(Editor’s note: This article features Backswing Brewing Co. and Code Brewing Co. In the August edition, L Magazine featured two other recently opened craft breweries, Boiler and White Elm.)
Consuming a glass or bottle of beer can be a relaxing experience. Add in the camaraderie of fellow consumers in a local bar or tasting room, and you have a brief escape from the day’s turmoil.
But beer is not a simple alcoholic drink. Tastes and aromas can vary greatly, especially in the case of beers produced by craft breweries.
It is fortuitous that Lincoln is home to seven such operations, including two of the newer craft brewhouses – Backswing Brewing Co. and Code Beer Co.
Located in the new redevelopment area on the eastern edge of downtown Lincoln, Code was one of the first businesses in the Telegraph District. Opening in late July of this year, the brewery’s name was partially inspired as a tie to the district and to show support of the vision for the area.
The brewery’s location near the proximity of major Lincoln bike trails is also viewed favorably by its owners.
Backswing’s beer began being served in bars in November 2016, with its tap room opening in January of this year. Home for Backswing is the former location of Blue Blood Brewing Co. on West South Street.
According to owners at both breweries, there is very little time for staff relaxation … or calmness.
Hard work, long hours and tedious attention to detail are deflated by measured wackiness that Adam Holmberg and Matt Gohring of Code, and TJ Walker, Pat Simpson and Cory Sinclair of Backswing, display in accomplishing their operation.
Walker comments that the concept and execution of Backswing was the result of “one big tangled web.”
Simpson, Walker and original partner Kevin Faust were all employed at various Omaha Brewsky’s locations. According to the droll Walker, the trio would play golf every Monday. Marriage and children came into the picture and put an end to the fairway trips.
Poker games were also verboten, and the guys were trying to figure out a way to get together.
Could homebrewing be the answer? Turns out it was.
Soon the three were brewing beer at home and even cooling it in the family bathtubs. They thought they were THE brewers of brewers.
With success comes demands.
“We were sort of idiot savants,” Walker deadpans. The IPA they were brewing became Brewsky’s house beer. Now the three friends had to figure out how to supply six Brewsky’s with enough beer. The bathtubs were too small!
Originally looking for space for a brewery in Omaha, serendipity intervened with Blue Blood agreeing to help out by actually brewing the IPA. Then with Blue Blood’s departure to its new location, Backswing took over the old Blue Blood site.
During this period, Faust withdrew from the group because of time commitments and was replaced by Sinclair. Simpson is brewmaster, with Walker handling distribution and business, and Sinclair operations. In case it isn’t obvious, the brewery’s name is in homage to its owner’s favorite sport.
Backswing has its beer in 280 bars and outlets in Lincoln and Omaha, including canned beer in Lincoln HyVee, B&R and Super Saver stores, and anticipates cans in Omaha this month or January.
Walker says Backswing’s manufacturing design is “a goal of a 300-mile radius from Lincoln. Brewed in Nebraska for Nebraskans.”
Such a goal can demand dedication – Simpson keeps an air mattress at the brewery for overnight sleeps when he is monitoring brewing. Sinclair has been known to crash on sacks of grain.
Co-owners of Code, Holmberg and Gohring have been friends since seventh grade in Norfolk. As life progressed, they went their separate ways and unknowingly both became involved in home brewing.
Pretty soon the occasional brewing became an obsession for Gohring, who started brewing more and more frequently.
Holmberg started brewing while he lived in Arizona, and when he returned to Nebraska the pair teamed up.
“Matt’s brewing talent developed more than mine,” Holmberg says. “He just lets me tag along.”
Holmberg handles the operational duties at Code while Gohring is the brewmaster. The current beers offered at Code are based on recipes that he has developed over the years.
“We try to be unique and not cater solely to what is the demand,” Gohring says. Nevertheless, he is always looking toward what is missing from Code’s lineup.
Code’s taproom currently has 10 options on tap – Blackberry Tart, Cream Ale, Saison, Saisoff (blonde), Tart Wheat, Pale Ale, Porter, Red Ale, Dark Mild and English Bitter. Backswing’s tasting room features IPA, Wheat Brown, Oatmeal Stout and Citra Kolsch.
Neither brewery is interested in adding restaurant-style food to their tasting rooms. Code often features independent food carts or trucks, such as Muchachos, and LuLu’s Comfort Food makes deliveries Thursday through Saturday.
The Backswing crew emphasizes that their tasting room has no dreams of becoming a bar.
“We want to provide customers an opportunity to try our beers, so that in turn they can order them in bars or buy them for home,” Walker says.
As for adding an eatery to the Backswing services, Walker snorts, “We’re not dumb enough to try to run a restaurant too.”
The support of all of Lincoln’s craft breweries is an element that both Code and Backswing emphasize, saying that they couldn’t be in business without cooperation from every other craft brewery in town.
“That is not something that is found in other industries. It is competitive, but cooperative,” Walker says.
Holmberg and Gohring recognize the challenges craft brewers face in a world of corporate breweries. “It isn’t easy to get non-craft beer drinkers to become craft beer drinkers, but the awareness of the versatility and variety that craft beer offers gives us a chance,” Gohring says.
That awareness is aided by such activities as the annual Nebraska Hop Cup competition. The craft brew competition, which benefits the Hop Growers Association and the Nebraska Craft Beer Guild, will be held Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Nebraska Brewing Co. brewery and tasting room, 6950 S. 108th St. in LaVista, Nebraska.
Regarding the future of craft brewing, Walker makes reference to the old Magic 8 Ball, where one shakes it and turns it over to see what the future holds. “Who knows?” he says.
Continuing, he adds, “But beer creation is exciting and humbling. I still seize up a bit when I see someone drinking one of our beers. Then I think that it is pretty cool that they are [drinking it] … and that it all started out being cooled in a bathtub.”