Fabulous Festivals : Beertopia's Extreme Beer Fest in Omaha, Nebraska

I blame it on Belgium.  2002.

That's where I discovered that beer was actually supposed to have aroma, flavor, and a little TLC behind its production.  As a Kansas girl who had only associated beer with the omnipresent American brands that watered-down country dirt-road gatherings and college "study" parties, this discovery was a little shocking.  After making our way back to the States and catching wind of the microbrewery flame that was starting to spread, my now-husband and I began seeking out local brews and tipples on our travels, and making a stop at a local brewery or brew pub became an adventurous necessity when visiting anyplace new.  Besides the incredibly crafted and delicious brews that these places seek to produce, craft brew drinkers are just such awesome people, and have been the highlight of more than one road trip for us!

Fortunately, a mass of good people who traveled to the eastern realm of Nebraska last weekend feel the same way.  Omaha's biggest craft beer store, Beertopia, is in its seventh year of sponsoring the Extreme Beerfest--the golden end-cap to Omaha Beer Week.

The festivities kicked off with a Friday night beer-pairings dinner sponsored by New Belgium Brewery out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  The brewery's Sensory Specialist, Lauren Salazar, hosted the event with some of her own picks paired with a menu to compliment the brews.  It was such a treat to hear stories and insights from Lauren and to have an opportunity to chat with her in such a delicious beer-fueled casual setting.  Highlight of the night:  the Biere de Peach Barrel, which New Belgium brought two of their seven kegs of to share with us!

Saturday's main event included over 75 breweries from the United States and four other countries featuring over 300 extreme (mainly over 7% ABV) beers from sours and imperial stouts to dopplebocks, barleywines, and the Belgian dubbels, trippels, and quads.  It's pretty mind-blowing.  Fortunately, the fine folks at Nebraska Beer Blog provided a welcoming gateway to this beer-lover's extreme dream:

(Every festival usually has some discerning way of singling out the newbies from the seasoned vets--here at the Extreme Beer Fest, those with the salty snack necklaces have definitely been around the block before):

The inexhaustible lineup of incredible breweries represented were a bit overwhelming, but we soon dug our heels in and got to "work" with the tastings.  Some of our favorite, friendly big-wigs were happy to serve us, including Odell (who gave me more than one delicious sampling of Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout), Lagunitas (beer mixed with Ted & Wally's Ice Cream?  Genius!), Rogue (Old Crustacean Barley Wine and a little Double Chocolate Stout for dessert!), Goose Island, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Wasatch, and the good people from New Belgium, to merely name a few:

Loved the hearty Midwestern representation going on!  A few to mention:  Tallgrass Brewery out of Manhattan, Kansas (LOVED the Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Milk Stout, guys!):

The Iowegians from Okoboji Brewing, Toppling Goliath, and Peacetree:

Wisconsin's Sprecher Brewery:

The awesome crew from our beloved Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City:

As newbies to the Cornhusker state, this was a good opportunity to get to know some of Nebraska's own breweries (including a few of our "neighbors" from Lincoln)!  We had no idea that there was such a craft beer and microbrewery movement here, but we're definitely fans!

Modern Monks out of Lincoln:

Empyrean, Blue Blood, and new kids on the block, Zipline all out of Lincoln:

Nebraska Brewing Company from Papillion (the smoked porter rocked our socks!):

Lucky Bucket out of La Vista:

The highlight for us was the fantastic concoctions flowing from over at the homebrewers' booths.  The Railroaders Brew Club had an 80s and 90s cartoon theme (the Pinky, Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering? IIPA stood out at a delicious 11.5%), the German American Society went with a fantastic Magnum P.I. theme (the Higgins Ale, 10%, was one of our favorites), and the South Omaha Brewers (SOB's) kept thirsts quenched with their Proton packs of beer (in keeping with their Ghostbusters theme).  I've never had a beer clear out my throat like the SOB's I Ain't Afraid of No Ghostpepper chili beer--yowza!  From coconut stouts to some ridiculous barley wines, the homebrewers' section was definitely hoppin' (pun intended)!  

Omaha is working hard to make its name synonymous with fine and plentiful craft brews, and hosting a fabulous festival such as this one surely helps get its point across!  We can't wait to help drive home the reputation next year--pretzel-necklaces and all.