One of Omaha's oldest brands, Storz beer, is back after nearly a half-century absence and locals are lapping up the suds with gusto.
Two Storz family relatives, cousins Tom and John Markel, are reviving the brand as a beer and as the Storz Trophy Room Grill & Brewery in the former Rick's Boatyard on Omaha's downtown riverfront. Chef-restauranteur Yves Menard (Charlie's on the Lake) is a partner in the new eatery and micro brewery slated to open Nov. 15.
A cylindrical brick chimney is all that's left of the old brewery on North 16th Street. The smokestack can be seen from the restaurant's upper floor, where a Storz memorabilia museum is planned. Tom Markel says he's been deluged by collectors wanting to donate, loan or sell their Storz artifacts, ranging from beer cooler to end cap store displays.
The new Storz beer is being made by Blue Blood Brewing Co. in Lincoln and distributed by area Anheuser-Busch distributors. Storz's owners don't have the recipe for the old brew their fathers and grandfathers drank. For most of its history the beer was light in color and flavor, say those who remember. The pre-Prohibition brew that won international prizes was likely closer to the new full-bodied Storz ales and lagers that take their cue from the booming craft beer market.
Long lines formed in front of the company tent at the Aug. 18 St, Stanislaus Polish Festival in South Omaha, where 10 kegs of the millennium Storz sold in three hours. The brand was a hit too during the Cox Classic and at the Nebraska Beer Festival. Storz draft is in high demand at the metro bars now serving it on tap. The true test comes when its four varieties are available in bottles and cans at supermarkets and convenience stores.
The enthusiastic response to the return of a brand that dominated the local market for generations expresses the city's love affair with the Storz name and family. By the time the family sold the brewery in 1966 � it closed in 1972 � Storz was a household name for not only the popular beer the family produced but for the hundreds of workers they employed, the community events they sponsored and the civic contributions they made. The brewery's Trophy Room featured a sporting lodge motif befitting the family's outdoorsmen lifestyle. Their Ducklore Lodge on the North Platte River in the Panhandle hosted many hunters, even celebrities like Neb.-born film actor Robert Taylor.
Storz advertising often played off the great outdoors theme. The Markels, who respect the history behind the Storz name, are avid sportsmen and successful entrepreneurs themselves.
"It just fit our DNA," says Tom.
John worked as a guide in Alaska, where he's hiked and hunted extensively, and developed a film and television production business to support film projects shot there. Tom's a former ski racer who still hits the slopes. He also golfs, plays tennis and hikes. He's started and run many businesses, including a company specializing in outdoor roller skates and another based in sports nutrition. His iBank.com is the nation's largest online small business network.
The Storz name adorns an expressway, a hospital pavilion, the Joslyn Art Museum fountain court and other public places. The mansion of original Storz Brewing founder Gottlieb Storz at 3705 Farnam St. was the site of lavish parties. as was the brewery's Trophy Room. Public figures from industry, entertainment, politics and the military frequented these bashes, including actor Jimmy Stewart, radio-TV host Arthur Godfrey and Gens. Jimmy Doolittle and Curtis LeMay.
The family were once big University of Nebraska football boosters.
Gottlieb's son, Arthur Storz Sr., was a World War I airman whose passion for manned flight made him an influential figure in U.S. Air Force and civilian passenger airline circles. He's credited with getting the former Strategic Air Command to locate here and getting Eppley Airfield built. Sons Robert and Arthur Jr., who helped run the brewery as adults, flew bombers during World War II. Art Jr. cared for his ailing parents in the mansion. After their deaths he resided there. His dream was for the National Register of Historic Places residence to become a Storz museum. The home's now owned by Wayne and Rhonda Stuberg, who hosted a party for the new Storz venture.
Tom Markel cherishes the stories behind the name.
"Stories sell beer," he says. "There's a romance about this family and about this beer and about how they treated the community and people"
Still, he says, "nobody in our family perceived this would happen," adding. "It is magical the way it's blossomed into this major feeling in the community. This is about family, fellowship, sportsmanship and stewardship. Our slogan is: People. Love, Beer."
It's also about Storz filling a missing link on the riverfront, where the demise of Rick's left a gaping hole between Lewis & Clark Landing and the National Park Service and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The city's banking on Storz, whom it's given a 50-year lease of the city-owned site, to be the destination place Rick's never was. Ironically, Markel didn't want the riverfront. He desired a country estate akin to a winery. But he heeded the good karma of this river's edge location.
"This was a great vision and I think we're here to execute the vision. It's a wonderful environment. It's the beachfront property in Omaha."
Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.