Now Open (or Damn Close): Oliphant Brewing

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“Let unreason reign.”

This short edict is the very heart of Oliphant Brewing, a new Wisconsin-based brewery started by two friends, Trevor Wirtanen and Matt Wallace. Page through some of the strange, absurdist writings on the website for proof.

Or ask them about the Oliphant name and its handful of meanings ranging from the elephant-like creatures in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, to a horn instrument, a Scottish clan, or a vicious giant in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Wirtanen and Wallace are happy to chat about them all.

“[The name] opens up the conversation about the brewery,” said Wallace. “We’re kind of chatterboxes—maybe me more than Trevor.”

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Wirtanen and Wallace brewed their first batch of beer at the local homebrew shop in Stillwater back in 2010 and continued brewing every week until Wirtanen moved to Ireland to pursue a Master’s degree in June 2011. While he was overseas, Wallace continued brewing and kept in touch with Wirtanen. The decision to start a brewery came over a series of Skype chats in October 2011.

When Wirtanen returned to the U.S., the two began the search for a home for their brewery. While searching for a space, they struck up a brief alternating proprietorship agreement at Dave’s BrewFarm where Wirtnanen interned, and debuted their Oliphant beers to a great reception from the public.

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Their search for a permanent home came to an end when they signed a lease for a 1,200 sq ft space inside a massive 12,000 sq ft former 7UP bottling plant in Somerset, Wisconsin, located on Main St. The site’s previous use as a bottling plant meant the building already had key pieces of infrastructure including a drainage system and sloped floors, which has helped keep overhead costs down for the Wallace and Wirtanen.

“What we have here is a big warehouse of potential,” said Wallace. “It was pretty daunting. It was used for storage for the last five years…so we had to move a bunch of junk.”

“It looked like a warehouse-cave,” added Wirtanen. However daunting it appeared, the two have learned a lot from the process of building the brewery and are excited about having a place to call their own and putting their own touches on everything.

After having their plan for an 800 sq ft taproom and a 3 bbl brewhouse passed by the Village board, Oliphant is on its way to being the first brewery in Somerset since Prohibition. Wirtanen, who manages the liquor store adjacent to the building, has received very positive feedback about the project from the locals, who are becoming more craft curious.

Wallace and Wirtanen share brewing responsibilities on the 3 bbl system at the brewery, and they constantly push each to create new beers based on flavor, not style guidelines. “We like to brew to the ingredients and the flavors,” explains Wirtanen. “What do we want it to taste like? We work backwards from there.”

Expect a wide variety of flavors as the duo plans to offer six different beers in the taproom when they open and bolster their tap list to twelve soon thereafter. Pints and 32 oz crowlers (can-growlers) will be available for purchase in the taproom, and down the line Oliphant beers will be on tap in bars and restaurants in the St. Croix Valley.

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Brewers: Matt Wallace and Trevor Wirtanen
Beer: Rotating selection
Visit: 350 Main St, Ste 2, Somerset, Wisconsin
Hours: Thu & Fri 4–9pm, Sat 12–9pm, Sun 12–7pm

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About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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