Brewery Bound: Omni Brewing Company
The namesake for Omni Brewing Company comes from the concept of bringing everyone into the fold. The word omni means all or of every kind. This philosophy not only applies to the beer styles they brew, but also the people they want to welcome into their brewery space. I am happy to be able to say I understand how this ideal manifests itself in every aspect of Omni Brewing Company’s culture after my first visit to their taproom.
Earlier this summer, I was enjoying an outdoor evening of perfection at Utepils Brewing Company. The weather, company, and beer were all tremendous. As I was waiting for said company to arrive, I thought I saw Zack Ward and his family across the outdoor beer garden.
I was 95% sure it was him because I had seen him in passing at events and he was wearing a black hat that had the word FAD written in gold on the front-a reference to their incredible, award-winning hazy DIPA. However, not wanting to encroach on their family time, I didn’t go over. Also, it was early on in the summer, and I wanted to obey the pandemic rules of engaging strangers in public.
Later on, as I was checking my Instagram, I saw Zack respond to my pic. That online interaction was the catalyst for a fun afternoon trip up to Maple Grove for my first visit to Omni Brewing Company.
Omni Brewing Company was on my list of breweries to visit this summer. Not solely because I had not been there previously, but because I have observed, from afar, an uptick in their quality over the last few years. In fact, I think it was kismet that I saw Zack in passing at Utepils because only a week before, a friend had shared a few of their beers with me and I was quite impressed.
So, as google maps leads me through a part of suburbia that I am not quite familiar with, I ultimately reach my destination on a sunny Minnesota Wednesday in early August. A slight breeze greets me as I step out of my car. As I make my way through their outdoor patio and into the brewery, I see Zack. He is wearing a Minnesota Twins Gaiter, which immediately lets me know I am in good company. We bump elbows-the new normal of Covid-19 greetings-in lieu of a handshake and say our hellos.
I can usually get the measure of a person right away. After interviewing countless brewery owners and head brewers over the years, it is pretty obvious who enjoys sitting down for an interview and who doesn’t. I also understand that now, more than ever, thanks to the pandemic, there is always a lot of work to do at a brewery. So, I know Zack is doing me a huge favor by taking time out of a work day to chat.
Time for a Brewery Tour
As Zack starts giving me the lay of the land, I pick up really quick on how excited he is to show off his brewery. Zack apologizes several times for it being messy, but I assure him that this is all par for the course. I am in his space and he need not apologize for anything.
I notice that they have gotten pretty much as much out of their space as possible. The building used to be a Schwan’s Distribution Building and was appealing to Zach because of the layout. Now, with garage doors on each side of the building and proper drainage, the building is home to a 15 barrel brewhouse that kicks out a lot of beer in an efficient way. Omni brewed around 2100 barrels last year. Despite a pandemic, they are optimistic that they will hit around 2400 barrels for 2020.
I should let it be known that Zack made sure I did not go on this tour empty-handed. Being the hospitable man that he is, Zack offered me a beer right from the get-go. This is always something I appreciate, but do not expect.
I opted to go with the Oktoberfest. Yes, I know that just hearing about drinking an Oktoberfest in August probably makes your soul rage with the heat of a million scalding baths, but seasonal creep is a thing-deal with it. The Oktoberfest is malty and has a nice bit of bitterness for balance. It drinks nice and smooth. I really enjoy that it is highlights the roasty nature of the malt.
After a walk around Omni’s brewhouse, we step into a separate room that is separated by a sliding barn door. There are wooden barrels resting peacefully on the back wall and we sit down at a table to chat. I am curious to get the story of how Omni Brewing came to be. I was talking to another local beer luminary once who was bemoaning the fact that every brewery story is the same. Person starts homebrewing, becomes enamored and then starts a brewery. While I will agree that professional breweries evolve from homebrewing, I believe that each story is unique.
Zack started brewing back in 2009 in Milwaukee. He would brew beer with his card club in college. Being in entrepreneur is definitely in Zack’s blood-he had his own lawn service in college-and the itch to create a business of his own seemed a natural choice. Zack explains that he had a quarter-life crisis after putting his degree of mechanical engineering to use, he was trying to decide on whether or not to apply to an MBA program. Along the way, he met Justin Walsh, who would eventually become a business partner in Omni Brewing. Zack would stay up until 4 am writing business plans and beer recipes when he was supposed to be applying to an MBA program. He realized that opening up a nano brewery was really where his passion was leading him.
Zack spent a lot of time in Minneapolis going to taprooms, specifially Nordeast and the North Loop where Justin lived. Zack saw so many things in the taprooms of Dangerous Man, 612, and Fulton that he wanted to bring to the northern suburbs. Initially, Zack and Justin looked at Medina as a possible landing spot, but that never materialized due to some city code issues that would have pushed out the timeline for opening.
Then, they discovered a building that used to be a Schwan’s Distributing site in December of 2104 and wound up buying the building in June of 2015. Now that a building was secured, they needed a name. After many texts sent back and forth, Zack and Justin decided on Omni. The word means all or of every kind. This seems apropos because the philosophy of the brewery is to bring people into the fold. Their variety of beer styles are welcoming to everybody. In September of 2015, Omni Brewing Company opened its doors to the public. Omni has grown steadily since their inception and in January of this year, they added 10 new tap lines to assure that they will always have 16-18 offerings to choose from.
The Quest for Quality at Omni Brewing
When Omni Brewing opened up in September of 2015, I didn’t rush out to go there. Why, you might ask? Well, back then, the bar for quality and consistency at Minnesota breweries was not as high. So, the general consensus around bloggers and influencers was that you can give a brewery 6 months to figure out their systems and routines. The years passed and more breweries opened up. I found myself asking around to folks in the industry and people who consider themselves beer geeks about all sorts of breweries. The answer I would get back about Omni was, “They are ok, but you probably don’t need to make a special trip.”
Then about two years ago, the story started changing. Instead of hearing that I could wait to check out Omni Brewing, the narrative shifted to Omni having upped their game, and I should put it on my list. Now, we are talking around the latter part of 2018. That moment in time coincided with a lot of breweries outside the 494/694 loop opening up.
So, Omni has been on my short list of breweries I need to get to for about 2 years. I asked Zack about what specifically happened to allow them to really hit their stride. Zack explained that, frankly, that 2018 was when their gained a better sense of who they were as a brewery. Zack explained, “If you aren’t always trying to improve, you’re doing it wrong.”
A pivotal moment in that journey of improvement was after Zack took a 2-week master brewer course. In addition to technical and systemic knowledge, Zack emerged from that course with a lot more confidence in his abilities as a brewer as well as what he felt Omni should be. “Let’s own our backyard (NW suburbs)” Let’s get back to Omni’s identity for a minute.
Zack understands that it is a tough road to hoe if you anoint yourself as a NEIPA or lager brewery. So, Omni brews a little of everything. This is smart given the variety of patrons they have coming into the brewery. Their customer base runs the beer gamut of macro-drinkers to beer geeks like me. A lot of this idea came from the fact that Zack used to spend a lot of time behind the bar and because of the increasing demands of his time, was able to do that less and less. He wants to make sure that his entire staff understands the importance creating a welcoming culture for everyone. Zack also wants his staff to feel that they have a say in how they create the culture in the brewery. This feel of everyone having a say has created a huge buy-in amongst the Omni Brewing staff.
Omni Brewing is more than just a FAD
Every good brewery has a beer that kind of captures lightning in a bottle. . . or can. FAD is Omni Brewing’s darling that captured the Best of Show award at the 2019 Unlabeled Hazy IPA event put on by The Growler. I would stop short of saying it is the beer that put Omni on the map, but it certainly garnered quite a bit of notoriety for them.
Initially brewed for Omni’s second anniversary party, FAD is a DIPA that checks all the boxes for what you look for in a hazy IPA. In fact, it sold so well out of the taproom that they had to make it a recurring favorite and started canning it the following summer. This beer has a wonderful juiciness to it and I can see how droves of people flock to it to get their hop fix.
However, Omni Brewing is more than just FAD. They have a stable of beers that span the continuum of styles. In fact, I worked my way through 2 entire flights while I was there to fully immerse myself in the Omni experience.
With the first flight, I went with some easy to access offerings, knowing full-well I wanted to save the maltier beers for later. In this first flight, I have 3 of their mainstays as well as a summer seasonal.
Farmer Gerry’s Golden Ale-4.1% ABV 7 IBU
This beer is light in body with a citrusy lemon aroma. It drinks crisp and refreshing. This is a popular option for those seeking something light with a lot of character.
Hue Hefe-4.5% ABV 7 IBU
I liked that I could pick out the clove, bubblegum, and banana in the aroma. The banana intensifies as it warms. Visually, there is a nice bit of haziness to make it look the part of a Hefeweizen. I would absolutely enjoy a full pint of this seasonal go-to of mine.
Lake Day Session Pale Ale-4.9% ABV 30 IBU
Session pale ales used to be a style that I despised due to their lack of balance. Lake Day, however, is a bit of a revelation given the fact that is is well-balanced and delicious. There is a bready, cracker malt base that combines well with citrus, herbal, and grassy hop flavors. It finishes slightly dry with a nice earthiness. I could drink a lot of this on their patio.
FAD Hazy Double IPA-8% ABV 40 IBU
FAD is an award-winning hazy DIPA and all the accolades are warranted. I said earlier that this checks all the boxes for what I look for in this style. Let me explain a little more about that. First, a good hazy has to have a pillowy mouthfeel. This is tricky and often separates the contenders from the pretenders. Second a good hazy needs to burst with citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Third, and often times overlooked, it has to finish with some bitterness so the entire sip is balanced. FAD does all these things and is a fantastic beer. Tread lightly, though, because at 8% ABV, this beer is deceptively smooth and could sneak up on you.
For my second flight, I am opting to go for 3 out of 4 malty options and then finishing with the sour.
Mike, Mike, Mike, English Mild Ale-3.5% ABV 13 IBU
Anytime I see an English Mild Ale on a tap list, I do a mental cartwheel. This style, when done right, combines all the satisfying flavor and aroma elements of malt with the low ABV of an easy-drinking lager. This beer has rich and satisfying malty notes of leather, toffee in the aroma. The body is light-medium and there is a little hint of caramel sweetness to balance out the roasty coffee and toasted bread crust notes of bitterness. As it warms, there is a bit of vanilla in the sweetness as well. This beer is well-made and a great options for those who want to camp out in the taproom with friends for a few hours. At 3.5% ABV, you can have a couple of these and be no worse for the wear.
Shanty Town Brown Ale-4.3% ABV 20 IBU
Another great example of a classic style done well. This brown ale has great dark toast roastiness in the aroma. Flavors of coffee and a little dark chocolate give this beer a delectable depth. I wish more breweries could do a solid brown ale. I view this style as very much a throwback to what first got me into craft beer.
Night Cap Imperial Stout-7.6% ABV 33 IBU
The name says it all-the perfect ending to a day of beer drinking. Night Cap has a lot going starting with the leather, raisin, and slight hints of ancho chili in the aroma. There is a perfect marriage of bitterness from all the dark malt that manifests itself in a rich dark chocolate flavor and the body of the beer which is rich and velvety. There is some sweetness that comes across to me as molasses and there is nothing cloying in this beer to register as too sweet. I think that this would be fantastic to sip on sitting at a bonfire.
Melt Strawberry Lemonade Sour-6.3% ABV and 15 IBU
In the spirit of transparency, I am quite picky when it comes to sours. I love barrel-aged sours that have been doing their thing for months in the corner of a brewery. When it comes to fruited kettle sours, I tend to be a little wary due to the hit or miss nature of how the brewery creates them. Some come off as just puckering, acid-reflux inducers that have me popping Tums like a coked-up dude at a rave. Others seem to be balanced and have a lot of really natural fruit flavors in them and are incredibly enjoyable.
So, with apprehension, I take a sip of my taster and am pleasantly surprised. I enjoy the way that the tartness balances out the sweet in this one. There is some acidity, but not too much. I could drink a whole tulip of this easily because there isn’t anything artificial in the flavor.
Some Final Thoughts About Omni Brewing Company
After sampling 9 different beers that Omni was pouring, seeing all the space there is to enjoy a beer, and getting to talk with Zack about what Omni Brewing is all about, I can happily say that I will be back. This is a brewery for the people. This is a place where everyone can feel welcome. We need more of that in our world nowadays.
I know that going to a brewery during Covid-19 is different. What I felt on my visit to Omni was the familiar energy that comes from talking about beer. When I left, the patio was filling up and there was a line for beer. I implore you to check out Omni Brewing Company if you have not already. They have a wide range of well-made beers that cater to every taste. Their space if friendly and welcoming. Omni is a rich addition to the NW suburbs and they
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .