Tap Talk: OMNI Brewing Company
Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. This time we head northwest to OMNI Brewing Company in Maple Grove.
Few rivalries are greater than Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Especially when it comes to college football.
Students may cross state lines to attend either university and residents both can agree they hate the Chicago Bears, but when it comes to the college rivalry it all comes down to which four-legged creature you support.
With such a deep-seated rivalry it's hard to believe fans of the dueling teams could put aside their differences long enough to agree on anything to do with the game, even down to the choice of beer.
But that's exactly what happened with Justin Walsh and Zack Ward.
Ward, a self-proclaimed pseudo Twin Cities resident, attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison where he began home brewing.
The Badger alumnus lived in Madison then Milwaukee before returning to Minnesota in 2012.
As he and his wife settled in, the pair began to explore Northeast's brewing scene with his wife's childhood friend and her then boyfriend, now husband, Walsh.
"When I saw what was going on in Northeast Minneapolis, I started thinking, 'Well there's nothing in the northwest suburbs. Maybe I could open something in the northwest suburbs,'" Ward said. "So I told Justin, who was getting his MBA at the time, about my half-baked business idea for a brewery and he asked if I wanted a partner."
Despite his status as Golden Gopher, Ward welcomed Walsh to join him. Shortly thereafter, Walsh's father-in-law Steve Hayes also joined the team as a marketing and brand consultant.
The group then began their search for a building to house their brewery.
Originally set on Medina, their search ultimately led them to a different northwest suburb – Maple Grove. And after a lengthy process on June 18, 2015 they closed on the site of their new business.
"We closed on the building June 18 and we sold our first pint September 18 which is pretty cool, three months to the day," Ward said.
With both a Badger and a Gopher at the helm, the beer is flowing smoothly. A trend Ward anticipates should continue, with the exception of game days.
Follow them: on Twitter at @OMNIBrewing, on Facebook at OMNI Brewing Co. or visit their website online.
Owners: Justin Walsh, Zack Ward and Steve Hayes
Brewer: Zack Ward
Location: 9462 Deerwood Lane North, Maple Grove
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday: 3 – 10 p.m., Friday: 3 – 11 p.m., Saturday 12 – 11 p.m. and Sunday 12 – 10 p.m.
So, how did you land on the name OMNI?
Ward: OMNI came out of an exhausting discussion about what our new name should be now that we weren't going to be Hamel brewery. Hamel, if you're not familiar, is a name of a neighborhood in Medina. We started talking about [our] brand and what we wanted the feel of this place to be – inclusive rather than exclusive – which I think works particularly well for us being here in Maple Grove, it's definitely a blend of everybody. So, we were searching for words, things that kind of encompass 'a beer for everybody' sort of mentality and we came across OMNI, a prefix meaning all or of every kind, [and we] felt that that embodied that [idea]. We also really liked the fact that there is an M and a N in the middle of the word.
I didn't even notice that! Now that's all I'll be able to see, like the Fed Ex arrow. How does the bear fit into the logo and brand for OMNI?
Ward: We hosted a design contest online on 99designs.com. We wrote up a blurb about where we're located, the feel of our brewery and of our brand, and we got submissions from all over the world. We ended up with something like 250 individual submissions and [that] is the one that we chose because we thought it wasn't going too far into the Northwoods-y medium but was kind of right where we wanted to be. And bears are omnivores.
That's a great connection to both Minnesota and the name. So, often breweries that are in the suburbs say their patrons aren't overly fond of IPAs, but there are obviously IPA drinkers there. Why is it that type of beer is less favored in many suburbs?
Ward: I think there definitely are [IPA drinkers in the each suburb] and we certainly will always do our best to always have one IPA available, but I think it's a space that's in general very, very difficult to differentiate yourself in. I don't know how you brew an IPA today and say it's the most unique IPA because everybody is doing a lot of different things to be blunt. So that might be part of it. But we're still cultivating those new IPA drinkers in my mind.
How do you cultivate the new IPA drinkers?
Ward: I refer to Lake Day as sort of our gateway drug. It's perhaps that first craft beer for people. For me personally it was Spotted Cow. I went to school in Wisconsin and it's sort of the first craft beer that every Wisconsinite drinks. It makes it very difficult to drink a Miller Lite after. So I think that, and we say this all the time, we [in the industry] are all partners in converting the light drinker to the dark side. So, I think Lake Day is that first step.
So, let's talk about some of those beers you think will help convert the light drinkers.
*Listen to Ward discuss the beers OMNI has on tap.
Do you have any seasonals?
Ward: Right around Thanksgiving we'll release our Scotch Ale. I'm personally hoping that will be a big hit for us. We have Rua planned It's a ginger Irish red. Our plan right now is to introduce it right around St. Patrick's Day. As long as it's a hit we'll keep it in through the summer. It's an Irish Red Ale with candied ginger as well as fresh grated ginger. It's a fun, ginger-y, spicy beer. It's my mom's favorite beer. We're also sort of in planning right now for a pilot series. We [plan on doing] one beer a month in 2016 where it will be 20 gallons and if it's a big hit maybe we'll do a big batch of it. What I'm planning on doing soon, if I can squeeze it in, is I'd like to do an Imperial Brown and I may try to do that with chai tea.
Those both sound delicious! I'm excited to come back and try them. Of the beers you have on tap, what is your best seller?
Ward: Lake Day is the best seller. Hopful is the second best. A Little Hoppy is the best rated, though.
What do you mean when you say "best rated?"
Ward: Last time I checked, it had the best rating on Untapped. I do think there's probably some age discrepancy there. I think maybe the older crowd prefers the Lake Day over Hopful but wouldn't necessarily be on Untapped.
That's probably a reasonable assumption! What is your favorite beer?
Ward: [I've been drinking a lot of the] wet right now because I'm not going to get to drink it for a long time. But Sweetness is probably my go to. I drink a fair amount of Sweetness.
You mention on the website that you're interested in exploring a whole range of flavors. Is there one flavor in particular you're looking forward to brewing with?
Ward: One of the first books I got as a home brewer is called Radical Brewing. It's by Randy Mosher. He's got all kinds of crazy recipes and one of my dreams is in a five year period to go through all those recipes in the book. (laughs) But, I guess, in the spirit in the beer for everybody, I'd really like to get a gluten free beer that tastes good on tap. I think what we'd like to do there is to do something with sorghum and fruit. We've played a little bit with an apricot and sorghum [recipe] but I haven't been happy with the results at this point. I definitely want to do some stuff with fruit. I want to do a rye beer. I want to do a Hefeweizen. I [also] think this concept of what Dangerous Man is doing with the peanut butter porter is pretty cool, so if we could do something with peanut butter or maybe a nut stout, [that'd be cool.]
Being such a big Badger fan, will you have anything that is Badger-themed or named on the menu?
Ward: Maybe. I can't make any promises, but we've talked about it.
What has the relationship with Walsh been, seeing that you are a Badger fan and he is a Gopher fan?
Ward: The Badgers beat on the Gophers and that's just kind of how it works. (laughs) No, I mean the relationship works pretty well all but a few days a year when the Badgers play the Gophers in football and basketball. Those are the two sports I follow. Gophers probably beat us in hockey.
I can see how it would also be sort of a fun rivalry that the two of you can joke about as well. So, other than overcoming the differences in alliances, what has been the most challenging thing about opening up a brewery?
Ward: There's a lot of timelines to try to manage. You've got the regulators, starting with the Feds which take, on average, four months to approve you as a brewery. State is much quicker but still adds several weeks, and that all has to come after the federal approval. And then you have the local [level.] For us, we needed to pass a taproom license here in Maple Grove and [pass legislation for] growler [sales] on Sundays. Well, we didn't have to, but we chose to try to get growlers on Sundays passed and all that kind of stuff. So, there's a lot of regulator steps that all are successive rather than parallel.
I can see how that would be very frustrating because you have to wait on somebody else. For the final question, tell me, how would you describe OMNI in one word?
Ward: Inclusive. We get people that are white collar, that are blue collar, that are young, that are old, that are experienced craft beer nerds and that are total novices and that's our big thing. With anybody we hire to work behind the bar [we want them to] be excepting and inviting to all.
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