Midwest Malteds

by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence

Seems that I am a magnet for the naive of manners. And decency. And space. Not sure how it always happens to me...Good living, I guess. To expand on this said lucky streak is to let me explain. The 5 of you may remember just how lucky I can be with my fellow travelers if you read my blog from my trip to San Francisco () where I had the privilege of riding next to a guy who appreciated the freedom of taking off his shoes and sticking his nappy sock encrusted sleds near my head. Well, today's circus was just a tad more palatable. On a recent flight to Omaha, I encountered a fellow traveler who was loaded to the hilt with gear, including an overstuffed backpack, heavy enough to invite scoliosis. As he Lumbered down the aisle, I prayed that he would miraculously have a seat somewhere, oh please Lord, anywhere else in the cabin than beside me. Wait for it, wait for it...I think he might be going by...oh yea! No. Backing up, he continued to study his ticket like he was a first grader on his inaugural flight. Then, bam! He frickin picked the seat right across the aisle from me! Before I could say, 'hey, do you need some help?', as he struggled with his 3 weeks-worth of baggage, I was offered a left cross with the bottom of the knapsack that will require dental work. Unwary that he had just made me tap into my deductible, he proceeded to take the next 4 minutes to unpack everything and utilize the whole bin for his many bags and accessories. An amateur, I thought. Happens to everyone, right? I'm sure he's a nice guy at a barbecue. 

Time to relax after waking up at 4:45 to catch this early bird to the Midwest. Eventually, 30 thousand feet was reached, the cabin was eerily quiet and an announcement let us know that the drink service would be starting shortly. When the stewards of the sky finally reached my row, everyone ordered something cold and we settled in. My middle seat colleague, fresh from inhaling his OJ on the rocks in under 2 minutes, decided that he was still thirsty. Shaking his ice around, he practically lipped the plastic glass several times. What made it more culturally dysfunctional was that he had to shake the cubes for 10 seconds before each guzzle. This went on at least 5 different times. On top of that, I was privy to his almost religious pattern of crunching the ice 4 times before each swallow. What the hell did I do this month to deserve this? Now, you have to understand that this is one of those family things in my house. When someone crunches chips, ice or anything that reverberates within earshot in my house, you will hear about it. You will get 'the look'. We will make fun of you ad nauseum, even comparing you to our two dogs, who, when they eat, do so ferociously and eat like they're going to the electric chair. Right now, I'm sitting next to the best ice swirling, ice crunching person who ever lived and didn't get a chance to tape it for future use. At least I gave him 'the look'...

So, we finally landed and took my first step off the plane. I swear, as soon as I got in the jetway my lungs must have thought they were deflating as this was the driest air, I believe I ever inhaled. Getting to my colleagues’ car, I happened to spy the temp gauge and it read 16 degrees. Are you crapping me? She happened to be reading my mind as she stated, 'relax. It'll be 5 degrees tomorrow with a wind chill of -11'. Why did I come here? Making calls to offices the rest of the day surely must have reaffirmed my commitment to my job. I knew that there was a reward at the end of the shift. The day finally ended, and I found myself pulling out my executive assistant, let's call her Siri, I quickly located a local brewery and had my livery service, let's call them UBER, take me to hops heaven.

Infusion Brewing Company, established in 2012, is in the Benson area of Omaha, situated in the middle of an historical, industrial district that has the look of being revamped with hipper, newer dining and drinking. The building, constructed in 1917, had originally housed Olson's Meat Market for over 60 years, serving the local area with house made sausage, hand cut meats and fresh dressed turkeys and chickens. Settling in at the bar, I immediately looked over the suds-stained menu and felt like this could be my neighborhood hangout. The braumeister, a very green 23-year old, wasn't as knowledgeable as I usually encounter in this type of culinary environment but was nice enough. This speed bump didn't delay me from making my first selection, Radial IPA. Deliciously inviting, it's 6.5% ABV was a good starter to the evening and in no way, shape or form did it possess anywhere near the hoppiness I expected from a 108 IBU. That is puss puckering country. I didn't even know IBUs went up that high! Sidebar #1- According to the Oxford Companion, "The theoretical saturation point of iso-alpha acids in beer is approximately 110 IBUs which corresponds to 78.6 IBUs.". Huh? Schools of thought are that once you get to a certain IBU, your taste receptors are blocked enough that you can’t taste any more hoppiness. Also, it is possible to have lower IBU’s in a beverage with a more hop taste. Anyway, it is an extremely smooth IPA, it could be one of the best I have had. Serious. And you know I dig El Guapo. Light gold in color, it packs over 22 pounds of American hops and leaves a nice, lacy white residue when emptied (which happened a couple times just to make sure). This is a must if ever within 50 miles of Omaha. 

Spying a copycat of one of my all-time favorite porters ((the original, most delicious Peanut Butter Porter I am referring to is Choosy Mother from Isley Brewing in Richmond, VA. I'm sure both of you remember that blog!), I jumped at the chance to try the Peanut Butter Stout. This 6.5% gem is extremely close to the original but just a tad sweeter, a slight imperfection I could easily overlook because of its clean palate. A black ale at heart, this parietal puncher uses over 50 pounds of chocolate peanut butter and a nice roast flavoring to produce a very creamy brew, something to remember long after that 12-ounce pour is long gone. You have to put your predetermined bias aside and give it a try if you are even the simplest of draft drinkers. It's worth the experience.

Sensing that I may need to start thinking about some munchies to soak up the mash, I opted for the Dominican Brown Ale, something I don't often order as brown ales are usually too malty for me. My new bar tending buddy, pouring me cocktails and starting to probe my knowledge of a BMW’s horsepower (huh?), my use of social media, and my thoughts on investing in pot stocks, suggested I try this beer because of my previous selection and my maturity (I just cut out most of my gray hair so I'm sure it was my Tommy Bahama shirt that led him to believe I had a clue). It was just as good as the previous selections, making this independent microbrew house one of the best I had been to since I started writing blogs over 2 years ago. At 5.6% with a very low IBU (20), this Infusion incident is loaded with chocolate malts and Dominican chocolate with the addition of vanilla and coffee, and you can detect every one of those flavors at some point in the taste. It's very good and a very clean draw, like a porter but without the additional sweetness.

As the locals starts to clear out, I feel I need to roll. Being directed to the best sushi in the area, I zipped up Sir Edmund Hillary gear and darted out the door for the 150 yard sprint. Eyes watering and my nostrils sporting ice, you could only imagine my disdain at having to turn back as soon as my frozen metacarpals touched the door and it didn't budge. Closed. Friggin closed! ‘What do I do now?’ quickly raced through my brain. First instinct was to turn and go back to the brewery as I noticed a Japanese inspired restaurant next door. Ika saved the day! A warm kitchen and a good crowd greeted me so I sat at the bar and told the rather beatnik looking dude behind the counter what I like. He pointed out several things on the menu, so I decided to try my first Ramen not named Ramen Pride. All in all, a very good night.

Who would have imagined that the suds in Omaha, NE., would be so spectacular? I also had the opportunity to try these other lobe smashers from Lincoln, NE.: Lucky Bucket Jug Thumper Brown Ale, 5.5%, and Stupefy, 7%, Zip Line IPA 6.5%, Cardinal Pale Ale, 6%, and Kros Strain Fairy Nectar IPA at the urging of a local.

Who would have ever said to me, 'when you go to Omaha, try the Ramen?' No one. But you better at least consider it. And the local neck juice. It's that good.