ALTOONA — The newest small brewery and taproom to open in the Chippewa Valley is intended to evoke a Prohibition-era speakeasy, but you don’t need a secret password to get in.
Ombibulous Brewing Co. opened its doors last month in a new building at 1419 Winchester Way, just off Highway 12 on Altoona’s southeast edge.
“We liked the prohibition period and that’s what we were going for,” said Jerrod Dohm, who brews the beer and co-owns the business with wife Michelle.
The Fall Creek couple opted for leather chairs and stools, burgundy paint on the walls and a deeper color of wood in the bar that Jerrod made himself to impart the feeling of a “relaxed speakeasy.” Michelle is planning more decorations inside the building to fit the prohibition theme, including large photos from the 1920s.
The theme extends to the brewery’s peculiar name, which is a term coined by H.L. Mencken, a Maryland journalist who staunchly opposed prohibition.
“I’m ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all,” Mencken is quoted as saying.
Ombibulous’ beers get their names from old-timey sayings as well.
A New England-style IPA has the moniker “Hanky Panky,” while a honey red lager goes by “Bee’s Knees.”
Jerrod has worked on many of the beers at Ombibulous in his six years as a home-brewer, but he’s also been willing to experiment at the business.
Skipping the pilot batch brewers make when trying out a new recipe, he brewed a full tank of a wheat beer using lemon drop hops. When the beer was ready, it made its debut on the menu as “Dewdropper.”
The brewery opened with six beers on tap, but there’s room to add six more as the brewmaster comes up with more varieties and builds up his stock.
Personally, Jerrod prefers malty, dark beers, but said he has a wide palette and brews a variety of beer.
Still, the preference that he and wife Michelle have for the darker brews means that there will always be one of those on tap, such as the “Mug Shot” stout and “Midnight Bootlager” dark lager.
Like many who open up a small brewery, Jerrod began making beer at home as a hobby. He grew more passionate about craft beer, learning more about it before embarking on his own business.
A couple of years ago at a craft brewers conference, Jerrod attended a lecture on terroir — how different growing conditions and climates impact beer in addition to wine — presented by Eric Rykal. That was around the time that Rykal and Mike Blodgett opened up Altoona’s first brewery, Modicum Brewing, 3732 Spooner Ave.
“I’ve been pretty in touch with Jarrod ever since he conceived his thoughts on his brewery,” Rykal said.
The experienced brewer — Rykal worked at Lucette Brewing Co. in Menomonie and the Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire before starting Modicum — shared advice with Jerrod on setting up equipment and the complicated process of licensing.
“We all lend each other a hand whenever we need something,” Rykal said of the craft brewing community.
Ombibulous is joining a fraternity of small breweries and taphouses in Eau Claire, namely Lazy Monk Brewing, the Brewing Projekt, K Point Brewing and Modicum.
“We have five now and they’re all amazing brewers,” Jerrod said.
And while multiple companies in the same field sounds like competition, Jerrod said it doesn’t feel like that and the attitude among his peers is “the more, the merrier.”
“As far as small breweries go, we don’t look at competition at all. In fact quite the opposite,” Rykal said.
Having multiple breweries in the same area helps draw in people from other areas who like to try out different beers.
“A lot of our business is based on beer tourism,” Rykal said, noting that his taproom will see visitors from Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Twin Cities on weekends.
Rykal was among those who attended the July 20 grand opening of Ombibulous — an event the brewery promoted just through Facebook.
The owners were a bit worried their grand opening would be overshadowed by storm clouds and two music festivals that weekend in the area, but Jerrod said it was still “a great showing” with lots of beer sold.
Starting up the new business happened as the Dohm family continues to work their other jobs and go to school.
Jerrod is a pediatric nurse and still picks up a couple shifts a week at the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. His wife works in an Eau Claire dental office.
In addition to Jerrod and Michelle, the family business also runs with help from their son and daughter. Sierra, 23, is working there as a bartender while also studying at Chippewa Valley Technical College to become a nurse. Brevin, 16, isn’t able to come in contact with the beer as he’s still a minor, which keeps his role limited to lugging around supplies and cleaning.
The family are the only employees right now, but Jerrod expects that the business will need to hire sometime in the future.
Keeping his taproom stocked is Jerrod’s main priority for Ombibulous, but for the future he’s considering limited canning and occasionally selling quarter-barrels to area restaurants.
Ombibulous is considered a nanobrewery — able to make beer in three-barrel batches. From the initial 93-gallon tank, the beer then goes into one of the brewery’s five fermenters. This allows Ombibulous to have five different beers in progress at a given time.
Ombibulous features free shuffleboard, complimentary popcorn, board games, patio seating and a fireplace. The business is not planning to make its own food, but allows people to carry in their own and hopes to occasionally host food trucks in the rear parking lot.