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Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Giveaway Winner Announced Feb. 6th on Handlebend Stories.
Click Here to go to the giveaway post.

Joe + Matt Brugger
Albion, NE

The Brugger Boys.

I don’t remember the first time I met them, nor the circumstances under which that meeting fell. That is not to say they were unassuming, or that the circumstances were necessarily dull or less than memorable. It is more to say that time spent with the Brugger boys is comfortable. Neither the first time or any subsequent times were out-of-the-ordinary enough to stand out as the first, or second for that matter. Time spent with them always has that underlying contentment that typically accompanies time spent with family or an old friend. Any moment I’ve spent in these brothers’ presence has been enjoyable to say the least. The Brugger boys are twin brothers a decade younger than me. They were born and raised in the small town of Albion, Nebraska on and around their family farm. In the time it takes to share a conversation with the pair of them, it becomes crystal clear that they’ve not spent any extended portion of their life away from each other. I can only assume there is a bond shared amongst twin siblings that runs a touch deeper than typical siblings and this particular set of twins is certainly no exception.

The details of their story may be better told by themselves, but their journey to this point does not look very different from many modern rural Nebraska teens. High school, activities, sports, a job or two, and off to college. This, though, is where their story starts to bend away from normal.

Not one to typically generalize, I will go out on a limb to say; 4 year degrees from the University of Nebraska tend to land the needle one’s compass in a direction pointing away from the small town roots of a given student - at least that seems to have largely been the story for the past 25 years (or more). I’ve got a theory and a hunch that the tide is beginning to turn, for the better, on this notion but that’s a story for another time.

Matt and Joe Brugger’s family farm just must be more magnetic than most. Their 4-year degree was merely a detour; the long way home, you might say. As they put it now, they aim to bring “new ideas to old dirt”. They’re back on the farm and working hard- just as generations before them have; the difference being the box in which they operate just outside of.

The twin brothers began with the launch of their Brand “Upstream Farms” in 2017…an impressive notion considering they wouldn’t graduate college for another 2 years. The idea was to sidestep the middle men in the beef industry - hardly a new prospect, but one that was usually inspired by the potential increase in profits and beleaguered and burdened by an industry streamlined to do the opposite.

The Bruggers, though, had a more colorful (and perhaps more ambitious) hunch. The end user, they thought, was growing weary of a food system that played out largely behind the curtain. People just might appreciate knowing where their food comes from, and how it was raised. Though this conviction has become wildly more common in recent times- one can imagine the common feedback a young and naive set of twin brothers betting the farm on an idea yet-to-be-proven might receive.

Regardless, they have operated and grown for more than half a decade under the premise of their original sentiments. Now, in 2023, with hard-earned success and the educations that real-life has to offer, they’re upping the ante. Not only are their product lines expanding from home-raised beef to hand-built bourbon…they have managed to vertically integrate every process on the farm to do it all with their own product; namely the corn that Nebraska has become so well (and arguably solely) known for!

While the finished details of the whiskey remain in limbo, one thing is certain: it will be top-notch. In a recent conversation with Matt and Joe, they spoke of the finicky nature of aging bourbon. I sensed a tension that I would peg as a low-grade anxiety; a general nervousness of living up to the anticipation of the release of their first barrel. “I don’t know when it will be ready.” Joe mentioned. He laughed and added “I guess I’m just hoping I’ll know when it’s time.”

"I’ve got no worries for you guys” I assured them both, “Every single thing you’ve done to this point has been above average….and I’d say that is a testament to your mentality and the energy you bring into all that you do”.

Any time I’ve spent amongst them has been absolutely enjoyable. Rarely is there any small talk; the time is always spent pondering any one of the types of problems a pair of fellas growing an outside-the-box-business encounters with great regularity. They bring a certain thoughtfulness and patience to the table that I personally believe is being drowned out of our society by the personality that the internet does not translate.

They’re the kind of guys that get sentimental about spending summer evenings watching the world unwind from the creaky old front porch of the house their grandfather built. They’re the kind of guys that lived in that old farmhouse by choice; because living there meant more to them than not having to deal with “old farmhouse issues” ever could. They’re the kind of guys that bring a lot of worth to the table, and somehow help you figure out your problem at hand while you’re sitting there helping to work out theirs. They’re absolutely the kind of guys that have figured out how to add a whole lot of value to some damn good beef….and I have zero doubts that the bourbon will impress as much or more.

I get a good chuckle after every conversation I have with those two. They’re smart dudes, and they have these little quirks that don’t necessarily show up until you begin to understand how they operate. Wherever one wanes, the other is there with wax. Thier strong suits complement each other perfectly, leaving no holes in their cumulative perspective. Whatever they’re doing, they always figure it out….it’s like they are twins or something.

- Michael Stepp

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