Every ingredient..from malted barley, water, hops, yeast, aronia berries, down to the blood sweat and tears of the brewer, are born and raised right here in Nebraska.
What we have here is the first ever 100% Nebraska native ingredient craft beer. Big deal? We think so. To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a commercially produced craft beer using ALL Nebraska ingredients. So we decided to make one – and this is it. Welcome to the world, Nebraska Native!
The bare essentials needed to make beer are water, hops, barley, and yeast. Water is obviously the easiest to source. Turn on the tap. Easy-peasy. Nebraska grown hops have not always been that easy to get. They are, however, becoming easier to source due to the explosion of the craft beer industry and the popularity of the IPA style. There is not currently anyone making malted barley that is commercially available. The same can be said for yeast. There are currently no commercially available Nebraska yeast strains nor any commercial yeast propagation labs in the state. So how did we do it? That’s where our story begins.
There is a whole cast of characters that made this beer possible. The first being the Big Guy upstairs who created all the ingredients in beer, starting with water. It was the workers at Lincoln Water System near Ashland that pumped the water used for Nebraska Native from their well field. Once in our brewery, we treated the water via reverse osmosis to make the water ideal for this beer.
The hops used in Nebraska Native came from a gentleman named Gary Lang and his Lang’s Hop Yard. He and his wife La Rita grew the Cascade whole cone hops we used for Nebraska Native in the backyard of their acreage West of Lincoln.
Nebraska Native also has aronia berries in it, which we realize is not an essential ingredient of beer. But hey, we’re doing this our way. We sourced the aronia berries from John Hertz and his daughter Julia who grew the berries near Plattsmouth.
There is currently no commercially available malted barley being produced in the state of Nebraska. One random day, a young farmer by the name of Zach Davey walked into our brewery. Zach is in the process of starting his own malting company called Missouri Valley Malt. He asked if we would be interested in using some of his malted barley in some of our beer to which we said, “…of course!” He had a limited supply which was a perfect match to our small batch approach to making beer.
The yeast? Ohhhhh the yeast. Here’s where things get tricky. The yeast in this beer was probably the most difficult and most delicate ingredient to source and get right. Wild Nebraska yeast is plentiful, it’s everywhere, even floating in the air we breathe. Frequently, there is wild yeast taking up residence on fruit. Think of the dusty powder look of a blueberry. That’s wild yeast! Most wild yeast is not suitable for brewing as it either tastes bad or does not fully attenuate, or both. We got lucky when we found this one. It has an earthy, base with some tropical fruit notes that play nice with the rustic barley and aronia flavors.
The story of the Native Nebraska yeast strain dates to Fall 2011 and the Lincoln Lagers Homebrew Club “Big Brew Day” hosted by Doug Finke on his acreage West of Lincoln. Every year the Lagers do a communal “big brew” where there is one big mash and approximately 20 separate 5 gallon boils conducted by participants. That year was a yeast experiment where everybody made the same beer, only fermented with a different yeast strain. The fermentation characteristics would then be compared in the finished beers.
When it came time to sample the beers, there was one beer that stood out, and not in the way anybody expected. Kim Theesen had drawn an English Ale strain but his beer came out tasting nothing like an English beer. It had apparently become infected with a wild yeast strain that was in the air that day at Finke’s. Kim was not happy with the beer until he gave Jason Mc Laughlin a taste. Jason is a National level BJCP beer judge as well as Certified Cicerone. In short, Jason knows beer. One sip and Jason knew there was something special there, it had notes of wild brettanomyces, earthy with tropical fruit. Brett fermented beers were still fairly new to the craft beer scene at the time but the beer nerds in the know were blown away by the flavors in Kim’s beer that day. Jason is wise. He suggested that Kim save every bottle he could as it might be possible to isolate that wild yeast and do something new and interesting with it.
In steps Aaron Carnes. Aaron knows a thing or two about craft beer and microbiology. He took on the challenge of isolating the yeast. Using aseptic techniques with selective media, as well as a bunch of clever trickery, Aaron was indeed able to isolate the wild yeast, grow it up, then save it on slants in a -80 freezer. He knew he had it when the yeast smelled just like Kim’s beer.
Fast forward five years to when we here at Boiler Brewing Company decided to do a native beer. We knew we needed a native yeast and the first thing we thought of was the wild yeast from 5 years ago. Aaron said he still had it and would see if he could raise it from the dead. Many years in the freezer can be hard on yeast. Once again we got lucky and Aaron was able to revive the yeast and propagate it so we could brew with it, which we did!
On November 11th, 2016 we brewed Nebraska Native as a collaboration with many of the people who were present on the original brew day years ago at Finke’s place. Some of the brewing techniques needed to brew this beer were unconventional. Doug Finke is kind of an unconventional brewer himself so it was nice having him on hand for the entire brew day. Without his creativity and experience it would not have went as well. Kim Theesen and Jason Mc Laughlin were also able to help on brew day. Zach Davey was on hand to help as well as witness the performance of his malt. Aaron Carnes was present to pitch the yeast into the batch. It was cool to see the guy responsible for nurturing the yeast all these years complete the circle of life.
Everything in Nebraska Native was born and raised in Nebraska, including the blood, sweat, and tears of the brewer. We hope you like it as much as we did making it. Cheers!