By Angela Rose | Feb 27, 2016
La Vista, Nebraska
Like many craft brewery founders, homebrewing was the Kavulaks' gateway into the beer industry. "A coworker introduced Paul to homebrewing in 1992," Kim explains. "Our interest waxed and waned over the years with kids and our IT careers, but in 2002 we actually built a brewing room in our home. It had all the modern efficiencies from gas connects and slanted floors to drains and three-well sinks. But it was still just a hobby."
It didn't stay so for long. "My grandparents had owned restaurants and Paul's grandparents had owned bars," says Kim. "We thought it would be fun to do the same and really started talking seriously about it in 2005." The couple put together a business plan and incorporated in 2006. "In early 2007, Paul quit his job to open the brewery," she adds.
Though they originally intended to operate as a brewpub alone, the recession quickly forced them to consider a bigger picture. "We had to take a look at a lot of things we could do to maintain the business we had already worked so hard for," Kim recalls. "We reduced overhead wherever we thought we could. We also revisited procedures and processes."
Then a podcast interview of Patrick Rue of The Bruery inspired them to contact a New York beer distributor. "It took us awhile to get through negotiations," says Kim. "We were a virtual unknown and they took a huge chance on us. We're forever grateful."
Though their beers were originally distributed for draught only, craft connoisseurs can now find Nebraska Brewing Company's fleet of standards and seasonals in cans -- and the Reserve and Inception series in bombers -- in more than 27 states as well as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Denmark.
The largest brewery in Nebraska, production has increased significantly since the launch of their new production facility in 2014. They brewed 7,000 barrels that year and 8,500 barrels the next. "We are looking at about 12,000 barrels for 2016," says Kim. "That's still pretty small in comparison to a lot of the breweries in the industry, but the big thing for us is quality over quantity."
Favorite beers: "EOS Hefeweizen is my favorite Nebraska Brewing Company beer," says Kim. "Tyson Arp -- our Overlord of Brewing -- recently made an imperial version and we put it into chardonnay barrels. Outside of here, I really enjoy The Maharaja from Avery Brewing Company."
Challenges: "In the last 18 to 24 months, we've learned that it's not enough to just keep making the good beer that we make every day," Kim says. "While our Cardinal Pale Ale is an amazing beer, the consumer also wants us to make new, fun, shiny things. They always ask, 'What do you have new out now?' So we have to continue to grow our brewing team to make sure we can brew our fleet of regulars consistently every single day while still having the capacity to work on new beers as well."
Opportunities: Kim and her team relish learning opportunities. "We love to take what we currently know and learn and grow from that," she explains. "For example, we have some new beers coming out that are variants of the beers our customers already know and love. This includes a Vanilla Bean Fathead and a Coffee Fathead in our Inception Series. We've also gone back to the drawing board and made a list of the beers we've always wanted to do. As a result, we're planning to brew some sours and lagers this year that we've never had the time or capacity for."
Needs: "We always joke that, 'All it takes is money,'" Kim laughs. "But it's more than that. We have such a great team, and as we grow we have to find the right people to be part of that team. Not everyone is going to fit. Some people have gone on to open their own breweries, and that's a challenge in the brewing world everywhere today. So I think our need is just to continue to nurture and cultivate our team here so we have the creativity and base to continue to grow as a company overall."