Rural communities tapped by craft breweries

Small Towns

By Johnathan Hladik, former policy director

Brewing beer is big business in the U.S. In 2016, this centuries-old practice generated $64 million in annual tax revenue and accounted for nearly 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Today, the beer industry employs more than 64,000 individuals nationwide.

These numbers are on the rise, especially when it comes to craft brewers. According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Breweries that meet this definition have increased in number from 1,596, in 2009, to 5,234, in 2016.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in rural communities. Take the central Nebraska communities of Hastings and Broken Bow. These rural locales sit 100 miles apart, but share one big commonality: they are both home to up-and-coming breweries.

Kinkaider Brewing Company, based in Broken Bow, was named for the Kinkaid Act of 1904 that permitted settlers to acquire northwest Nebraska land free of charge. The business was started in 2014 by four Nebraskans native to the Sandhills region.

Steeple Brewing Company, in Hastings, opened its doors early this year. Guests will find pews in the taproom and beers that reference life in a small town congregation. The head brewer is a chaplain.

We caught up with Nate Bell (NB), of Kinkaider, and Thomas Kluver (TK), of Steeple, to learn what it takes to succeed as entrepreneurs in this competitive industry.

Q: How have you been received by the local community?

TK: The local community has been awesome. We were concerned about local buy-in during the planning stages, but the Hastings community has embraced us with open arms.

NB: Couldn’t be better. We have a very progressive-minded community full of entrepreneurs. They love that they can say they have a brewery, and that they can call it their brewery. They love seeing it on tap in Omaha and Lincoln when they go out to eat. They love that their friends and family from around the state tell them they saw the beer. A lot of community pride.

Q: Have you encountered any barriers?

TK: It took a fair amount of time to understand what we needed to do on a federal, state, and local level to open a brewery. It would be nice if there was a manual out there that listed all of the steps, but the brewing community was really helpful. I can say opening a brewery and restaurant as two separate businesses in the same space complicated things for us.

NB: Two things would really grow the industry in Nebraska. The first is a reduction in the excise tax, as we are among the highest nationally. The second is streamline regulations to make it easier for us to do our job safely and responsibly for the taxpayer and the consumer. It is a complex industry with continuing complexity added all the time.

Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a scaleable business in a rural community?

TK: There’s a lot of advice out there, but I think persistence is really important. If you have an idea and a plan to turn that idea into reality; that’s great, but you won’t get anywhere if you don’t execute the plan. It’s easy to put things off or get frustrated. For me, it’s been great to have business partners, because we keep each other going.

NB: We draw people from a very large radius because we offer a unique product, handcrafted beer along with quality food. That is what rural businesses have to offer. If you develop a unique business and then knock it out of the park with service, you will draw people from all over. Our parking lot on Saturday is filled with out-of-county folks coming just to visit us.

Steeple and Kinkaider succeed because of a sound business model. They thrive because of their strong connection to the community. It’s a symbiotic relationship that drives economic activity across the region.  

For those of us who enjoy a cold beverage after a long day, it’s truly a win-win-win.

Top photo: Customers visit Kinkaider Brewing Company in Broken Bow, Nebraska. Small craft breweries are becoming a trend in rural communities and creating tax revenue. | Photo submitted

Bottom photo: Patrons check out Steeple Brewing Company in Hastings, Nebraska, on its opening day. The space is called their “Fellowship Hall.” | Photo submitted

Related: Check out this story on Loop Brewing Company in McCook, Nebraska. To help get the business started, our loan specialists provided one-on-one business plan coaching, and our small business lending program was able to help with a financing package to make the business a reality.