Microbreweries' success has some people thinking Lincoln could become a beer city

2013-02-15T11:05:00Z 2013-11-08T16:00:50Z Microbreweries' success has some people thinking Lincoln could become a beer cityBy CORY MATTESON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Starting a microbrewery has its similarities to brewing a batch of craft beer.

You have to have a specific vision of the final product and an intricate plan of attack that can mitigate any number of variables that might present themselves.

You also need a significant amount of start-up cash.

Matt Stinchfield still is working on the second part.

But he has a clear vision for the pre-Prohibition Era-style microbrewery he intends to open just east of the 14th and O streets bar scene. And he has a very specific view of what the Lincoln craft beer scene will look like five years down the road.

He sees more places like Mellow Mushroom, set to open on Canopy Street, offering patrons an expansive selection of tap beers that rarely end with the word “Light” -- or "Lite."

He sees Granite City Food and Brewery, Empyrean Brewing Co. and Modern Monks Forbidden Ales, which have produced locally made beer for years, continuing to thrive. He sees newcomers Blue Blood Brewing Co. and Zipline Brewing Co. being joined by his Ploughshare Brewing Co. and other homebrewers who have visions of going pro.

He sees East and West Coast trends in microbreweries catching on here. Nationally, beer sales dipped slightly overall from 2010 to 2011, but microbrewery sales grew 15 percent in terms of dollars in 2011, according to brewersassociation.org.

Beer lovers will see Lincoln, already home to a sizable homebrewing community, as a destination. They’ll stop over for a night. They’ll go on craft beer pub crawls.

“In five years, I think we’ll be known for it,” Stinchfield said.

The brewers behind the recent additions to Lincoln’s beer scene believe there’s room for more craft offerings in bars, restaurants, store coolers and, in Zipline’s case, the brewery itself.

Since Zipline, 2100 Magnum Circle, Suite 1, began offering Friday and Saturday taproom hours, people have at times filled the place shoulder to shoulder wanting a pint or more of New Zealand IPA, Copper Alt, Oatmeal Porter and other offerings. Customers once drained an IPA cask in 28 minutes.

Brewer Marcus Powers, who along with business partners Tom Wilmoth and James Gallentine founded Zipline, said he’s cautiously optimistic that crowds aren’t filling up the taproom simply because it’s new. Although he keeps his expectations conservative, he said late last month he was happy to see some people revisit the taproom each of the first four weekends it was open.

“We know a lot of folks in Lincoln -- friends, people we went to school with,” Powers said. “We knew a lot of folks that really, really loved beer -- good beer.”

Zipline distributes to bars and stores, too, which Powers said leaves him feeling like he’s in charge of accounting for two distinct businesses.

No matter how far away the ever-changing Zipline offerings are distributed, Powers said, a microbrewery lives and dies by how much support its hometown offers.

“We want people to connect with our beer at the most grassroots level,” he said.

And wheeling a keg 20 feet from the tanks to the tap room is about as grassroots as it gets, he said.

The early success of the Zipline taproom isn’t lost on other homebrewers who’ve made the leap to commercial brewing, or are in the arduous process of doing so.

“Let’s put it this way: I can’t confirm or deny there’s discussions going on,” Blue Blood President Brian Podwinski said when asked about putting in a taproom.

Blue Blood, 500 W. South St., Suite 8, began selling cans and kegs of craft beers to a few Lincoln bars and distributors in December 2011. Now the microbrewery's offerings can be found in about 20 Lincoln and Omaha bars.

And cans of Pod’s ESB, Big Log Wheat and others also can be found in Grand Island, into Iowa and even Canada.

Blue Blood also offers brewery tours, which Podwinski said give craft beer lovers and newbies alike a detailed look at the effort they put into making their beers. And this month, they’re announcing a homebrewing contest in which the winner will get to use Blue Blood’s equipment to produce his or her beer.

“We were homebrewers ourselves,” Podwinski said. “We want to support homebrewers, and a lot of homebrewers dream of brewing on a system like this.”

Seeing the popularity of the two start-up breweries is somewhat bittersweet for Stinchfield, whose Tailgate Red Irish red ale won the people’s choice prize at last month’s Winterfest Ales and Auction. He’s been to the Zipline taproom two or three times, and feels like the demographics there reinforce his belief that Lincoln’s ready for more craft beer varieties.

But he doesn’t know when he’ll be pouring some of his at the location he has in mind.

In January, Stinchfield blogged on Ploughshare’s website about the frustration he feels in convincing the last wave of investors he needs that he’s got a solid product and a thought-out plan.

“I liken this situation to having built an amazing assembly of dominoes,” he wrote. “Each one is carefully positioned to receive a gentle tap from the domino before it and to fall precisely into the next one to make progress. All of our dominoes are set. The planning is done. The bank is on board. The suppliers, the lawyers, the designers and architects -- each a domino waiting for the nudge. When we gather up the rest of our private investor funds, that 19 percent I mentioned, I can ceremoniously knock over that first domino. At the end of that well-orchestrated line of tasks falling into place ... our much sought after beer flows from glorious, gleaming faucets.”

Since he wrote that, Stinchfield said he’s gotten a few more investors on board. And even though some potential investors have sat on the fence after asking him about everything from his religious views to his football-rooting preference to how much free beer they’ll get if they invest, he takes solace in one thing that hasn’t happened when he tells them of his plan to start a microbrewery in a place that’s craft beer reputation is growing.

“Really, nobody has said I’m a whack job.”

Reach Cory Matteson at 402-473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com, or follow him on Twitter at @LJSMatteson.

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About this section

Directions is the Journal Star's annual reflection on the recent past and look ahead at the foreseeable future of business and commerce.

It's also a look at the city's changing landscape. And there’s no doubt that the physical changes today are far more obvious than they were a year ago.