SEWARD — Ryan Koch, brewmaster and co-owner of Bottle Rocket Brewing, has the Fourth of July holiday circled on his calendar inside the microbrewery.
“We know we’re closed for takeout only at least through the 10th,” Koch said. “(Gov. Pete) Ricketts is saying he’s going to ease back into it, which basically means we are looking at the Fourth of July.
“If we miss that, it’ll suck, because something like 40,000 people are here for the Fourth.”
Though limited by pandemic restrictions on business, Bottle Rocket is expanding.
“We’re working on an expansion as we speak,” Koch said.
The project, taking place right across the alley from the original Bottle Rocket, will expand the brewery’s capacity 15 times.
“It’s a huge project, so we are glad we can still go through with it right now,” Koch said. “We are currently on a one barrel system, which means I brew two kegs at a time. We are jumping out to a fifteen barrel system.”
The upgrade will allow Bottle Rocket to start bottling and distributing its beers, instead of relying solely upon the taproom for business.
“Pretty soon, you’ll see us in stores in Lincoln,” Koch said.
Their original building used to be a seed and grain processing mill and has a front bar, a large gathering room in the back, and an outdoor terrace upstairs.
“You can see all of the original infrastructure is still here from when this was a seed house,” Koch said. “It was built in 1947, and then a lady bought it and turned it into a flower shop in ‘87.”
When the property at 230 South Fifth St. converted to a brewery in 2015, it kept much of the equipment and infrastructure necessary for grain processing, creating a unique, rustic aurora for a craft beer joint in small-town Nebraska.
Like most small businesses right now, Bottle Rocket Brewing is facing unprecedented obstacles. According to Koch, the brewery is currently generating business only from take-out orders on 64-oz glass growlers. But its regulars are doing just enough to keep the bar afloat for the time being.
“Not having a kitchen has saved us,” Koch said. “In normal times, we have food trucks that come cater from several local restaurants. If we had to pay for all the stuff it takes to run a kitchen right now, I don’t think we’d be here.”
Reopening with the expansion is now the goal, with the Fourth coming up fast.
With a population of just over 7,200, Seward has a reputation for being America’s small-town Fourth of July destination, drawing families from all parts of Nebraska and beyond.
Grant Biggs, a senior finance major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a Seward native, claims to have opened the eyes of his Omaha and Lincoln friends when it comes to how to celebrate the holiday.
“I took my friends to Seward a couple years ago for it; they’ve come back every year since,” he said. “It’ll really be too bad if things aren’t open by then; it’s a huge couple of days for the town.”
Seward’s Fourth of July website showcases all the events, ranging from fireworks to car shows to parades spanning several days.
Lincoln resident Max White, who had made the 20-minute drive to Bottle Rocket to re-up on his IPA stash, wouldn’t want to spend the holiday any other way.
“It really is a big deal; a lot of us come from Lincoln for it,” he said. “Bottle Rocket is always rocking that week.”