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From craft beer to rum, Zac Triemert tells the Lucky Bucket story

Zac Triemert of Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. and Solas Distillery poses with a bottle of Solas’ first craft spirit, Joss Vodka. In 2011, Triemert and his team will launch a new rum brand. Photo by Andrea Ciurej.

Update: See our video interview with Triemert: “Lucky Bucket’s impact shows in state’s craft beer sales.”

Before the days of can and bottle distribution, only local breweries were to thank for the pure enjoyment of what is considered today’s oldest and most widely consumed beverage. Fifteenth-century beer drinkers only had one option for savoring hop bitterness: walk down to the local brewery, fill up a bucket with beer and carry it home.

What was known as the initial “lucky bucket” back then has raised local craft-distilling spirits and served as an inspiration for brewmaster Zac Triemert’s LaVista, Nebraska-based business – Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. and Solas Distillery.

“Craft distilling is probably where craft brewing was back in about 1980,” Triemert said, “so there are very few people doing it.”

Letting his personal love of scotch-style, single-malt whiskey get the best of him, Triemert, who obtained microbiology and chemistry degrees from the University of Wisconsin, went on to achieve a master’s degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“It was pretty hardcore course work, from engineering courses to some pretty stiff science stuff, getting into the chemistry of brewing and distilling,” said Triemert, who was Omaha-based Upstream Brewing Co.’s head brewer at the time. “I was able to travel throughout distilleries of Scotland and the breweries of Europe and it was a fantastic year.”

Upon returning to the states, Triemert, with the help of Upstream colleagues Jason Payne, then a brewer, and Brian Magee, the current president, wrote and introduced a craft distilling bill to the Nebraska Legislature.

The bill, which was adopted in 2007, called for the Upstream and other interested Nebraska parties to obtain a micro-distillery license, granting the manufacture of up to 10,000 gallons of craft spirits annually and the ability to retail the spirits on-site.

Awaiting the bill’s final approval, Triemert and Payne eventually parted ways with Upstream to set their sights on the Lucky Bucket and Solas Distillery brands, raising about $2 million to launch the business. Magee continued to work alongside them as co-president.

Triemert said the total amount raised was a combination of equity sales and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

“We wrote a private placement memorandum and used that as a sales tool to sell equity,” he said. “Once we had the equity, we looked after the bank loan, getting the craft distilling bill through the state Senate and looking for used brewing equipment.”

The bill finally became law in 2008.

In November of the same year, Triemert’s team brewed their first beer under the Lucky Bucket brand, but it wasn’t until January 2009 that the company would sell their first beer.

Since then, Lucky Bucket has introduced three handcrafted beers: Pre-Prohibition-style Lager, Original American-India Pale Ale (IPA) and Certified Evil, a dark Belgian ale. (First two pictured left, photo by Andrea Ciurej)

“We wanted to bring back beer that was light and drinkable like people are used to, but bring back the flavor of how beer used to be,” Triemert said. “Each of our beers are really taking a step a little bit farther than most other breweries.”

Lucky Bucket has already been nationally ranked as the fastest growing craft brewery in the Midwest, he said, producing the equivalent of 900 kegs a month and about 4,200 barrels of beer this year.

The company was originally only supposed to produce 250 barrels this year.

“Right now, we have more orders than we can fill,” Triemert said. “We’re working on growing the capacity of the brewery, so we can fill all the orders for our beer and, until we’re done filling all of the orders, we probably won’t start brewing new beers.”

A view of the production line at Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. located in LaVista, Nebraska at 11941 Centennial Road. Photo by Andrea Ciurej.

A year later, the company distilled their first craft spirit – Joss Vodka, a super-premium, 80-proof vodka handcrafted from Nebraska-grown resources – using a patent-pending copper distillation column made to specification in Scotland by Triemert himself (pictured in photo below). Their first bottle was sold in December 2009.

“The process and procedures are all exactly being done in Scotland, even today,” Triemert said. “It’s all very traditional.”

Within the first six months of starting the overall business, Triemert’s team consisted of one full-time, hourly production employee and a group of the company’s investors who volunteered on the bottling line. Now, there are 14.

“It’s really just managing growth in a way that we can expect because it is a very capital-intensive business,” Triemert said.

With last month marking the two-year anniversary of the brewery and one-year anniversary of the distillery, Triemert’s team is preparing to launch a new rum brand for 2011 and isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We’ve taken this business in a way that I personally never expected,” Triemert said. “We’re just keeping our head down, working hard and having fun doing it.”

A view inside the Lucky Bucket Brewing Co. and Solas Distillery building. In very middle is the patent-pending copper distillation column made by Triemert himself. Photo by Andrea Ciurej.

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