(Editor’s note: This article features Boiler Brewing Co. and White Elm Brewing Co. Watch for a story this fall featuring Backswing Brewing Co. and Lincoln’s newest brewery, Code Beer Co.)
Beer is a happy (and hoppy) beverage. Its consumption seems to generate joviality and good times.
Not surprisingly, Tim Thomssen and Kolby Wood – brewmasters for Boiler Brewing Co. and White Elm Brewing Co., respectively – are a couple of creative, adventuresome and amicable guys.
The pair guide two of Lincoln’s more recent craft beer breweries. Boiler Brewing Co., located in the basement of the Grand Manse (the old U.S. Courthouse and post office), opened on April 1 last year. This prompted Thomssen to proclaim, “It’s not an April Fool’s joke, it really did,” while White Elm opened its doors in November last year and is located in a quiet strip mall in south Lincoln.
Commenting on the growth of craft beer – both nationally and locally – Wood said that customer expectations have increased, and as a result people have switched priorities to quality over quantity.
Thomssen added that the drinking public wants variety in its beverages … what is new and different. “That is good for the new brewers; there is decreased brand loyalty.”
A Lincoln native, Thomssen started as a home brewer, garnering two Grand Champion awards from the Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing in 2014 and 2015. Thomssen had been approached by Monte Froehlich, owner of the Grand Manse, about opening a brewery on the site.
He laughed and said that the proposal “scratched my itch” with the opportunity to work at presenting a wide variety of beer. Froehlich is the major partner in Boiler Brewing with Thomssen and Thad Aerts (Boiler Brewing’s taproom manager) as co-partners.
Wood, who has a culinary background and firm belief in local sourcing, started home brewing in 2001. Originally from the Denton area, Wood landed in Colorado at an Irish pub. Over nine years and the addition of three additional bars, Wood became a partner in the establishments.
While he dreamed of opening a brewery, the dream didn’t reach fruition until Wood and his family returned to Nebraska, purchased a home and subsequently developed White Elm with the assistance of partners Matt and MarthaLee Heyne.
Wood explored locations in Lincoln's Haymarket and Omaha's Old Market but settled on the south Lincoln location. The brewery with its taproom takes its name from a giant white elm located in the front yard of the home Wood purchased when he returned to Lincoln.
It took about a year to transform the Boiler Brewing facilities, which are in the boiler room and adjoining areas of the old courthouse and post office, and included the removal of two very large boilers. The White Elm renovation was shorter – approximately six months – with Wood doing most of the remodeling himself.
Neither White Elm nor Boiler Brewing are interested in becoming the next big thing and would rather gauge success by satisfying their customers.
“I don’t want to take over the world of craft beer,” Wood said, with Thomssen mirroring the sentiment. “Whether local or national, Boiler Brewing is not interested in competing with the big guys,” he said.
That feeling is reflected in Boiler Brewing not distributing its beer and only selling its products in its own taproom. “Store shelves are getting too crowded,” Thomssen mused.
Boiler Brewing’s taproom features 24 of its beers on tap, which include the addition of one to five new beers offered each week, meaning there is little long-term consistency in availability. Thomssen said that there is only one beer that is constantly available – the Nebraska Native, which is made from 100 percent Nebraska-based ingredients.
Thomssen is particular about being creative in the beers that he develops. One such brew that was in the experimental phase is called Freaky Tiki Pineapple Coconut Gose. Some past brews have included Blueberry Berliner Weisse, Holy Wood, Coffee Kolsch and Alcohall & Oates.
“Flavor has impact. I’m not afraid to tip the can. If a beer description talks about flavors … by God, you have to taste it,” Thomssen exclaimed.
Boiler Brewing also has a separate winery license to make its own cider. “It was difficult to get,” Thomssen said, “but we did it.”
White Elm has eight brews on tap including six regulars – Rollo Pale Wheat, Skinny Legs IPA, LNK Common, Saison, Bier de Garde and Grisette – and two seasonals. Wood said that White Elm beers are traditional Belgian-style ales – “rustic, agrarian-style … simple beer with a lot of character.”
Wood is exacting about what White Elm puts in its beer, using lots of locally sourced products and ingredients, as well as seeing that all of its beers are vegan.
White Elm beer is on draught in 60-plus Lincoln and Omaha bars/restaurants and recently started offering canned beer for distribution.
Both Thomssen and Wood commented on the camaraderie among Lincoln’s craft brewing industry. Thomssen doesn’t see a saturation point among Lincoln breweries. “There is plenty of room for even more taprooms.”
Wood added that there is nothing parasitic about another brewery opening. “White Elm would not exist if Zipline hadn’t accomplished what it did,” he said. “We all succeed if the others [breweries] succeed.”
For Thomssen, the brewing journey is a continual one – he is never satisfied. “I want to raise the bar with what is possible with beer. I’m always imagining what could be.”
The deeply rooted white elm tree in Wood’s yard is reflected in his commitment to Lincoln and its people. “I want to give back to the community as we make beer of equal quality to the community in which we live.”