The suburban shopping center that's home to Nebraska Brewing Company sets an upscale tone as soon as you arrive. An outdoor mall that houses nationally known chain stores (Coldwater Creek, Old Navy) as well as locally owned boutiques (Chocolaterie Stam, Wheatfields Bakery), Shadow Lake Town Center feels like a place where couples, girlfriends and families could easily spend an afternoon, and they'd do well to have a meal and beer at Nebraska Brewing Company, which opened in 2008. A modern interior with high ceilings and concrete floors houses dozens of barrels of beer. But these barrels are more than just places to store beer—some are French oak barrels previously used to make Chardonnay, others are whiskey barrels from Colorado. The owners use them to age what have become award-winning beers, including the Black Betty Russian Imperial Stout (aged in the whiskey barrels) and the Melange a Trois (aged in French oak). The taste? Extraordinary. The Belgian-style Melange a Trois blond ale melds those characteristics with a dry white wine flavor profile, and that's just one of the 13 beers on tap.
The menu has the standard dishes you'd expect from a bar (appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches), with a handful of exceptions. The beer-cheese soup comes topped with popcorn, "Wisconsin-style." Though we've never seen soup served that way in Wisconsin, it was a great-tasting and fun combo ($2.99/cup). We tried the cherry barbecue chicken pizza ($9.99) because the staff uses the malted barley in the spent-grain crust. Everything about this thin-crust dish was delicious: the crispy crust, the sweet sauce, the tender chicken, the perfectly melty cheese. You can buy tasting samples of beer to enjoy as you watch a football game on the huge movie-style TV screen, or pick up growlers on your way out—a great reminder of this shopping center discovery. Be sure to come back for quarterly beer tastings and for the brewery's annual Brewfest in August. It draws more than 80 regional brewers and offers more than 400 kinds of beer. The brewery sells its product to restaurants in 11 states; in 2012, Nebraska became its No. 1 location for sales. Apparently, it's taken awhile for the word to spread locally about this gem—but we're glad it has.