Nebraska’s Sandhill Region Breweries: Kinkaider Stories

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Kinkaider Brewing – a nondescript in the middle of nowhere Nebraska craft brewery – rewind sound. This brewery is far from nondescript. While it is located in the middle of nowhere, in Nebraska’s Sandhill Region, it is, in fact, something to be talked about.

The Middle of Nebraska

Literally, almost smack dab in the center. In fact, the geographic center of Nebraska is located a mere 10 miles NW of Broken Bow, population of just over 3500 people and home to Kinkaider Brewing.

Rewind sound again. Way back to 1969. November 2, 1969, to be exact. Kenny’s birthdate in Burwell, Nebraska. How is this relevant to Kinkaider Brewing in Broken Bow? Burwell is only an hour away, also in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. And Kenny is now that beer lovin’ cowboy.

Staking Claims to the Land

Ok, maybe we’re not the cowboy kinda people, but we do love us some small town vibes. Small town connections bring about great community. It has been this way since the pioneers were crazy enough to stake claims on this harsh land. And connections and community remain to this day – when a few people were crazy enough to stake claims on a specific piece of property to build a brewery in the middle of nowhere Nebraska.

And they weren’t alone. With Bootleg Brewers in Taylor, located only 40 miles to the north, and Scratchtown Brewing Company in Ord, a mere 50 miles to the northeast, these three small town breweries keep community alive and kicking in farmland USA. But, come on! Do cowboys even drink craft beer? These ranchers and farmers are more along the lines of “gimme a beer” type of drinkers, not “What kind of craft beer do you have?”

A Rancher’s Response to Craft Beer

You need proof? When we were stuck in the mud in Kansas (literally), a farmer towed us out with his sweet-ass, big-ass tractor. We would have been there for days (we were that stuck) if he hadn’t come along and rescued us. He refused our offer of money, so being the good craft beer, sharing kind of people that we are, we offered him some craft beer.

His response? “I like beer, but what is craft beer?”

Yep, people in farmland USA generally don’t go for that craft beer stuff, but that is changing as quick as that Kansas mud can suck you in. Seriously, it was like quicksand.

Fast forward from 1969 where baby Kenny was only interested in milk, to 2014 when middle-aged Kenny had been well on his way to his love of craft beer, and the birthdate of Kinkaider Brewing in Broken Bow, Nebraska, only an hour from his hometown. Ok, so maybe the connection here is a bit of a stretch, but you all from Nebraska understand the significance here of building a brewery in farmland – that’s a bit of a stretch, too.

But these three Sandhill region breweries are making a name for themselves, and people are starting to take notice.

Nebraska’s Sandhills

And not just with the beer. The region known as the Sandhills encompasses approximately 19,300 square miles of sand dunes stretching 265 miles across Nebraska and contain about 12.75 million acres of rangeland. With dunes that are as high as 400 feet, as long as 20 miles, and slopes as steep as 25 percent, the Sandhills are the largest sand dune formations in the Western Hemisphere plus one of the largest grass-stabilized dune regions in the world. The large sand masses that were formed by blowing sand are now held in place and stabilized by vegetation that consists mainly of grasses. (University of Nebraska

Maybe the people here are becoming stabilized by the growing craft beer industry. Think about it: amber waves of grain, row after row of beautiful fields of corn, people who know you by your name, no incessant traffic noise, just the sound of coyotes off in the distance, and a brewery or two or three…on a farm.

beer on windowsill of farmland in Nebraska Kinkaider Brewery

While the first brewery in this region was Scratchtown, opened in 2013, Kinkaider wasn’t far behind. Four friends got together and decided it was time to take homebrewing to the next level. Dan Hodges, Nate Bell, Barry Fox, and Cody Schmick pooled their skills and resources, drew from the history of the region, and Kinkaider was born in 2014. With two other taprooms in Nebraska, and another on the way, alongside plans for a distillery, I would say this settler has settled…into success.

Where did Kinkaider come from?

The Kinkaid Act was introduced in 1904 stating that a settler could gain ownership to 640 acres of land for only a filing fee. That fee? $14. Carl Sandburg once said that this was “the place Kinkaiders make their home and prairie chickens freely roam.” I’d like to think he meant craft beer, not chickens.

Being the travelers that we are, heading back towards Kenny’s hometown after visiting my hometown, we needed a place to sleep, preferably one nearby a brewery. One we could call home (at least for the night). Mountain biking trails would be nice, too, but central Nebraska is lacking a bit on those.

Breweries aren’t always open when you want them to be open.

Coming across all three of the breweries in our search, realizing that two of them are Harvest Hosts (breweries where you can park your RV and spend the night), we knew we hit the jackpot. Sadly, though, our usual lack of planning bit us in the ass, as two of the Sandhill breweries were not open until later in the week, as is typical of many small town breweries. Disappointed that we didn’t get to all of them, at least we got to one of them.

As so often happens when we visit breweries, we just start talking, and off we go. Whisked away to the magical place – the brewery – adorned in all its silver machinery beauty, we learned about beer production, of course (and they do a lot of it), but more importantly we learned about the stories behind the brewery, the people, and the beers.

Dan The Wiser

For most of his working career, Dan owned and operated a Conoco station in a nearby town. Being a homebrewer for years, driving to Broken Bow for monthly homebrew meetings, instead of retiring, Dan bought into another business. You guessed it – a brewery. He is now known as Dan the Legend, Dan the Brewer, Dan the Wiser! (Quite the play on words here: Pliny the Elder…Dan the Wiser!)

Dan the Wiser brewer owner at Kinkaider Brewing in Nebraska

‘Da Beers – Just a Few

With at least 14 beers on tap at any given moment, you’re bound to find one that suits your taste buds. But if you need some inspiration, just read the writing on the wall. They’ll tell the stories. We’ve even got a few for you here. Because, as you all know, beer is about more than the beer – it’s the stories and community behind it.

Dan the Wiser German Style Ale

In 1958 a beer-drinking, Harley-riding, ponytail-wearing, hard-working, hops-loving bearded baby boy named Dan was born. He is more than a friend; he is our brother in arms. He’s a legend around our parts so you’ll understand why we just had to name a beer after him.He is better than a myth, more than a brewmaster, he is “Dan the Wiser.” (Kinkaider Brewing)

Frame the Butcher IPA

Solomon Butcher failed as a farmer, a salesman, a teacher, and a postmaster. When he finally found his calling, taking photos of more than 1,000 sod houses across Nebraska, some called him a fool. Nowadays, he is called “Photographer of the Plains” and in Custer County, a framed butcher is never more than a stone’s throw away. (Kinkaider Brewing)

Herd Law Honey Wheat

During a time where wood and water meant life or death and the settlers of the Sandhills lived or died by the stock and crop, a battle raged. Herd vs seed, farmer vs rancher. The sandy warfare grew in its hostilities as folks came for the free land & the promise of a better life. For some, free came at a high price; a shotgun and pistol went right alongside the shovel and axe. (Kinkaider Brewing)

Kenny, the Craft Beer Cowboy

So while we cannot tell you from personal experience hide nor hair about Bootleg Brewers nor Scratchtown Brewing Company, we can tell you this. Based on the beauty of Nebraska’s Sandhills and her people, we do believe those two breweries might just belong in this region as much as Kinkaider does. They are, after all, born and bred near Kenny’s hometown. And that milk-drinkin’ young boy, now a beer drinkin’ middle-aged man, knows good beer and good people when he sees them. Now that’s a good ole’ Nebraska small town, craft beer drinkin’ cowboy at heart.

Ken and April at Kinkaider  in Nebraska

Visit the Sandhill Breweries

Kinkaider Brewing Company
Broken Bow, Grand Island, Lincoln, NE
Central Nebraska born and bred and proud of its history, Kinkaider brews the beer and cooks the food that is like coming home. The Broken Bow location is a Harvest Host (a membership site where you can stay for free at vineyards, breweries, and more).

Scratchtown Brewing Company
Ord, NE
Scratchtown is proud of its small town heritage and centrally located to four area lakes and rivers and is the first Sandhill region brewery.

Bootleg Brewers – Sandhill Brewing Company
Taylor, NE
Bootleg is located three miles off the nearest highway, and is also a Harvest Host. It has a huge steakhouse, brewery and cabin complex tucked amid the hills and clustered around a lake and a 40-acre beer garden.

A Few Things Besides Beer

Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway

The stretch of Highway 2 between Grand Island and Alliance has been called one of the 10 most scenic drives in the country. Since 1984, the Sandhills area has been a designated National Natural Landmark. One way or another, it will take you to the beer, or at least get you close.

Calamus State Recreation Area – Burwell, NE

Calamus State Recreation Area offers camping, fishing, boating, picnicking and hiking. It also boasts a 5,123-acre lake and surrounding 4,958 acres of gently rolling land, some 1.2 miles of the Calamus River and 3.5 miles of other streams, to keep you active enough to earn your beer.

Nebraska’s Big Rodeo – Burwell, NE

Burwell may be small, but its rodeo, hosted here every year in July, is one of the largest and one of the oldest in the state. Started in 1921 to bring about community, it has been a huge gathering and celebration every year since then. While there are no breweries in Burwell proper, there is a great Dive Bar there also serving as the rodeo’s museum. You must go to Northside.

Old Milwaukee and burger at Northside Burwell NE Dive Bar
Northside in Burwell, NE

Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge – Lisco (near Oshkosh), NE

The habitats on the Refuge are interspersed with 21 wetland complexes—shallow lakes, marshes, seasonal wetlands, wet meadows, and a small stream. Wildlife diversity, is relatively unchanged here since early settlement. (Thank God the beer has changed – with a few relics still kickin’ it!)

Still looking for more? Check out Visit Nebraska for more information on the Sandhills Region and the entire state. You’ll be surprised at all there is to experience here.

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Amity
Amity
1 year ago

Brewery 719 in Alliance would be another great one to add to your Sandhills Brewery list for your next article!!!