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Lincoln brewery crafts “old-timey” beer, atmosphere

For years, Matt Stinchfield brewed over an idea — literally.

After spending 30 years working on environmental cleanup projects in Nevada and a few other states, the Vermont native was ready to take his chemistry background in a different direction.

Stinchfield moved to Nebraska in 2010 after visiting the state a few years earlier and falling in love with the people and atmosphere.

“For 30 years I lived in places that were opportunity-based. Nebraska is more about quality of life,” he said.  “It’s on the sign, ‘The Good Life,’ and it’s really true.”

Stinchfield is an avid craft brewer. He’s brewed beer in his garage for 15 years and has judged the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. However, it wasn’t until Stinchfield’s girlfriend put his love of making beer into words that he realized just how much he valued his hobby.

“She said, ‘You always smile when you make beer. You should make beer for people,’ ” said Stinchfield, who remembers that phrase stopping him in his tracks.

It seemed a bit silly, he said, but then he started doing some research.

He discovered that Nebraska is the eighth-thirstiest state per capita in the U.S., and a typical Nebraskan’s drink of choice is beer.

Bingo, he thought.

Soon he was in the thick of writing his business plan for Ploughshare Brewing Company.

Despite the fact that two craft breweries – Zipline and Blue Bloods – opened in Lincoln in the last few years, Stinchfield is confident the city can support another brewery.

With seven signature brews, Stinchfield feels his brewery matches the Nebraska palate and appeals to a wide variety of beer drinkers. Ploughshare will also carry seasonal brews in addition to signature brews.

Then it was time to fund his business.

Stinchfield spent eight months raising the initial funding for his unique brewery and finding the right investors who believed in his concept as much as he did.

It was during this stage that Stinchfield met Todd Long, a former Anheuser-Busch distributor who now works at Kidwell.

“Matt is surely an amazing entrepreneur and he really understands beer, both the art and science of it,” said Long, who is the co-founder of The Big Plate, a Lincoln project that helps the startup community. “There are a lot of people who start breweries and they start in their garages and some of them succeed and some of them fail. What they need to understand is the business side of brewing and Matt understands that.”

Long and Stinchfield quickly bonded over their mutual love of beer and startups, and the two talked for hours about the connections between tech startups and breweries.

Many tech startups function in a way that small breweries would do well to learn from, Long said. Whether it’s working to understand their customers, operating in a lean manner, innovating and even understanding pricing, tech startups keep all these elements in mind and Long encouraged brewers to do the same.

“It’s critical for the microbreweries to understand they need to put a story with their brand,” Long said. “Your label with get them to try it (your beer) once, but your story will get them to try it again.”

Ploughshare’s story is constantly on Stinchfield’s mind.

He wants it to be a place where people stop in for a drink or a good plate of food to compliment their beer.

He wants it to be marked with an “old-timey” feel that’s seen in the repurposed barn wood that’s part of the decor.

He wants it to be marked by genuine customer service.

What he really wants, is for his brewery to be a place where people want to hang out.

Stinchfield hopes his brewery, which is located at 16th and P streets, will create a unique atmosphere among the slew of bars in the area.

“You can go in there and you might have to have a conversation with the person you’re sitting by,” he said. “We want Ploughshare to have a loving vibe — you should go there and feel safe and well-fed and have your thirst quenched.”

There will be no TVs, Stinchfield said, just tables, chairs and an attentive staff. He wants to attract customers with the lure of a relaxing atmosphere and quality beer that’s crafted in a custom built brewing system from Canada.

Stinchfield explained that to make the kind of authentic beer he desired, he needed to use an old-world process that typically requires three different brewing systems. Instead, he has found a way to build one system that can accomplish all three processes in one machine — what Stinchfield calls “modern equipment with an old-world process.”

The system will take eight months to build to Stinchfield’s specifications, and it won’t be brewing any beer until this fall. However, Stinchfield said he’s still looking forward to opening Ploughshare in April.

He plans to serve craft beer from other local breweries for the two soft openings until he’s ready to showcase Ploughshare’s craft brews at its grand opening in the fall.

The sporadic openings weren’t part of his original plan, but that’s part of starting a business, he said.

“The hardest part are the things that you don’t have control over,” he said. “(But) we’re not interested in shortcuts.”

Stinchfield said it wasn’t easy to raise $500,000 to start Ploughshare. It wasn’t easy to find a home for his brewery, sign a lease or conceptualize the hand-crafted brewing system. But starting a business isn’t supposed to be easy.

“I think that Lincoln is in for a big surprise with Ploughshare. I’ve met very few people where the founder is so good at all facets of business,” Long said. “I’m just amazed at what Matt is bringing to Lincoln and I hope the community can get in there and support him.”