Proudly Not Made By Robots returns, to highlight the people, stories and customers that make our life possible. We’re grateful for the opportunity to introduce you to one of the fiercest supports of Nebraska beer: McCue’s Nebraska Taproom in Kearney, Nebraska. Their motto is “All Nebraska, All the Time” and their commitment to Nebraska fermentables is unquestioned. The only thing they serve is brewed, distilled or vinted right here in the Cornhusker State. Opened in 2017 by the Fitch & Johnson families, we had the privilege to co-host the two largest tap takeovers in Nebraska history with McCue’s. Our first tap takeover took place in January 2019, where McCue’s placed 30 Scratchtown beers on tap, only to be bested 10 months later, when in October 2019 we tapped 40 kegs with them.
They’ve built a statewide destination for Nebraska beer in downtown Kearney, and we’re quite thrilled to feature them in this PNMBR spotlight.
So let’s get to know Tara, Joe, Katie and Ryan.
What is your name and where did you grow up? Katie Fitch of originally of O’Neill, Nebraska; Ryan Fitch of Kearney, NE; Tara Johnson of Kearney; and Joe Johnson of South Sioux City.
How old is your McCue’s? Two years old.
Why did you get into the industry? Joe: I love craft beer! Also, I love the variety (types and flavors) of craft beers and I love to support local businesses. Tara: My husband has always wanted to own his own business. We have traveled to many breweries and taprooms across the state and new their concept would do well in Kearney. We knew nothing about brewing beers other than using the Mr. Beer kit. We knew Kearney would embrace a taproom where could bring in your own food, play trivia or bingo and be in a relaxing environment. So, the final push to take the leap into the industry was when a Senator from the State of Nebraska crafted a bill to hurt Nebraska breweries. This Senator accepted campaign financing from “big beer” and in return created this bill. If the people we elect into office won’t protect fellow Nebraska’s then we as citizens need to protect are people. I am a social worker by trade so fighting for the underdog has been one of my passions. We knew something needed to be done so we came up with McCue’s Nebraska Taproom. All Nebraska. All The Time. Ryan & Katie: We started McCue’s for several reasons. First off, we’ve had a long (and loving) relationship with beer! We weren’t strangers to craft beer, but hadn’t really opened our eyes to all that it could be. We knew there were a number of craft breweries in Nebraska, but didn’t realize how many there really were! We’re big proponents for local people that work so hard in their communities and take deserved pride in honest work. Something that’s important to us is preservation and celebration of history and the community roots therein. The old buildings and architecture mean so much more to us than modern, glittering ones. They lack the character and stories ingrained into those spaces. We’re incredibly fortunate to have one of those spots in the historic McCue’s building. I feel it helps to drive us to live up to and represent that history in a way that the people who worked and shopped there would be proud of!
What is your favorite SBC beer? Non-SBC beer? Ryan & Katie: Really tough choice, the thing I’ve always been so impressed with is the number of beer recipes. I’ve never been to Ord and seen the same beer on tap twice. I find myself reaching for an MMR Brown Ale in the taproom. Tara: My Favorite Scratchtown beer is Colesch Kolsch and my favorite non is Zipline DAAANG! IPA. Joe: I can’t go wrong with the Wonder Twins but my favorite at this time is Snipe Hunter: Keys to the Asylum! Although I haven’t had this beer in about two years, my favorite non-SBC beer is the Saint Louis Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale! I will say that my favorite beers change with the weather seasons.
Think back to your most memorable brewery experience: where any why? Tara: Joe, Ryan, Kate and I have always loved craft beer. We would stop just about anywhere to try a new craft beer. The most memorable brewery experience was at Kinkaider in Broken Bow. We had just spent a wonderful week at Fort Robinson. Joe wanted Ryan and Kate to try and to see Kinkaider so we stop for lunch before returning home. We just spent the week at one of the most beautiful places in Nebraska and you walk into Kinkaider and the environment is spot on. We order a few beers and that is when the idea of McCue’s was developed. Lots of dreams and vision of what we thought we could do. The political environment in the State at the time was a huge push for Joe and I. None of us come from money, we had no experience in craft beer expect loving to drink it and none of us worked in the industry before. That was a life changing moment for our lives would never be the same again. Joe: Kinkaider Brewery in Broken Bow, NE because it was around that table and drinking those beers that the idea of McCue’s Nebraska Taproom was born. Ryan & Katie: Kinkaider Brewing Broken Bow, NE. Summer 2017. The Johnsons and Fitches were returning to Kearney from a family vacation at Fort Robinson and stopped in for a beer. It’s special to us because it’s where the first rumblings of opening a taproom occurred. We’ve now been to tons of great Nebraska Breweries, all with their unique touches!
What is one of the most exciting trends in the craft beer industry? What is a trend that needs to go away? Katie & Ryan: Without sounding biased, taprooms as gathering spaces. In contrast to many dark, television-laden “bars”, the spaces are bright and vibrant with good vibes aplenty! Tired/Difficult Trends in Craft Beer: Maybe it’s unavoidable, but seasonal beers often bother me. Like Pumpkin or Winter Ale. They’re usually overpowering and over-spiced. I feel like we don’t need to have these beers to signal the changing of the seasons. Create a good beer I can reach for year-round. Just do that beer really well. The overarching trouble that we have (and likely all purveyors of local craft beer) is the ability to actually get it into the hands of the Beer Lovers! The distribution system is antiquated and driven by “Big Beer.” Tara: The most exciting trend for me is new crazy beer experiments. I love to try anything new. We have had a couple Nebraska made seltzers in the taproom. The trend that needs to go away when a person writes a negative review on a beer app. Just because you do not like it does not mean the next person will not like it. Be Kind. Joe: I like the entrepreneurial and experimental spirit of craft beer industry. Also, I like that a “taproom” is a local social environment that is very opposite of a “bar.” One trend that needs to go away is the difficulty of getting local craft beer products to the market.
For aspiring brewers, what bit of advice would you give them before they get into the market? Joe: Choose your partnerships wisely. From the retail side of this business, many local breweries are being forces to complete against “Big Beer” through a distributor that is directly connected to “Big Beer.” Many make the choice to stay out of that world and not distribute. Ryan/Katie: Dive in! Follow your dream and your gut! I’m sure it’s scary, but there’s a whole culture of believers, ready to embrace and support you for who you are! Tara: For new brewers getting into the market I would say do your research, ask questions of anyone in the industry and know its not easy. In the craft beer market is should always be Quality over Quantity. If you do not produce a good product people will not come back.