The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, October 21, 1997, Page 9, Image 9

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    a rewing
Local beer maker hops into higher sales,
toasts extreme tastes for success
By Bret Schulte
Senior Reporter
Beer is addictive.
For Sam Spilker and Bob Myers, so is brew
ing it.
As the owner of Spilker Ales - Nebraska’s
only free-standing brewery - Sam Spilker is
expanding his enterprise less than a year after
its opening.
Along with adding business partner and fel
low beer-enthusiast Bob Myers (who describes
beer as “spiritual”), this expansion includes
producing, bottling and distributing four
unique flavors offered by the Cortland brewing
The expansion will enable Spilker and
Myers to “try to open people’s minds and help
bring a good beer culture to Nebraska,” Spilker
Spilker says business is strong. He soon
will be installing a second gravity system - the
processor that brews the ales - and will bottle
his beer in half-gallon “growlers,” a moonshine
jug-like bottle intended for retaifpurposes.
Beginning Nov. 1, customers can purchase
these growlers as well as kegs directly from
Spilker Ales. Previously, state law allowed the
brewery only to sell its product to licensed
alcohol distributors who then sold it to retail
Customers can purchase growlers and kegs
directly from the brewery, 300 W. Fourth St., in
downtown Cortland, for considerably less than
what would be available through licensed dis
tributors. The ales are available for $5.50 per
growler; kegs are $80. The brewery will be
open to the public from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on
Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Strange brew?
Operating from a converted bank in
Cortland’s noticeably peaceful business dis
trict, Spilker Ales is making a lot of noise.
But the neighbors aren’t complaining.
Mel Rademacher - the owner of Cortland
Bar and Grill, down the street from the brewery
- offers draws of two of Spilker Ale’s flavors -
Monkey Wrench and Cortland Wheat.
Rademacher said the beer was extremely popu
lar among his customers.
“The minute it was in here we started sell
ing it,” he said. “Cortland Wheat is an even
competitor with Busch Light and Miller High
Spilker said local residents have been
extremely supportive of his beer, both person
ally and financially.
“The community responded pretty well,” he
said. “It was like a spaceship landing at first,
(but) I have converted a lot of Pabst Blue
Ribbon and Budweiser drinkers to Cortland
Rademacher said his patrons often include
residents from surrounding communities and
University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who
come to drink the 75-cent local ales.
Although the price is appealing, the 22-mile
trip isn’t necessary for UNL students. Cortland
Ales are served at many Lincoln drinking
establishments, and the number is increasing as
the brews’ popularity grows.
Currently, Spilker ales are available on tap
at Sandy’s, Yiayia’s Pizza Beer & Wine, Old
Chicago and Duffy’s Tavern, where, Spilker
said, sales are brisk.
Duffy’s bartender Brad Doyd confirmed the
beer’s popularity.
“As far as ales go, it’s probably our top sell
Ryan Soderlin/DN
SAM SPILKER RAISES a pint of Hopalieuia ale to the success of his Cortland brewery, Spilker Ales.
er at the moment,” Doyd said of Spilker’s
Hopalleuia brew. “Everyone seems to enjoy it.
It has a pretty full-bodied taste that some peo
ple like.”
Because of the beer’s relative anonymity, it
took a few weeks to catch on, Doyd said. The
first to try new beers usually is an older crowd
with more money and a taste for more flavorful
beer, he said. Students are more reluctant to
break from the routine, but, Doyd said, people
are catching on to Spilker ales.
“Monkey Wrench went over pretty well
with the students once they knew what it was,”
he said. “Now that the company has been
around for a while the name has spread and
people are looking for it.”
Indeed, in the 10 months Spilker Ales has
been in operation, it has reached such obscure
Nebraska communities as Wilber and
Hickman, along with larger towns like
Beatrice, Kearney and, recently, Omaha.
A large part of Spilker Ales’ success comes
from the variety of its four beers, which are
geared to attract a broad spectrum of beer
“We like to make extreme beers with
extreme taste,” Spilker said. “I want to make
something that really stands out.”
In the hopper
What Spilker describes as his most flavor
ful beer, Hopalleuia, undergoes cask condition
ing, a process that kegs and ferments the hops
inside the brew for two weeks before the ingre
dient is removed and the ale sold.
The result is a favorite of many of Spilker’s
customers as well as himself.
“It’s the easiest to drink,” he said. “We just
chug that stuff.”
For beer drinkers who double as caffeine
fiends is XPO Stout, a dark brew roasted and
boiled with espresso beans.
“It’s morning beer,” Spilker said.
Cortland Wheat is another favorite of his
customers, he said. Brewed with orange peels
and coriander, a parsley herb, Cortland Wheat
is a Belgian ale that has done well in many bars,
Spilker said.
Known for its literally conceived draft taps
(which Spilker forged himself), Monkey
Wrench is a brown ale with “a roasty, malted”
Spilker said competition from huge corpo
rate breweries made starting his business
To economize on start-up capital, Spilker
improvised much of his equipment. Nearly all
the brewery’s tanks and kettles once held anoth
er popular beverage - but one less interesting
for Spilker-milk.
“I bought all old dairy equipment from auc
tions and converted it,” he said. “The brew ket
tle was tough.”
Expecting greater demand for his beer,
Spilker is currently renovating a storage house
behind his brewery to shelter a second gravity
system. Including a 1,000-gallon brew kettle
and water tank, the new equipment will enable
him to triple his output to 48 kegs per batch,
with a maximum monthly production of 400
Although Spilker is meeting the demand for
his beer with his current equipment, he says the
expansion will allow* him to pursue other facets
of his business.
“If I make any more beer right now it will be
too hectic,” he said. “I’m trying to plan for the
future because I think I will be able to sell
more, and it will free up time for things like
Although the business has yet to turn a prof
it, things are looking good for the fledgling
brewery, Spilker said.
However, he is determined not to get too far
ahead of himself. When asked about his plans
for the future, Spilker relayed his impassioned
“(ril)4ry to make more beer, I guess.”
The community responded pretty well. It was like a
spaceship landing at first, (but) I have converted a lot
of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Budweiser
drinkers to Cortland Wheat.”
Sam Spilker
owner of Spilker Ales in Cortland