Omaha Brewing – Join the Family

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Omaha BrewingOmaha. If you are like most people, you are now thinking of Nebraska or Peyton Manning’s voice screaming in your ear.  It’s time to change that perspective of Omaha, and get you thinking about Omaha Brewing Company in Omaha, Georgia.

A small town near the juncture of Chattahoochee River and Hannahatchee Creek, Omaha lies right on the border of Georgia and Alabama. Like many small American country towns, it is struggling to keep its identity and community alive. Robert and Stephanie Lee are helping with that. They are putting Omaha back on the map.

Started in 2012 as a brewery and distributor without a tap room, since Georgia’s antiquated liquor laws didn’t allow for tasting rooms at the time, Robert and Stephanie Lee wanted to bring community and business back to Robert’s hometown.  Growing up within walking distance of the current brewery and attending a one-room schoolhouse nearby, Robert, better known as Doc or the General, knew when he left for college to become a dentist that he would be back to his hometown one day.

Brew Fest Introductory to Omaha Brewing

Being the beer geeks that we are, finding Omaha Brewing was no accident considering we look for the breweries off the beaten path.  It was a given that we had to pay their booth a visit while at the Low Country Craft Brew Festival in Savannah. Rob, Omaha’s own marketing expert and Robert’s son, and the beer at Omaha’s stand, made it an easy decision to hang out there and chat, learning about the beer and community in and around Omaha, while sipping a 7.62 Imperial Brown Ale with Toasted Coconut. One of the best browns we have tasted.

Leaving the brew fest, we knew we had to drive the 260 miles from Savannah to Omaha to experience the real deal. True to our style, we showed up without notice, and were greeted as though they had been waiting for us for days.

Omaha BrewingRelaxing with the Family at Omaha Brewing

Family is what it’s all about at Omaha Brewing, and that was evidenced as soon as we walked into the taproom. It doesn’t matter if you are here for just a beer, a birthday party, a date, or one of the many Hail and Farewells (Fort Benning is about 20 miles from the brewery). Robert, Stephanie, and their employees welcome every customer as family. Even the dogs will make you feel at home, especially Lucky, the resident mutt rescued from a nearby field. He waddles up to you, and if you even look like you might think about petting him, he plops down at your feet, rolls over and patiently waits for you to rub his belly.  Friends for life.

Omaha BrewingArriving later in the evening on a weekday, it was quieter than we expected, but after learning that Omaha only has a couple hundred residents in the town itself, the quiet ambiance in the tap room was no longer a mystery. We settled into one of the comfy chairs strategically placed around the room, grabbed the largest Scrabble game we have ever seen, and began to feel quite at home while sipping on one fantastic beer after another.  With names like Gnat Knocker, Insta-Gator, and Hannahatchee Creek to list just a few, all accompanied by their Gator logo, you know this is a brewery working hard to stay true to its roots and local community.

From History to Wine to Beer

Omaha BrewingWhile we were quite comfortable, we did come here to find out more about Omaha Brewing, so we jumped at the chance for a tour, and with Lucky as our guide, we learned a lot about the history, and became fellow dreamers of the future for this innovative, small town brewery.

Instead of building new, Stephanie and Robert took over an old industrial building from the 90’s, which before that was an all black high school built in the 40’s in the days before integration.  The history here is still evident in the lines on the tap room floor where the classroom doors used to be.

Getting emotional a bit when talking about how they gained access to the building to start the brewery, Robert, at first very relaxed, became quite serious. “I call it a God thing. We just got a phone call about this man wanting to sell the building. Stephanie worked it out being in the real estate business and it just kind of fell in our lap.”

Omaha BrewingNot only was this family saving a historical building, they were beginning to save a community.

Although Robert had built a lucrative dental business in Atlanta, he wanted his kids to be a part of his hometown. So, making the decision to sell in Atlanta, they headed back to Omaha, purchased land to start a small dental practice there, and since he liked wine, he purchased enough land with visions of grapes dancing in his head.

With the dental practice being a success, they started to plant the vineyard. Six months later, Robert realized something. “You know, it’s going to take like five or seven years to get a good yield off of those grapes. I think it only takes like 2-1/2 weeks to brew a beer.” 

Stephanie was in real estate; Robert, dentistry. They knew nothing about what they were getting themselves into. Robert, ironically at that time, not a beer fan, but Stephanie was, and both were business savvy, so knowing that they wanted to leave their kids with a legacy, Omaha Brewing was born.

Surrounded by grapes on almost every side of the brewery and beautiful Georgia countryside, this dream of kickstarting a small community became reality.  Omaha is located in Stewart County and is one of the poorest counties in the state and the nation. Robert and Stephanie are here to change that.  Being one of the largest independent employers in the county, I have no doubt they will do just that.

Join the Family

Omaha Brewing

Join the family. That is their philosophy. When you become an employee, you become part of the family.  When all you want is a 30-60 minute interview, you become part of the family. We got the interview, but we also got lunch, VIP access, a full day of brewing with the Brew Crew, and even a personal tour of a local eclectic art site, Pasaquan. I have a feeling we didn’t get that just because we run a beer and travel blog.  I have a feeling everyone is treated like this in one way or another.

So, while you may not get exact access like this to Omaha, you will get the same kind of treatment, right alongside a hand-crafted beer made with the best ingredients and with love.  We saw it first hand.  That love was there, even in the brewing process.

Brewing Day with the Brew Crew

Omaha BrewingWalking into the brewery the next morning, garage doors open and sunshine streaming in from all angles, bluegrass music pumped through strategically placed speakers, the heavenly scent of hops and yeast filling the air, we felt as though we’d hit the jackpot.  Being a brewer had to be the best job ever.

Spending the day with the Brew Crew, Dee and Justin, head brewers, and their assistant brewer, Hayden, who is also their resident grape expert and Stephanie’s son, was an eye opening experience.  We arrived at 10. They had been there since before 8. Knowing that they would be there for the next 10 hours and had a 15-hour brewing day waiting for them again tomorrow, they were still in great spirits.  Brewing isn’t a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 job.  Beer needs to be in the tap room and ready for distribution, and if the product is good, it’s going to fly out the doors, meaning you need to brew more beer.

Omaha Brewing Omaha BrewingWe are home brewers, giving us a basic understanding of the brewing process, but we don’t worry too much about consistency.  We are always experimenting and have yet to make the same recipe twice. This is quite different in a business. Recipes need to be consistent. Owners expect it, brewers expect it, and the customers expect it, especially in a craft brewery. Being in the craft beer business, brewing beer isn’t just a job, it’s an art form. At Omaha, we were honored to watch the artists in action Omaha Brewingand thrilled when we got to toss in the hops.  We even made the cows happy by helping to discard the spent grains which would then be distributed to the local farms. I then found myself getting excited when the UPS driver was spotted coming down the driveway. The hops are here!

And what does one do when brewing? You do a lot of waiting. Waiting for the proper temperature, waiting for the boil, waiting for the transfer to the fermentor. And what does one do while waiting?  Drink beer of course, and not just any beer. These guys brought out their secret stash, the barrel-aged good stuff stash! Best. Job. Ever. How could we not feel like family?

Building a Legacy and a Community

Omaha BrewingTaking a break from brewing, we had a brief moment to sit with Stephanie and Robert, and one of my first questions was how Omaha Brewing began. There’s more to the story than you already know.

Living in Atlanta for many years, both holding lucrative positions within their respective industries, Stephanie in real estate and Robert a dentist, they knew they were heading back to small town life in Omaha eventually. This had been Robert’s plan for years, to bring his kids back to his roots. However, starting a brewery and vineyard and full-on dental practice was not.

While on vacation years back, they were involved in a car accident, resulting in Robert needing back surgery. During his recovery period, he had a lot of time on his hands, so they joke that the vineyard idea was “birthed out of boredom.”  Don’t get them wrong, though, this accident was more serious than they let on and had a lasting impact on their lives.

Omaha BrewingTheir initial plan was to move back to Omaha, open a small dental practice, work part-time there and live part-time at the beach, but the car accident changed their perspective on life, as so often life events do. Although the financial stress of a brewery is tremendous, they wanted to create this business as a gift to their kids and their grandchildren. They wanted to leave them a legacy. “We wanted to create something that would sustain them long after we’re gone.” This was more than a statement by Stephanie; it was a promise.

But this venture turned into a legacy for the community, as well. Even when it was just going to be a part-time dental practice, one of the goals was to provide jobs for the community.  And once they decided upon the brewery, it was as though everything was meant to be.

Omaha BrewingThey started touring every brewery they could to learn everything they could. Community in the brewery industry is just as close knit as what they have built in Omaha. Owners, brewers, and staff alike shared their knowledge freely. Hiring a brewer from one of the breweries in Atlanta, they began the intense journey of learning about the art of craft beer.  Just as the breweries were supportive of their endeavors, the community was even more so.

Stewart County was a dry county before they opened the brewery, but when Robert went in to get the business license, he mentioned that, and they simply stated, “Oh, we’ll change that.”

The County Commissioner asked if they wanted to change the road’s name to reflect the brewery. Brew Street, of course. So they changed the name of the road.

Omaha Brewing

You can hear the pride in Robert’s voice. “It’s made a big difference in the county. They’re very proud, and they talk about it like it’s theirs (referring to the community and the county).”

Spending an entire day with the Brew Crew and some of the staff, we knew they felt that same pride in the company.  The way they talked about future plans and how their eyes lit up while doing so was something we don’t see often from people working for other people.  They feel like they are a part of the family, not just somebody on the payroll. Stephanie acknowledged that. “It is our goal that we’ll be able to offer profit sharing, and I hope that they all take ownership in what they’re doing. Everybody is family. We do our best to cultivate that type of relationship with all of them.”

And to the customers, the same feeling of belonging to something bigger is a primary goal for Omaha Brewing. Stephanie makes sure everyone feels important. “It’s super important that somebody who comes in here on a Saturday feels like that they can kick their feet up and relax and that they are part of a family.”

Big Plans for the Future

Omaha BrewingOmaha BrewingWith about 400-acres-plus, including brewery, vineyard, and the dental office, Robert and Stephanie have big plans to make Omaha Brewing a place of community, yes, but also a destination.  You can hear the excitement in their voices when they talk about plans for a rugby pitch, camp sites, cabins, RV sites, tiny homes, music and art festivals, and a concert venue. They are even talking about a possible distillery. Currently, they host community markets, local bands, and food trucks.  They also collaborate with local restaurants and artists, brewing beer to team up with other communities.

We feel this sense of excitement emanating from them and the community.  “We just keep adding family members.” Robert sounds like a proud patriarch as he states this. “That’s a great part of it.” It’s contagious, what they are building, and we cannot wait to visit again to see what they have accomplished.

There are many things to see and do in this community, from the nearby Florence Marina State Park; Providence Canyon State Park, aka the Little Grand Canyon; Pasaquan, self proclaimed as an internationally recognized art environment; Richland Distilling Company, serving farm to glass craft rum; and Swamp Fox Distilling Company, serving premium small-batch whiskeys; to name just a few. Robert and Stephanie are working hard to make the unknown known, to make a thriving, healthy community out of town that is steadily declining. It’s working. We found it and fell in love.

A Zest for Life and Beer

Omaha BrewingTaking that last sip of beer before heading out to the RV and leaving Omaha in the morning, it was bittersweet because we did feel like family, but staying true to our roaming spirits, it was time to move on. Slipping slowly off the barstool to leave, a commotion arose just outside the brewery truck entrance, and to our surprise, Robert comes strolling down the hallway, dripping wet from the downpour outside, wearing full-on camo gear, and a huge grin across his face. And to anybody within earshot, he was excited to show off why he was grinning from ear to ear.  He finally got the buck he had been hunting for the past week. Proudly displaying his trophy, his night far from over, and the dawn of a new day less than 10 hours away, his zest for life was infectious that night. I imagine that is just how it is in this family.

Me: “So, what do you think about beer now?” 

Robert: “I like beer now.”

Check out their very own Stout Conversation!

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Andy Huggins
Andy Huggins
3 years ago

I am proud to say that I am from Buena Vista, Ga – I still own the home that my Grandparents owned – graduated from Marion County High – currently live in Va, but come back to BV regularly – 6 X a year – have been a proud “Friends of Pasaquan” – helping financially support this “Project” before Columbus College & Koehler Foundation graciously “stepped-up” to preserve this “Treasure” !!
I am grateful for Omaha Brewery for crafting a unique beer that captures the essence of St EOM in it’s creation of “Viberations” !!! I was present @ the 1st Opera as well as the 1st Pasafest & have enjoyed drinking this “Magical” beer ! I’m also grateful to Omaha Brewery for donating a portion of all proceeds back to Pasaquan to continue its preservation !!
However, I could NOT BE MORE FRUSTRATED that Omaha Brewery is UNWILLING to distribute this beer – “Viberations” – to the city Buena Vista, Ga – where Eddie Owens Martin was born & where he created this “Masterpiece” called Pasaquan !! I have talked to the owner of the local package store – Trackside – I have talked to the brewmaster – I have even driven to Omaha Brewery & purchased a case of Viberations from the owner –
Each person & each conversation has “assured” me that “Viberations” will be distributed to BV @ Trackside – A Driver already picks up & delivers “Hannahatchee Creek” from Omaha Brewery to BV Trackside every week –
PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY HE CAN’T PUT A CASE OR 2 of VIBERATIONS ON THAT SAME TRUCK ?!?!?
BTW – I am a Certified Finacanal Planner w/ 35 yrs of experience – I was just inducted into Ameriprise Hall Of Fame – I have NEVER had a “Business” that I have worked with – that is NOT INTERESTED in TAKING/MAKING $ – when I’m BEGGING HIM TO TAKE MY MONEY$$$
Please HELP me understand your business plan ?!?!?
Please feel free to call me or e-mail me – I WILL NOT STOP TILL YOU HAVE VIBERATIONS IN BV !!!
Andy Huggins – 540-246-1742 – Hugnz@ aol.com
I would appreciate a response !!
☮️❤️?