I always enjoy a night out with my boys Tim, Pete, Tommy and James. We've known each other since we were kids—having gone to all 12 years of school together before parting ways to attend different colleges.
Now we all live in different cities, but we make it a point several times a year to return to our hometown Omaha for a guy's weekend. And when we do, it's just like old times full of laughter, and we leave having created more great memories.
The plan is to tour three local craft breweries, each with their own unique beer recipes. Craft breweries have been a growing trend in Omaha for many years, and we decided it was time to start exploring them. We knew that our visit would just skim the surface of Omaha's craft brew scene, but we all love beer, and when you add in friends who have become like family, it turns into a good way for us to catch up, reminisce and sample some of the most distinct and flavorful beers in the city.
We meet at Infusion Brewery in the historic Benson neighborhood, which is near our old stomping grounds in Dundee. None of us have been to this brewery before, but we've heard about the variety and selection—both regular and seasonal.
At first glance, it's an impressive place. Tommy notices pictures on the walls featuring the history of the building—a butcher shop in a past life.
The first floor of the building is the tap room, where we each choose a different craft beer. On the wall is a description of how, through careful renovation, the tap room has maintained many of the original architectural elements of the early 20th century butcher shop. When the building was restored, original fixtures like the mosaic floor tile, decorative wall tiles, plaster walls, tin ceiling and exposed masonry were all recovered.
I decide to have a Joel Porter, an English-style porter with a hint of roasted malt and chocolate—at least that's how it's described in the menu. Right away, the rich chocolate flavor is apparent, and I also taste macadamia nut coffee, which adds full-bodied but soft depth of flavor.
James chooses the Hawaiian Imperial Stout, which is made with Kona coffee and toasted coconut. Its dark, rich color gives the impression it's a heavy, throaty beer, but he says it's surprisingly light.
Tommy and Tim both decide to try the Splish Splash Tart Cherry Wheat beer.
"It's got a tart cherry taste." remarked Tommy, as he took a drink.
"Crisp. Clean. It tastes like summer." agreed Tim with a satisfied smile.
While I'm more of a light, wheat-flavored beer guy, I also tried the Prom King Black IPA; it's deep and rich with a dark color and multitude of flavors. Ice cold, the hops taste soft and smooth with no bitterness—putting a huge smile on my face. I walk out with a small Prom King foam mustache, but I don't care. It's that tasty.
Up next on our tour is Upstream Brewery downtown in the Old Market. A converted fire station built in 1904, the room is buzzing with conversation, laughter and the smell of food.
We make our way to a high-top table and order our first round. Tommy gets the Raspberry Lager, made with pale and Munich malts and a fresh raspberry puree. He describes it as sweet, but not overly strong, refreshing and delicious.
I try the "O!" Gold Light Lager, Upstream's lightest beer with a fantastic clean taste, and Tim gets the Capitol Premium Pale Ale, which he describes as medium-bodied with a deep gold appearance and malty flavors combined with aromatic hops.
Pete and James decide to both order a Firehouse Red Lager, a Vienna-style lager with a deep garnet color named after the origin of the building. Pete describes it as having a sweet, smooth, fruity taste, and James says he tastes hints of toffee and light caramel, sure to have come from caramel-flavored hops.
"It's great to spend time with you guys again." James says as we gather together for a group picture to commemorate what's turning into a great night of memories and craft beer.
We make the final stop on our craft beer tour to the nearby Lucky Bucket Brewery . Tucked away in a private yet enormous building that resembles an airplane hangar, our cab takes us to the front door for our private tour.
The tour reveals amazing details about how much attention and specification goes into creating the Lucky Bucket brand. Our guide tells us when the brewery started several years ago, time was spent mixing and blending to find just the right elements to make the beer unique and rewarding. During the tour we got to smell and taste a variety of hops used to create the unique Lucky Bucket brand.
Following our tour, I decide to try the seasonally fresh Belly Flop Strawberry Blonde, which has a sweet, light, delicate flavor as a result of using the best American two-row malted barley and Pacific Northwest hops. A whiff reveals a lush, strawberry aroma and flavor infused by a strawberry puree.
A sucker for a malty, brown flavor packed with a variety of barley—two-row, caramel malt, chocolate malt and several secret additions—Tommy tries the Jug Thumper, and James orders the India Pale Ale (IPA).
"Guys, this is perfect. It's got the right balance of malt, hop flavor, bitterness and aroma. This one is unforgettable."
Pete orders the craft beer with the best name of the evening—Certified Evil.
"That's totally appropriate, dude. You always got into way more trouble than the rest of us combined!" I joke as everyone cracks up, including Pete.
The beer is dark and thick with a massive malt profile. It's described as having a "flavor assaulting all those who bear witness," but all Pete can say is "yum".
Because craft beer rose largely during and after Prohibition, which made the production, distribution and sale of beer and alcohol illegal for many years, we all end the evening with a sampling of Lucky Bucket's Pre-Prohibition-style lager. This flavor salutes a time when lagers had great character and distinct flavor and lacked the additives found in many of today's mainstream lagers.
With the finish of our final beers of the evening, we take a few more group photos—including one of all of us behind the bar, hands on the variety of tap levers—have a few more laughs and wander out to our cab waiting to take us back to our hotel rooms.
Since we weren't able to check out all of the Omaha craft breweries this trip, we all agreed to come back again. In fact, Pete made us all take out our phones and set the date right there. So look out Omaha, we'll be back.
Request your free Omaha Craft Brew Explorer's Journal which includes a free beer at each participating brewery.