Old Hamm’s complex is getting fishy, green, boozey and hoppy

The new site of Flat Earth Brewing is shown on a blustery day on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Since John Warner, the owner of the company, started cleaning it with a crew, they’ve painted the trim black, added glass brick windows along the main floor, and cleaned the entire first floor. (photos by Patrick Larkin/Review)

Tilapia swim in a 3,500 gallon tank at Urban Organics. The fish should be ready to be eaten by early summer if all goes well.

Some spinach grows inside the first floor of Urban Organics. The place is already in motion, with its first batch of fish growing for an early summer harvest, and several herbs and leafy greens just weeks away from harvest.

John Warner throws old wood into the back of his pickup truck while cleaning up what is to be the grand entrance of the brewery.

Bob McManus, part owner of 11 Wells Distillery, which will be located in the old Hamm’s brewery, tidies up around his empty warehouse space. He’s hoping to start distilling gin, bourbon and rye whiskey, rum, and a special corn-based alcohol called Minnesota 13.

A still that will eventually be located inside of 11 Wells Distillery sits waiting in a corner of the Urban Organics building.

Projects are going swimmingly

Patrick Larkin
news editor

With the cold weather coming on in the Twin Cities, the business owners at the old Hamm’s Brewery are pushing forward.

Tilapia are swimming around in Urban Organics; Flat Earth Brewing is poised to put in brewing equipment, and 11 Wells Distillery is power-washing its way into operation.

“The whole thing is really exciting,” said Cecile Bedor, director of St. Paul’s Planning and Economic Development department. The PED department is overseeing the transition of new businesses into the city-owned former Hamm’s brewery. The new enterprises will occupy red-brick buildings on the south side of Minnehaha Avenue, just east of the Minnehaha and Payne Avenue intersection.

A lot of progress has come since July -- the city is now close to having a purchase agreement arranged for Urban Organics, which would mean the city-owned building would officially belong to the urban fish farm.

As for Flat Earth and 11 Wells, they’ve both submitted renovation plans to the city, and are waiting on building permits. Once those come through, it’s time to brew.

The company owners were eager to show off their updates on a cold, blustery day. After all, they were already planning on being there, toiling away on their projects.


Bob McManus, who just got into his building in August, has power-washed the entire place, floor to ceiling. That’s bounds ahead of where he was at in July, when he was still playing around with architectural plans.

His eyes grow wide as he talks about the five liquors he’ll be making, hopefully within a couple of months.

He lists off the liquors he’ll make as if it were a simple feat: rye and bourbon whiskey, gin, rum and a special Prohibition-era brew called Minnesota 13, based on a corn developed by the University of Minnesota.

He and his partner Lee Egbert will be doing that all themselves, distilling the booze with as many local grains as they can source.

McManus is hopping on a growing trend of distilling in Minnesota, which was made a lot easier by a provision of the so-called “Surly Bill” which allowed microbrewers to sell their products in taprooms back in 2011. It also came with a piece of law that brought down the costs of making liquor -- it used to cost $30,000 to get a license to distill in Minnesota. Now, it costs as little as $1,100.

Walking around the vast, 10,000-square-foot warehouse space while also fielding phone calls, the former financial analyst seems very motivated to get his new business up and running.

An avid homebrewer, McManus’ venture into distilling is a big step up into the world of professional alcohol production.

McManus has dreams of having a tasting room in the space, not unlike the microbrewed beer taproom experience. For now, there are laws in the way of that. But McManus argues that sampling whiskey or gin is no different than beer or wine.

And your average consumer is not going to buy an unknown whiskey on a whim, he argues. But for now, he’s just hoping to get going on making liquor.

Fishing and edible greens

Tilapia galore are swimming in the Urban Organics building at this moment, and cilantro, parsley and kale are nearly half a foot tall.

Walking into the building, visitors are hit with warm, humid air, a slight fishy smell and a lot of bright lights.

“It’s always sunny in here,” says Dave Haider, the owner, contrasting the tropical climate inside the building with the cold winds and gray sky outdoors.

In a month or so, Haider said the company will be ready to harvest some of the plants, if all goes according to plan. Urban Organics is working with a local food processor to set up a permanent arrangement, wherein the processor picks up the company’s produce in bulk and distributes it throughout the Twin Cities.

They’re working on a similar arrangement for the fish. The plan is to have the Fish Guys, based in Minneapolis, process the fish. The fish gutters still do all the processing by hand, Haider said.

At present, Haider estimates Urban Organics has 600 to 700 larger fish, as well as about 2,000 small fish each in two of the 3,500 gallon tanks. If all goes well, the company’s first harvest of fish will be next summer.

This is just a fraction of the roughly 15,000 fish that should be swimming in the facility at any given time, once the business is fully operational on all of its six floors.

Right now, Haider is just hoping to get operations in order on the first floor.

So far, things are going swimmingly, Haider said.


John Warner, majority owner of Flat Earth Brewing, is itching to get his new beer brewing space up and running.

“Nothing’s going to derail me,” he said while lugging some wood out of what will be the main entrance room at Flat Earth Brewing. Warner has been toiling at the new site for Flat Earth Brewing since the spring.

The brewery obtained building permits on Friday, Nov. 1 to get things rolling on the two giant buildings. Warner’s in the process of purchasing from the city for a price tag of roughly $30,000. In total, the buildings have about 37,000 square feet of space, according to Dave Gontarek from St. Paul PED.

Warner said he’s feeling a lot of pressure to get things in order before winter. Once the snow flies, he said the cost of moving equipment and pouring concrete goes up significantly, and he has to do both before the facility is fully operational.

He’s also waiting on utility hookups. Despite the pressures, he remains positive about the project overall.

“All the vibes are good,” he said.

Since the summer, they’ve put in a number of glass-bricked windows, and have power-washed, cleaned and painted the entire first floor of the large building where they’ll brew beer.

They’re shooting for having a beer brewing by New Year’s Eve, he said. As soon as they get the equipment in, they’ll be more than doubling their current rate of production.

At their site off West Seventh Street near the Highland Golf Course in St. Paul, their capacity is 75 barrels -- in the new space, they’ll be operating at 165 barrels to start.

And that’s just in a small part of the first floor -- they’ve got three floors in total to work with.

“That’ll keep us busy,” Warner said.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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