It was a couple of summers ago that Will Walter thought his beermaking hobby could become a legitimate business.
Two years later, he and his two partners — two marines and a member of the U.S. Navy — have no doubt.
Corn Coast Brewing is expanding its south Lincoln operation, while also planning to open a second taproom — this one in Omaha — sometime next spring.
And just in case proof of their product was needed, Corn Coast recently secured two silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, a competition that annually draws more than 10,000 entries from all over the country.
Not bad for something that started as a father-son activity.
Will Walter and his two partners — Dan Walkemeyer and Ben Wearing — at Corn Coast Brewing won a pair of silver medals at the recent Great American Beer Festival.
As a military brat, Walter had moved all over — California, Virginia and a few stops in between — but when the late Col. David L. Walter was hired in 2003 as a professor of naval science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Good Life became their home base.
After graduating from Bellevue West High School, Walter enrolled in UNL's ROTC training program. This was after his father had left the university and was serving as the Battle Watch Commander at nearby Offutt Air Force Base.
It was the ROTC program that introduced Walter to Dan Walkemeyer, a Kearney native who would spend more than a decade flying helicopters with the navy, and Ben Wearing, who would eventually become his brother-in-law.
All of them became Marines after graduation, serving all over the country. One of them was on the East Coast. One on the West Coast. And the third on the Gulf Coast.
They talked by phone regularly. The conversation always turned to Nebraska, which they fittingly dubbed the Corn Coast.
“It was kind of a joke,” Walter said. “But it kind of caught on.”
With time, Walter was getting pretty good at making beer. His friends and family members liked it and he was winning contests among other home brewers.
It prompted the three of them to decide they might have a future. And once that was decided, choosing a name was the easy part.
The taproom at Corn Coast Brewing, 1433 Dahlberg Drive, is a lively place on the weekends, Will Walter says.
But make no mistake, Corn Coast Brewing, which opened in 2021 at 1433 Dahlberg Drive, was still a gamble.
Consider that Nebraska had 18 microbreweries in 2011, according to the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild. A dozen years later, that number has ballooned to 65, creating a much more competitive market.
Still, Walter, who was selling medical supplies by day, had honed his craft and found making beer to be his calling.
"I used to like cooking as a kid," he said. "When you're brewing, it's almost like baking. There's a smell to it. The process was kind of intriguing to me."
Corn Coast Brewing co-owners Dan Walkemeyer (left) and Will Walter stand inside the future site of their first taproom and brewing location at 1433 Dahlberg Drive in February 2021
There are big differences between cooking — which allows for a chef to ad-lib to create new flavor profiles — and baking, which is far more scientific and requires more precision in the measuring of the ingredients.
Brewing, Walter says, combines both.
"There's the science part, some written rules and formulas, but when it comes to the recipe development process, there's so many little nuances," he said, adding that two brewers can follow the same recipe and the end result will somehow taste different.
Making beer involves many steps — malting, milling, mashing, the addition of hops, boiling, cooling and aeration, fermentation and carbonation among them — and Walter takes all of them seriously.
"They all affect the experience from when it's in the glass or when you're sipping on it," he said. "I'm into the process."
The process is what creates the beer, but it's Walter's creativity that has led to a menu that features 16 different beers that range from hoppy to fruity to stout.
There's a dill pickle-flavored beer and a cream ale made with Munich malt called Socks with Sandals, but it was Corn Coast's hazy beers, including Combos That Work, a double-hazy IPA made with Citra and mosaic hops, that made the judges at the Great American Beer Festival take notice.
Haze is the broad term used for turbidity in beer. It generally refers to all forms of instability in beer in which insoluble material appears.
While the haziness used to be considered a flaw in the brewing process, that all changed in 2012 when a brewery in Vermont called the Alchemist created a beer that was tasty enough to make you not worry about its pour or the way it looked.
This year, the Hazy IPA was the most contested category at the beer festival with 365 entries.
Last year, Corn Coast took home a bronze medal. Walter didn't know until his phone started blowing up with congratulatory messages from other Nebraska breweries and the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild.
This year, he watched the broadcast on YouTube.