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Craft Beer: Officially Mainstream 

Even in the far corners of Nebraska, local beer is never far away

Living in Central Oregon, where we are one step away from having the water company just pipe IPA directly to our kitchen taps, it's easy to think the beer scene here is incomparable to anything else in America. And that's pretty true, actually, though Asheville, North Carolina, undeniably comes close. But as my beer-themed road trip winds down and all that remains is the long trail back to Oregon, one core lesson comes to mind: Craft beer is no longer a cherished rarity—from coast to coast, it's become the norm.

To illustrate this, take a look at Kearney. The "Sandhill Crane Capital of the World," Kearney (pronounced "carnie") is a dusty town of some 30,000 people along I-80 in central Nebraska, almost exactly halfway between Boston and San Francisco. Even in a quintessentially Midwestern rural hub like this, full of Baptist churches and old men in trucker hats, there are two breweries in town and shops loaded with bottles from Founders, Bell's, Nebraska Brewing (the only NE label available for sale in Bend), and all the other regional giants.

Kearney's brewpubs each demonstrate in their own way how wide a net this scene casts nationwide. The Platte River Brewery is in a lovely old building by the rail tracks and oozes friendly atmosphere inside...but the beer, now contract brewed after they lost their on-site license (long story), all tastes like poorly-made homebrew that should've been dumped. Thunderhead Brewing, on the other hand, has that sleek "generic hipster" feel you see in many Portland breweries...but their tapline is packed with great beer, from the baseline Cropduster IPA to the intensely hoppy and wheaty Grail Ale Grand Cru.

And that's craft ale in a nutshell, isn't it? Great beer is now made everywhere people live in the US...and crappy beer, too, as restauranteurs attempt to cash in. The scene is neither "Rogue Nation" revolutionary nor a passing fad any longer. From Florida to Alaska, flavorful locally-made beer is now the mainstream—and AB-InBev poking fun at beer nerds during the Super Bowl can do nothing to stop that.


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