Meet the Swedish Brewery That’s Changing the Way We Think About Craft Beer
If you created a Venn diagram representing the worlds of beer and fashion, you’d be liable to get two nearly discrete circles, joined only by Swedish brewing team Omnipollo. Consisting of Henok Fentie (the liquid half, a longtime home brewer-turned pro) and Karl Grandin (the aesthetic half, co-founder of the popular Cheap Monday clothing brand), the like-minded duo has, in its short life, shaken up the craft market on both taste and visual fronts.
“Me and Karl work independently,” says Fentie. “I write recipes [and] brew and Karl creates art, yet we’re in constant conversation about what influences us at a specific time.”
The two crossed paths and began discussing the insular craft beer scene in Sweden and abroad. They both felt it needed to be recontextualized; in a sense, it needed to be made more fashionable in order to appeal to more people. A partnership, then, between a brewer and a designer made perfect sense. They began official production as Omnipollo—as in, “omnipotent” + “chicken”—in 2011.
Just three years later, the gypsy brewers (i.e., wanderers with no brewery of their own, instead utilizing the facilities of friends around the globe) were voted one of the Top 100 Brewers in the World by RateBeer.com.
Currently, the pair exports goods to roughly 20 markets, a number that's growing rapidly. “Our largest market after Sweden is the U.S., where we work very closely with our importer,” says Fentie. “Response there has been great, and we just came back from brewing in Pennsylvania [at Tired Hands Brewing Co.] and Oklahoma [at Prairie Artisan Ales].”
Fentie’s eclectic recipes have been key in Omnipollo’s success and its insistence on moving from niche to niche. Fan of bitter? Crisp? Fruity? Rich? Sour? They've got you covered. Then there’s the high-concept packaging, courtesy of Grandin, which includes such out-there efforts as Yellow Belly, an imperial stout produced in collaboration with U.K.’s Buxton Brewery. Modeled after peanut butter biscuits but brewed without biscuits, butter, or peanuts, the bottle comes wrapped in white paper with nothing but two black dots above the beer’s name. It resembles, not unintentionally, a Ku Klux Klansman—a bold visual statement for a simple bottle of beer. The brewers offered the following in the commercial description: "Taste, enjoy, and don’t be prejudiced."
“Karl [is] the most talented graphic mind in Sweden and, in my mind, the world,” says Fentie. “I think that [his] mind-bending artwork gave us extra lives whenever I went too far out on the experimental limb.”
Fentie and Grandin recently parlayed their momentum as gypsy brewers into a brick-and-mortar venture (an uncommon move), in the form of Omnipollos hatt (116 46, Hökens gata 3, 116 46 Stockholm). It’s a homey pizza bar in Stockholm forged in collaboration with Swedish outfit Pizzahatt. Offering "new-school" pies and an array of Omnipollo taps, the space itself almost resembles a Being John Malkovich-esque portal into the brain-space of its creators, featuring Grandin’s colorfully illustrative touches. “The idea is to put all our effort into the small stuff around these 10 taps, cleanliness, temperature, gas blend, pouring technique, glass care, etc. Ultimately providing an uncluttered and memorable beer experience,” says Fentie.
If you’re not in Sweden, or are simply unable to make a stop at Omnipollos hatt, the beers are pretty impossible to miss on a shelf if you reside in one of their distribution channels. (In the U.S., check their distributor’s website 12PercentImports.com for availability.) Whether it’s their mango lassi-inspired Bianca or Hypnopompa, their bourbon barrel-aged stout with marshmallow and vanilla beans, the pair's creations are rare and exciting.