The art and science of brewing fine beer is a growing hobby and industry around the nation, and the craft has found a firm foothold in Lincoln with the number of craft breweries ballooning over the past few years in the city.
With so much interest in brewing, it’s tempting to assume the swiftly expanding industry would be rife with competition, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, Lincoln’s brewers regularly band together with one another and other brewers around the region to collaborate on new brews and help cross-promote each other’s concoctions.
“All us brewers are a tight group,” said Brian Podwinski, owner of Blue Blood Brewing. “We don’t just have Blue Blood beer; we have 18 different breweries on tap. That’s it right there.
“That’s why we do this stuff. We work together. It brings all our customers together," he said. "I don’t care if all my customers tonight here go to White Elm, then go to Backswing. I don’t care. That’s the point. We work together. We always will, and I think our customers feel the same way.”
Lincoln’s brewing scene has exploded in recent years, with Zipline, Ploughshare, Boiler, Backswing, White Elm, Blue Blood and more opening and thriving, some winning national awards for their brews.
But much of the city’s growth in the field is threatened by legislation proposed in the Nebraska Legislature, the craft brewers say.
On the last day bills could be introduced, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill sponsored LB632, an omnibus bill that would, among other things, curtail craft brewers’ ability to grow their operations and profit from the distribution of their goods.
Now, brewers can open and operate five satellite locations to sell their beer. LB632 as introduced would require each of those locations to also brew beer, even though the five-location-per-company figure was negotiated between brewers, lawmakers and other industry forces in a separate bill (LB1105) last year.
Larson's measure would also require craft brewers to send their beer to a third-party distributor’s warehouse before being shipped to a retailer, even if the retail is nearby and the warehouse is far away. That would undo a standing state policy that simply loading the beer onto a distributor’s truck and hauling it directly to retail is sufficient.
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Brewers see the move as unnecessary and say it favors big beer producers and distributors.
“The late '70s and early '80s were a low watermark for brewers,” said Matt Stinchfield, owner of Ploughshare Brewing Co. in Lincoln. “The 10 largest breweries controlled 93 percent of the market, and there were all these mom and pop distributors who distributed that beer. The big brewers controlled the market this way.
“Now there’s on average two breweries opening per day in the U.S., and all the distribution has consolidated into these huge companies, and now they dominate the market.”
Scores of brewers and beer enthusiasts packed a hearing room at the Capitol in February to oppose LB632 before the General Affairs Committee.
Brewers and fans had been rallying opposition to the bill at events in Grand Island, Omaha and Lincoln, and thousands of people were prompted to share the #dontkillourcraft hashtag on social media and to share and comment on various advocacy events.
Newly elected Sen. Anna Wishart, who represents five craft breweries in her Lincoln district, said she has gotten more calls, emails and visits to her office regarding LB632 than any other issue before the Legislature this session.
“It’s somewhat perplexing, because there was a pretty significant compromise made last session where everyone came to the table,” she said. “It’s perplexing, when that compromise was made, that a year later there would be a piece of legislation introduced that would seek to undo much of that.”
The public seems to agree. Nearly 200 people attended a Feb. 9 event at Blue Blood Brewing to drink good beer and share their distaste for any legislation that might make it harder for them to get it.
“People band around craft beer,” Podwinski said. “You’re able to go, not just to your local pub but your local brewery and hang out, have a pint with your friends and enjoy a great beer.”