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College friends, military vets plan to open brewery and taproom

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    Lincoln, Nebraska (Lincoln Journal-Star) — The military scattered the friends after they graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For a time, one of them was stationed on the West Coast, another on the East Coast, the third on the Gulf Coast.

When they would talk about home, Nebraska became the Corn Coast.

“It was kind of a joke,” said Will Walter, now a Marine reservist back in Lincoln. “But it kind of caught on.”

And a few years later, when the friends decided to turn a hobby into a business, they knew what they were going to call it.

Corn Coast Brewing still has a few pieces of red tape to hurdle — liquor licenses from the city and state and a special-use permit — but it’s tentatively scheduled to open in June in a new building near 14th Street and Yankee Hill Road.

The men plan to start simply. A taproom with room for 65 or so customers and a half-dozen craft beers on tap or to take home. Snacks, but no food.

And they have longer-term plans to add an outdoor area and to expand their offsite sales through a distributor.

But they’re patient; they’ve been working toward this since 2016, said partner Dan Walkemeyer, a Kearney native and Navy reservist who spent a decade as an active-duty helicopter pilot.

“We were like, OK, we’re going to do this once we all get out (of the military). We’re going to go back and open a brewery in Lincoln.”

Walter had the brewing experience. His father had been a home brewer, and Walter started experimenting when he was in college. He was fascinated with the process, the fermentation.

And he became hooked. “Since then, I’ve been pretty religious about brewing at least once a week.”

His beers always drew praise from family and friends, but he felt real validation when he began entering it in brewing contests. “Then I started doing some competitions, and getting good feedback. It felt pretty good.”

He thought: This could be a legitimate business at some point. And that wasn’t an unreasonable thought: In the past decade, more than a half-dozen craft breweries have opened — and stayed open — in Lincoln.

After he had Walkemeyer and their third partner, Ben Wearing, still an active-duty Marine, on board, they started looking for a site. It wasn’t easy.

“Finding a building for a brewery is nearly impossible,” Walter said. “We looked at a good number of places. We were going out to look at different spaces once every week.”

A few potential sites came close, but they didn’t find the right fit until they discovered a new shell of a building at 14th and Yankee Hill in November. Nothing had been finished inside, and the owner is willing to help tailor the interior build-out to make it suitable for the brewery.

They’ll start with six fermentation vessels, allowing them to brew a half-dozen different beers at a time. Walter plans a mix of trendy hoppy beers, like hazy IPAs, but also a selection of fresh, lighter beers, the kind he experienced when the Marines took him around the world.

He’s had fresh Kolsch in Cologne, Germany, and he’d like to recreate the experience in Lincoln.

“The first sip of the first beer should be as good as the last sip of your fourth beer. If you have a beer that is light and refreshing and balanced, you can drink it all day.”

They’re also planning to brew with a five-barrel system — smaller than some other Lincoln breweries. It will limit the volume of each batch, but it will keep their beer fresher and give them flexibility to change up their selections.

They know they’re new at this; Walkemeyer didn’t make his own beer until 2016, when Walter gave him a home-brewing kit for Christmas. So they’ve been visiting other breweries in Lincoln, looking for advice.

And they’ve felt welcomed, Walter said.

“Everyone’s been open to sitting down with us and answering any questions we have. We went into breweries and said, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking; is there an opportunity to talk to the owner or head brewer?’ And typically, they’d walk right out and talk to us.”

They worried a little when the pandemic hit, but they kept moving forward. They were able to monitor the production numbers of other Nebraska breweries — posted on the state Liquor Control Commission website — and beer didn’t seem to take too big of a hit last summer.

And summer 2021 should be even better. “They were still going strong during the pandemic, which made us feel pretty good,” Walkemeyer said. “We feel we’re hitting a good spot with what’s going on in the world right now.”

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