Across the St. Croix, in Somerset, Wisconsin, yet another new brewery is begging Minnesotans to make a short trip for craft beer. A 1,000-square-foot operation called Oliphant has joined the nearby American Sky and Pitchfork, and is serving more varieties of beer than their size might suggest.
The tiny brewery’s name refers to an enormous mythical creature. “Oliphant itself comes from some strange shared dreams, comics, fantasy, science fiction, and anthropological curiosity; it’s that big, strange thing in the room,” says Matt Wallace, brewer and co-owner. One of the strange things in the room is the ongoing competitive relationship between owners Trevor Wirtanen and Wallace, who have been friendly adversaries since adolescence.
The two brewers have been creating beer together for about five years, and the decision to open a brewery was made about three years ago, mostly as a way to avoid the corporate world. The physical space offers flexibility to the new business, as the brewery, in a former 7-Up bottling plant, and the adjoining liquor store are owned by the Wallace family. Expansion is in the long-range forecast, with the potential of utilizing the 10,000 square feet of space next door.
Wisconsin liquor laws, too, were a factor in the choice of location as they offer fewer hurdles to distribution, growler sales, and Sunday sales than do Minnesota’s laws. The Oliphant tap room is open Thursday through Sunday.
Wallace and Wirtanen are genuinely hands-on brewers, having physically built much of the taproom themselves. Their vision for Oliphant is one of slow and steady growth, but with double the draft lines of most new breweries, they are already offering beer lovers much to be excited about. Classic styles are few, with more focus on hybrids like amber hefewiezen, rye saison, and wheat milk stout. New beers will be available weekly, and once funds come in, the goal is to offer stainless 32-oz. growlers.
Above all, Oliphant considers customer relationships sacred and seeks to enter into a conversation with guests. Wallace worked at Dangerous Man, helping to shape the successful brewery into a taproom drawing regulars and out-of-towners alike. The two young brewers aim to “lift the veil a little” by consistently spending time in the Oliphant tap room, giving personal insight into draft offerings and brewing techniques and bringing enthusiasts closer to the brewing process. This attitude will likely draw passionate drinkers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond. With the competitive Twin Cities market nearby, quality beer will be required to keep them coming back.
Oliphant Brewing, 350 Main St #2, Somerset, Wisconsin 54025; 651.705.6070; Thu-Fri 4-9pm, Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-7pm Mon-Wed CLOSED