We recently sat down with Paul & Kim Kavulak, co-owners of Nebraska Brewing Co. and co-producers of the Great Nebraska Beer Fest (GNBF), to talk about this year’s event. We wanted to find out more about the planning, history, and some of the highlights people can expect at the 6th annual event coming up on Saturday, August 23rd.
>>> For those that are new to the scene, what is the “Great Nebraska Beer Fest” and how did it come to be?
Paul: The festival is a spotlight on Nebraska-based and American craft beer. We seek to promote growth of the overall craft beer community as well as provide an educational experience about beer at this event. Our goal is to appeal to everyone from the craft beer novice to the most educated of beer cicerones and everyone in-between.
Kim: The event started as a cooperative effort with the Sarpy County Arts Council in 2009. It was originally conceived as a fundraiser of sorts among the seven or eight Nebraska breweries that were part of the first ever event. In a way we were going into uncharted waters as there was limited to no support from some of the other members of the Nebraska State Brewers Guild. That has changed over time and this event is now the biggest single contributor to the Guild each year. In the past, a portion of the festival proceeds have gone to benefit the Histiocytosis Foundation. In 2014, a portion will go to benefit the Leukemia/Lymphoma Foundation.
>>> Can you give us a brief history of the GNBF festival and talk about its growth over its past six years?
Kim: The first event was held in 2009 on Main Street in Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion. There were about 25 participating breweries and around 100 beers to sample from that year. The event has continued to grow every year since. The 2010 festival was also held on Main Street but in 2011, we realized we had outgrown the original festival site and moved to the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot, just north of the Nebraska Brewing Co. Brewpub where we remained until 2013. Over time, we have outgrown the confines of Shadow Lake and in 2014, GNBF will call Werner Park home for the festival’s sixth year of existence. We are thrilled to have nearly 80 breweries and almost 400 beers to choose from at this year’s festival.
Paul: One way we give thanks each year to all the breweries and distributors who participate is by hosting an Industry Brewers Night the night before the festival. We invite 300-400 people to a private event to thank them for their participation in this festival. In 2014, we have a 98% brewer participation rate meaning actual brewery representatives will be at the festival to talk and share their beer. We have never before had such support by breweries eager to showcase their products.
>>> With the growing number of beer fests that occur annually throughout the nation, what makes GNBF stand out from the crowd?
Paul: As owners of Nebraska Brewing Co., we have traveled far and wide to beer festivals nationwide and have developed lasting relationships with many breweries from around the country. Over time, we feel we have learned from other festivals as far as the do’s and don’ts and we strive to implement the best elements into this event. An item that is unique to this festival is that we arrange to have around 30 outside breweries obtain a 30 day temporary state permit in order to be a part of this festival. These are breweries that do not currently distribute or have distribution rights in Nebraska and can only be found at this festival; award winning breweries such as Surly (MN), DESTIHL (IL), New Holland (MI), and one of the currently top rated breweries on BeerAdvocate: Arizona Wilderness.
Kim: Another of our goals is to make this event a great stage for Nebraska as well to the outside market. We seek out those people who are wondering what kind of beers are available in Nebraska and to develop the beer scene as a whole in the Midwest.
>>> What has the move to Werner Park in 2014 meant to the festival?
Paul: The Great Nebraska Beer Fest has had tremendous growth over its history. The move to Werner Park in 2014 highlights a really great partnership our team has developed with the Omaha Storm Chasers. The move to Werner Park has meant that we have more resources at our disposal to put on an better event as well as being able to grow this event with more regional and national awareness.
Kim: I feel the move has showed that there is continued and sustaining growth with the craft beer community and industry. Originally, Nebraska Brewing Co. was approached by the Storm Chasers to develop a unique beer for them that would only be available at Werner Park during games. NBC responded by developing ‘Ale Storm’, a blonde session ale that ended up winning a gold medal in its very first international competition. We have had a great relationship with Werner Park and the Storm Chasers for almost three years now.
>>> What are your thoughts on the long term outlook for GNBF and what is next?
Paul: Obviously, we would like to continue to grow the festival and continue to raise craft beer awareness in Nebraska and throughout the region. In 2013, the people who bought tickets traveled from some 23 different states to experience GNBF. We would love to see that trend continue. One thing we changed this year it that we actually shortened the festival by one hour. Last year, we found that many attendees had reached their limit and were leaving the festival with nearly an hour remaining. As craft beer advocates, we must be at the forefront for safety and awareness of responsible enjoyment.
Kim: We want to continue to focus on the overall enjoyment of the festival experience. We realize that people are spending their hard-earned money on this event and we seek to make it rewarding and unique. We hope people will take the time to seek out the informative seminars and enjoy the festival atmosphere overall.
>>> Anything else you would like to add for those still thinking about coming to this year’s event but are unsure?
Paul: This is a true American craft beer experience and is not a mundane “grocery store” experience where people have already tried everything being offered there. Our goal is to the be one of the best regional beer festivals that people seek out to attend each and every year.
Kim: Omaha Pipes and Drums will once again kickoff our festival this year. Jone-Z Party Bus will be running continuous shuttles during the event between Werner Park, the NBC Tap Room (108th & Harrison), and the NBC Brewpub (72nd & Hwy 370, Shadow Lake) until 7pm on Saturday. Live bands will again be playing this year’s event includes the return of local favorite “Grand Theft Girlfriend” for the 6th consecutive year. We even have a live festival mascot this year! Our barnyard animal this year is the goat and “Fuggles” the goat will be in attendance and will be making the rounds at this year’s event for pictures and enjoyment. Finally, we have once again partnered with the law firm of Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf, and Lathrop as part of their “Safe Ride Home” program. We hope to see everyone who can make it out to the festival on Saturday.