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Wayne brewer joins statewide beer benefit for flood relief

April 17, 2019 GMT

WAYNE, Neb. -- Greg Ptacek didn’t need a greater motivation to brew a new beer, and his customers likely don’t need a better reason to drink it.

But with the upcoming release of Nebraska Strong Red Ale, they all can know that the drafts they’re quaffing are being done so for a good cause.

The owner and brewmaster of Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company in Wayne, Ptacek and 25 other Nebraska craft brewers have joined forces to brew a beer following the same basic recipe and donating 100 percent of the sales proceeds to agencies helping Nebraskans recover from March flooding.

A pint has certainly been raised for far less noble reasons than this before.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to give back a little bit,” Ptacek said. “Drinking a beer isn’t too hard. Drink a beer and help a good cause.”

For Ptacek, it carries a bit of a personal stake. Prior to moving to Wayne, he lived in Neligh, Nebraska, for five years. Flooding along the Elkhorn River hit the north-central Nebraska community hard, and Ptacek saw the toll that the long hours of rescue and recovery work took on his friends there who are first responders. Ptacek also was friends with a man who died in flooding in Norfolk.

“It really means a lot to do something cool that people will find value in,” Ptacek said.

The flood-relief brew is Nebraska’s take on a successful effort to help California wildfire victims. In December, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California enlisted the help of hundreds of breweries nationwide to brew Resilience IPA. Sales of the beer raised millions of dollars for wildfire recovery in northern California.

When Lincoln brewers spoke up on the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild’s Facebook page about doing something similar in the wake of flooding that affected much of Nebraska in mid March, Ptacek didn’t think twice about joining in.

“There was no question in my mind,” he said. “We had wanted to do Resilience, but it didn’t fit into our brewing schedule. And this one just hits way closer to home.”

After some discussion on Facebook, the brewers settled on an amber beer that would have a wider appeal, Ptacek said. It’s not too strong for people not accustomed to drinking craft beers, but it should still catch the attention of “beer nerds.”

5168 Brewery in Lincoln developed the basic recipe and distributed it to other Nebraska brewers, who were free to tweak it with ingredients they had on hand. Growers donated hops and malt used in the beer.

Ptacek used malt from Missouri Valley Malt in Omaha and hops from 6th Meridian in Yankton, South Dakota. He described Nebraska Strong Red Ale as an “everyman’s beer,” not as malty as some, but still a little hoppy. Ptacek used Chinook hops, which gives his version of the brew a piney flavor and finishes with a little bit of tangerine and citrus flavor.

Most brewers brewed the beer on April 1. Ptacek made three barrels, just shy of 100 gallons. It should be ready to be tapped on April 24, when he’ll have a release party at the Johnnie Byrd taproom at 117 W. Second St.

His supply should last about three or four weeks, he said, and sales should total $3,000-$5,000. Not too bad for about 20 hours of time spent in brewing and preparation. Ptacek will donate his sales to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund.

The beer is still fermenting, but Ptacek took a sip last week and said it tasted pretty good. Like all new beers, he’s anticipating the release. Maybe a little more so with this one. Beer aficionados know it’s coming and are waiting for it.

“We’ve had a lot of people ask about it,” he said. “I hope people will like it. Hopefully it’ll appeal to pretty much everybody.”

Helping out someone else is always appealing.

It’s not often you get to do it with a beer in hand.