When you’re already the maker of one of the most well-liked beers in the state of Nebraska, you start asking the big questions: What’s next? What else can we do? How do we stay relevant?
After a recent visit to Kros Strain’s west Omaha tap room, it sure seems like that’s what the team of creative brewers is doing.
That best selling beer is, of course, Fairy Nectar, their signature, agreeable hazy IPA that’s fruity and tangy but not bitter. It’s a beer that’s become wildly popular even with Nebraskans who don’t consider themselves craft beer lovers.
Look around most restaurants and you’ll see it on tap; pay even the smallest amount of attention and you’ll see bartenders all over town pouring cans of it into pint glasses — I saw one last night, in fact, while eating dinner in the Old Market.
But there’s also surprises in the Kros Strain lineup like the barrel aged Old Weller, a dark English ale with notes of rich molasses that gets aged in Weller Bourbon barrels for 13 months. Or the verdant green Azure Experiment, a blue raspberry-tinged lager that the brewery describes as a “childhood blue slushie.” Fun to drink. Tasty. Unusual.
“At the end of the day, we are a bunch of beer nerds,” said Jeff Hardy, the brewery’s “Head Beer Pusher” who has been with founders Scott Strain and Bobby Kros since the brewery opened in 2017.
None of the founders were in the beer industry: Kros was a mechanical engineer, Strain was working in politics and Hardy was in finance. What got them into the business, like so many brewers, was a holiday gifted home brewing kit.
“We brew what we like, and what we think other people will like,” he said.
Fairy Nectar was one of the first Kros Strain beers Hardy tried. Strain handed him a glass of it during his job interview. (Nice perk if you can get it.)
“I was blown away,” he said. “Pardon my language, but I thought ‘holy shit, this is the first locally made IPA I am actually excited to go out and buy in stores’.”
Turned out he wasn’t the only one.
Kros Strain doesn’t use a lot of extracts in its beers, Hardy said, and the flavors of mango and pineapple in Fairy Nectar instead come from the hops used to make the beer.
We visited the brewery’s La Vista tap room on a weekend, and found the main seating area packed, with lots of people returning to the taps again to refill small tasters, a fun way to try the lineup. The spot regularly has a food truck outside, and a few friends ordered loose meat sandwiches that afternoon.
The brewery has a second tap room in North Downtown, inside the Millwork Commons development, which Hardy thinks only stands to become more popular as more food-focused businesses open there, including a soon-to-come pizza concept and a second location of Coneflower Creamery.
I’ve visited the downtown location several times, and it always draws a robust after work crowd for happy hour. Hardy said the brewery, a five minute walk from Schwab Field, plans some fun events this summer around the College World Series.
There’s lots of fruit-forward beers on the Kros Strain lineup.
Everyone in our group the day we tasted a handful liked Self-Propelled Mower, a light lager with notes of pineapple and lemon. I could easily imagine it being a refreshing one on a hot Nebraska summer day. (My friend Tre Brashear, who was a judge on the long ago beer Food Prowl, was with us at Kros Strain and we fondly remembered trying so many “lawnmower beers” during that story.)
There’s also a handful of tiki-inspired sour beers on the list right now, released just this week, with a lineup of fruit flavors like coconut, guava, passion fruit and even banana.
I’m a fan of sour beers, and the day we visited, almost all were sold out, but I did get to try a few sips of a bright and citrusy White Sangria berliner weisse, each sip tinged with a hint of cinnamon.
The brewery has also taken Fairy Nectar in some different directions. Nilla nectar, for example, is a small batch of Fairy Nectar finished with vanilla caviar; we all really liked it. The vanilla tastes clean, not artificial, and isn’t overpowering.
There’s also a double dry hopped Fairy Nectar, an award-winning beer with extra Citrus and Mosaic hops.
Kros Strain is beginning to move in the direction of limited edition releases. Hardy cites a barrel aged peanut butter stout that sold out in 28 minutes as one recent example. My husband, Matthew, was lucky enough to get his hands on another limited release last December, Spumoni, a 24 month bourbon barrel aged stout with added pistachio and cherry inspired by the traditional ice cream flavor.
These limited beers don’t come cheap, and Hardy said the local customer is willing to pay more, though overall, Nebraska’s pricing for craft beer is lower when compared with other cities, where a four pack of limited edition beers can go for as much as $100.
“The customer is becoming more and more informed,” he said. “You can’t just make good beer any more, you have to make great beer.”
Hardy said one way Kros Strain works to stay ahead is travel, and trying new things that other breweries are doing. He said the team knows it could just focus on its most popular beer, and forget about the rest, but that’s not the goal.
“At the end of the day, beer is cyclical, and we know there is going to be the next hot thing,” Hardy said. “We just have to find it.”
Kros Strain Brewing
10411 Portal Rd., La Vista
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 10 p.m., Sunday noon to 6 p.m. Closed Monday.