Brewery plans to open downtown Somerset
Somerset may soon have a new brewery at 350 Main St. if all goes according to plan for Trevor Wirtanen and Matt Wallace of Oliphant Brewing.
After Wirtanen and Wallace assuaged a neighbor’s concerns at its May 1 meeting, the Somerset Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend the village board issue a conditional use permit for the brewery.
Oliphant Brewing, which will be adjacent to the Liquor Depot, will occupy the southwest corner of the warehouse facing Depot Street.
Wirtanen said the brewery is currently under construction in the warehouse space. They chose the 1,200-square-foot location because everything they need is in place due to the building’s former use as a 7-Up bottling plant.
They like Somerset and the surrounding area because they think it has potential for craft beverage tourism.
“With the established companies like Brady’s Brewhouse and 45th Parallel, and the prospective ones like us, Flatcap Distillery and the second facility of Barley John’s, Somerset and New Richmond could become a destination for those coming from either Eau Claire or Madison or the Twin Cities seeking a great craft beverage experience,” Wirtanen said.
Wallace and Wirtanen have been planning to open a brewery for three years. Wallace has worked in the craft beer industry for almost seven years. He is a copy writer and taproom associate at Dangerous Man Brewing Company in Minneapolis, where he has done cellar work. He has also homebrewed for four years, professionally for one-and-a-half.
Wirtanen has worked as a production technician at Lift Bridge Brewing Company in Stillwater and as a brewer at Dave’s BrewFarm in Wilson. His schooling is in music, but he became obsessed with homebrewing after craft beers piqued his interest.
“We formerly were in an alternating proprietorship agreement with another brewery in Wisconsin, but have since decided to move into our own location,” Wirtanen said. “This meant halting production while we outfit this new space, but also means greater freedom and control over our standards and process. We feel like it was the best choice for moving Oliphant forward.”
The name came from a long list of potential options. According to Wirtanen, the word has many meanings, including the name of a Scottish clan, the name of a farm where the poet Rabbie Burns used to work and the war elephant in the “Lord of the Rings.”
“Oliphant is a name that has many meanings, and they seem to get weirder and weirder,” Wirtanen said. “We’re pretty happy about that. To us, it represents the multi-faceted and creative nature of brewing and running your own business. The name is part of our imagination and keeps us constantly remembering to be ourselves.”
The men want to have a continuously rotating line of beers, so there is always something fresh and new to try. They plan to have eight to 12 taplines in the taproom for customers to sample.
A few of their brews are a red rye ale named Cmdr. Wiliam T. Ryeker; a milk stout featuring Hefeweizen yeast dubbed Milk-Man Man-Baby; an amber-wheat ale called Land Eels vs. Sea Snakes; and an “ever-changing” single hop pale ale called EnnuiPA.
For now, the batches will be three-barrel batches (31 gallons per barrel) of 93 gallons total.
During taproom hours, customers will be able to buy 32-ounce growlers of beer. Tastings will be offered, with a hoped for turnaround time of 45 minutes per group.
“We don’t expect -- due to our size -- that people will want to stay and hang out with large, rowdy groups of friends,” Wirtanen told commission members.
Neighbor Todd Kocon, who lives at 328 Main St. and shares a driveway with Liquor Depot, was concerned at the Plan Commission hearing about the smell that could potentially come from the brewing process, the hours of operation, the lighting, noise from the taproom and planned patio, parking and trespassing.
“I’m pro-business for Somerset, but I don’t want it to come at my expense,” Kocon said.
Wirtanen addressed each of Kocon’s concerns one by one.
He said they will brew their beer in small batches (less than 100 gallons), which involves about four to six hours of boiling. He estimated there may be about one hour per batch when the smell is noticeable, but said it will be limited. He likened it to the scent of bread baking.
The hours the operation will be open to the public are Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. The taproom will seat 15 people at a time, so the potential traffic should be limited.
Wirtanen said they hope to have outdoor seating in the driveway facing Depot Street, which is on the other side of the warehouse from Kocon’s residence. The brewers don’t plan to add any more lighting to the location, except a security light, which also faces Depot Street.
Delivery vehicles will use the driveway leading out to Depot Street, and not the one Kocon shares with the Liquor Depot. Wallace and Wirtanen promised to cordon off a stairway that leads from behind their space up to a grassy area near Kocon’s home to deter customers from accessing that parcel.
Plan Commission members said the noise, should there be any from customers in the tap room or patio area, is an enforcement issue.
“If they bring attention to themselves, the chief is on it,” village president Jeff Johnson said.
When questions of licensing were broached, former village clerk Pam Donohoe said breweries and wineries are licensed by the state. The duo may have to apply for a beer garden permit, should they move ahead with plans to have a patio area.
Oliphant Brewing should be open to the public for growler sales by June 1, with the taproom opening shortly thereafter. To keep updated on progress, go to oliphantbrewing.com or facebook.com/oliphantbrewing.
The village board will vote on the conditional use permit at its May 20 meeting.