Celebrate. Commiserate. Commemorate. Those three words describe any occasion that brings friends and family together. They also serve as the mission statement for Brickway Brewery & Distillery, which has been located “down in the bricks” of Omaha’s Old Market for nearly seven years, making its own craft beer and spirits, namely single malt whisky, led by microbiologist and Brickway president and master brewer/distiller, Zac Triemert.
While earning a degree in microbiology at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, Triemert discovered his passion for brewing and distilling. But it wasn’t until his father’s quick passing from pancreatic cancer that he decided life was too short not to pursue a career you love. He brewed a beer in honor of his father, Jerry, named “Jerry’s Pale Ale” and gave each family member two bottles: one to drink and one to save. “It was a way to commemorate my father,” Triemert said. “Some people cried, some people laughed, and it really changed that experience for everyone. So, I jumped off the corporate rat race to become a brewer.”
His journey took him to Scotland where he earned master’s degrees in both brewing and distilling, as well as had opportunities to visit more than 50 distilleries throughout the country. It was there he honed the craft of distilling American Single Malt Whisky, which has earned Brickway three gold medals. After returning to the US, Triemert moved to Omaha and got his first brewing job at Upstream in the Old Market as head brewer. Later he started Lucky Bucket Brewery in La Vista, which he sold in 2012, and then a year later he started Brickway.
Triemert said being a brewer is much like being a chef—he starts with a vision for the end product and works backward to determine what raw materials are available and which processing techniques exist to make the flavors. “I like to think of myself as a malted barley chef,” he said. The first beer Brickway developed was a pilsner. “I was at a local bar and watched a bartender pour a Stella Artois,” he said. “It had such a thick, dense head. Right there I wanted to build a beer that had visible drinkability but was still light and crisp.”
Triemert explained that no matter what they make, balance of the product is key. Brickway’s Epic Blackout Stout is 17% alcohol by volume, but still very well balanced. “Our new head brewer, Mitchell Elmblad, has really taken to heart the principles of well-balanced beer. He developed our Deep Galaxy Session IPA that is so drinkable—I’m proud of what he’s done.”
One of Brickway’s newest products is its Sherry Cask-aged Single Malt Whisky, which puts an American spin on traditional Scotch whiskies. Brickway ages the whisky in a new charred American oak barrel for three years, as opposed to used barrels like they do in Scotland, and then finishes the whisky in an oloroso sherry barrel from Spain. “It’s rich with toffee, caramel, and a nice light wood finish,” Triemert said. The whisky recently won a silver medal, but Triemert will keep trying for a gold. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever made.”
Brickway’s mission to be there for the community held a particularly significant meaning during the start of the pandemic this past spring. Shortly after closing, Triemert saw a news report about a distillery in Ohio that was using its equipment to make hand sanitizer. “We had the same equipment, so we decided to start making it,” he said. They began by giving bottles of sanitizer to first responders, hospitals, and nursing homes. Currently, the general public can get a free 7.5-oz. bottle daily during Brickway’s normal business hours, or bring their own bottle on Fridays to get up to 64 oz, which will be available at least through the end of the year. To date, Brickway has made about 8,000 gallons of sanitizer.
Additionally, Brickway supports the community by continuing to offer 20% off all to go orders, and any non-profit organization can receive 50% off of products. “We’re just one small brewery and distillery in the Old Market, but we do whatever we can to help the community,” Triemert said.
Brickway is currently working on rebranding with new labels and bottles, which the Sherry Cask-aged Single Malt Whisky uses, as will its newest release, the Double Barrel Bourbon Whisky. Triemert is also personally focused on growing the distillery side of the business, which is the largest in the state. “That lights a fire in my belly, and I don’t want to lose it,” he said. Keeping his team of 16 employees running smoothly is another focus. “I want to coach our team to have the best customer service, for the best products, and the best experience. Everyone on our team knows why we do what we do—our mission statement is right on our back wall. We are here for you no matter what the occasion, because we know the best way to do it is with your friends and family.”