Interview: brewmaster Tyson Arp (Nebraska Brewing)

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Craft Beer Nebraska

Tyson Arp and wife Angela traveled from Omaha for the Firestone Walker Invitational Brew Fest.

Craft beer drinkers have the Recession to thank for Tyson Arp’s career change. The Nebraska Brewing Company brewmaster was working in construction, but the dip in the economy led to his transition from construction to the Nebraska brewhouse. On June 9, I met Arp and his wife Angela at the Firestone Walker Invitational Brew Fest, and he helped to illuminate how he’s found hop-fueled success.

Was it a given that you’d work with beer for a living, or did you consider other careers?

Well, I had another career, actually. I was a carpenter for 13 years, so I built houses and big custom homes, but when that market started to get a little soft, decided to get out of that before we were bankrupt. I ended up being in beer after a few years of homebrewing.

You were also a musician?

Oh, long, long ago. I was in a band.

What was the band?

The band was called the Mud Puddles, and we weren’t very good, probably.

Angela Arp: I thought we were awesome.

Well, we thought we were awesome, but we weren’t.

What instrument?

Guitar, very poorly.

So a few years of homebrew. Was Nebraska your first professional job?

Yeah. I volunteered myself into a position. I started out, I helped out with some of the construction because I had that background and basically I wouldn’t go away. I started cleaning tanks and they started paying me a little bit of a stipend just to hang around, and after a month of that, they hired me full time, but I was just the assistant then. I took over as head brewer about a year and a half later.

What was your very first homebrew like, and how did it turn out?

How was it? It was drinkable. It was an Oktoberfest kit, but knowing so little, I didn’t even know it should be a lager. It came with ale yeast. It was like an Oktoberfest ale. It was fine. We threw a party and we drank it.

Is there anybody who’s mentored you along the way?

That’s a good question. A lot of books, more than anything. The brewing industry in Nebraska is still – we’ve had some breweries that have been around for 20 years or so – but nah, I didn’t really hang out with any of them. The head brewer we had, I obviously learned quite a bit from him, but our beers actually started out kind of rocky, not that great, at Nebraska Brewing. We had a lot of improvement to make, so that was kind of my goal when I took over. I mostly just learned by trial and error.

Do you have a very first beer memory, good or bad?

Not really. A lot of people have this beer epiphany moment. I just kind of eased into it. I didn’t even drink beer through high school or college. I didn’t start young at all. Probably the first beer I remember was a Bass ale, actually. After that, we hung out in Colorado with friends, and of course they had a brew scene out there. Fat Tire, all that kind of stuff, but no one beer.

What’s the criteria for a beer you brew at Nebraska?

I don’t know. It’s fun. I get to brew a lot of one-offs. We have a pilot system. I get ideas from a lot of places. Sometimes I steal other people’s ideas or try to copy a beer I really like just to learn from it. Or one time I accidentally dumped black pepper into a mocha I was making at home, so that became a beer idea. We don’t really have criteria. We lean a certain direction, towards somewhat dry. We don’t really like big sticky, sweet beers. Even our high alcohol beers are still fully fermented and hopefully not too chewy.

I actually don’t know much about the Nebraska brewing community. Are there many other breweries in the state?

Yeah. It’s hard to keep track of them all now because we have a lot of new ones starting up. We may be closing in on 20.

Angela Arp: There are 22 licenses.

Operating right now there are probably 13 or 14. Yeah, there are some good breweries, and we’re really excited to have some new folks coming into the market too.

Who’s a brewer that you’ve never brewed with before who you would most like to brew with?

Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t really think about that much, I guess. I don’t have time. We’ve been approached to do a lot of collaborations, and I don’t know how we’d work that out because we’re totally tapped out on time and space right now. There are lots of great brewers out there. We hang out with the guys from Boulevard a lot. It would be fun to go down and play on their big brewery.

What music do you like to listen to while brewing?

I actually like silence. I know a lot of people rock out in the brewhouse. I kind of like to keep my head clear and concentrate on what I’m doing. I don’t really like to listen to music much.

Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?

When I’m not working? Oh, wow, when is that? We’ve got some really great taphouses in Omaha that we definitely frequent. There’s a fairly new one that popped up called The Lauter Tun. The guy who owns it actually used to work at our brewing company as a bartender. This is the second bar he started, and that’s probably our hangout for drinking craft beers.

If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink beer, what city would that be and why?

I would probably head towards Portland or up in that direction, because I’ve never been there, and I hear it’s awesome. I’ve been to a lot of other beer cities, but I haven’t done that one.

If you could only drink one more beer, and you could not brew it, what would it be and why?

I don’t know. I definitely have a list of really awesome beers. It depends on the weather, probably. I love Old Stock from North Coast, but I don’t know if that would be the one beer I’d pick. That’s probably close.

Angela Arp: Tank 7?

Oh, Tank 7. Yeah. That’s on my shortlist as well. If you haven’t had Tank 7 from Boulevard, it’s awesome. It’s really awesome.

They’re here this weekend, right?

Yeah. Hopefully they brought that beer.

[They did.]

Address: 7474 Towne Center Parkway, Papillion, NE 68046

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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