with alcohol and could use a few months longer to soften. I'd give Black Betty an A-, and imagine that after a year or two in the bottle, it would be a solid A. Interestingly, the BAers give Black Betty a yawn.


  1. I'm actually jealous. I live in Kansas and cannot get NBC beer here. Glad you liked it. Maybe someday we'll get it in Kansas.

  2. Comment 1: After this year, Nebraska will be solid Big Ten country. But there is one problem, there will now be two "Big Red"s in the conference. It is a little sad to think of how badly the Huskers are going to be stomped by the Badgers and the other Big Ten teams. It was all sweetness and light when you could run around playing cream puffs like Iowa State, Colorado and Kansas.

    Comment 2: The political season - awash in money - has been a bonanza for the MSM. I see that you have benefitted from it as well. Go Casino! Just remember to take a long hot shower on Nov 3th and use disinfectant soap.

    Oh wait, was your post about beer?

  3. I'm just worried about losing my "Enemy" status for the "New School" blog! I can't think about beer today! It's so upsetting! I need a new mantra... "Only listen to others, only listen to others. Have no thought of your own, have no thought of your own."

    It might be working! I can feel my IQ points melting away. I have a strange urge for a PBR and waiting for someone to tell me how to vote next week!

    Jeff, Jeff! Are you there? Something strange is happening!

  4. What a strange flurry of off comment posts.

    Brewmiscuous: This is one of the great things about living in Beervana. Great distribution, great selection.

    Patrick: yes, although I'm still in denial about the Huskers coming to the Big Ten. Although, given how pathetic Michigan has become, perhaps the Badgers need a real team to thump. (Hoo boy, mocking Michigan--never expected that.)

    Ah yes, blogads allow anyone to advertise. Regular disclaimer: the ads on this blog neither reflect the views of the blogger nor are they endorsed by him (necessarily). This just goes to show that I'm not a vicious partisan.

    Doc, the world is changing, brother. Cats and dogs lie down together, fire rains from the sky, and the Cornhuskers are in the Big Ten. This is no world for dinosaurs like us.

  5. I was in Omaha a couple of weeks ago and strangely the only local beer at almost every place we went to was Boulevard Wheat from Kansas City. It was strange going to a place with 20 taps and nothing from Wa or OR! But I did find Goose Island IPA on tap at one stop so I was happy.

  6. I'm just getting used to Fred and Barney cohabiting....