I underestimated Nebraska. I know I’m not alone. Visit Nebraska’s actual tagline is “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” But c’mon! Yes, there’s corn and football, but you also get rolling hills, endless blue skies, and excellent food and drink. On a pre-pandemic trip, a group of writers and I stopped by the Nebraska Brewing Company, the state’s most award-winning brewery, which exemplified what’s so great about the Cornhusker State.
Brewery co-owner Kim Kavulak’s business card reads “Chick That Makes Sh*t Happen.” She does everything but brew the beer. In 2007, when she and her homebrewer husband, Paul, tapped their first kegs, there were only five breweries in Nebraska. Today, the state claims about fifty, though that’s still a relatively low number, placing Nebraska above South Dakota but below Iowa.
A few months after the trip, I talked to Kavulak on the phone about what makes Nebraska beer so special, and why her brewery itself is worth the visit.
“No matter what style we make, we make it very true to style,” she says. “We were told by another brewery early on to basically dumb down our beers because craft beer was so new to Nebraska, people would never drink an IPA. So it was important to us to not do that.” She wants their beers to compare to those on tap in Portland or Denver.
Distinguishing the Kavulaks’ beers from the rest, local hops from Midwest Hop Producers bitter their Cardinal Pale Ale and sauvignon-blanc-barrel-aged saison Blanc Is the New White.
Their flagship beers have won coveted medals at the World Beer Cup going back to 2010, when they weren’t even producing 1,000 barrels a year. (In 2019, they produced 9,000 barrels.) “We were standing on the stage with Ommegang,” Kavulak says. “It put us on the map to the extent of, ‘Hey, let’s pay attention to what’s going on in Nebraska.’ I think if we can all make beer at that level, that’s important for the industry in our state, because that begets other things in the state like travel and tourism and all of those things that are important, and we get to be a part of that growth.”
Nebraska: It might not be for everyone, but it does have excellent beer.
(And unlike many other Nebraska breweries, the Kavulaks do distribute their beers outside of Nebraska, mainly throughout the Midwest corridor.)