"Craft Root Beer" in Omaha
By Michael Little
Lovers of beer applaud the explosion of craft breweries in Omaha, and it is quite a phenomenon, one well in keeping with the history of a town once – before Prohibition - renowned for its breweries. Roughly a third of Omaha’s population is of German descent, and integral with that culture is a tradition of beer-making. But what about those who can’t, or won’t consume alcohol? Interestingly, alongside the seemingly endless varieties of beer, Omaha has “craft root beers.”
Purple Cane Road Root Beer
This is a tragic story in that the best, premium root beer in Omaha is no longer being brewed. It was always expensive to make and to buy, but for true aficionados there was no substitute. It’s a velvety-smooth root beer, less carbonated than typical commercial products, made with real sassafras extract from which the unhealthy safrole has been removed. It was sold in a tall, purple glass bottle, suited to its status as the best of its kind. When last I spoke to the proprietors they didn’t close the door on reopening the line sometime, but there will have to be changes.
Bugeater Root Beer
This appetizing-sounding root beer is a product of the Upstream Brewing Company. The name is rooted in University of Nebraska football history, being the nickname for the team from 1892-1899. The root beer itself is available by the glass or by the half-gallon growler, not by the bottle. It has a more typical root beet flavor and is fizzier than Purple Cane Road, but it’s still good.
Nebraska Brewing Company
The Nebraska Brewing Company has its own variety, which lacks a colorful name but is otherwise similar to Bugeater. It’s brewed in small batches on the premises. Like the Upstream, they offer their root beer by the glass or by the growler.
The Perfect Root Beer Float
My first paying job was as a soda jerk in a Dipper Dan Ice Cream Shoppe, where I learned to make all sorts of ice cream-related goodies. I don’t drink soft drinks or eat ice cream much anymore, but on the rare occasions I do one of my favorites is a root beer float. Here’s my preferred way to do it:
Chill a mug in the freezer. Don’t take it out until ready to serve. Immediately fill it halfway with root beer. Add a generous scoop of the best vanilla ice cream you can get. Pour more root beer over the ice cream until the foam climbs just to the rim. It will rise above it, but will be frozen by then and should hold a crown. Serve with a straw and a spoon. Good stuff!
If anyone knows of another locally made root beer, please drop me a line. If not, go out, sample and enjoy!