Utepils Brewing is making a statement at their getaway location in Minneapolis’ @Glenwood development in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. The brewery will open with the state’s sixth-largest brewhouse on February 18.
Aiming high was always the plan. Founder Dan Justesen has been part of the Minnesota beer scene for the better part of this millennium, working at Vine Park in St. Paul and with the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Over the past decade he’s heard his peers frequently talking about how they wished they’d started bigger. He’s also noted the rapidly changing demand for local beer. As a co-owner of Vine Park in the early 2000s, he recalls being one of the first breweries to sell growlers.
“People drove from Maple Grove, Rochester, and Hudson because it was so cool and new,” he remembers. “Now, somebody in Maple Grove has to drive past three breweries to get to me,” he summarizes.
That sense of plenty fueled his Europe-meets-Minnesota focus at Utepils, which takes its name from the Norwegian word that roughly translates to the first beer outside after a long winter. The location is a 18,000-square-foot warehouse with access to natural springs used by the former Glenwood-Inglewood Company. The beer styles and decor draw from the Old World beer halls, but with a modern high-tech twist. Down the line, Utepils hopes to elevate that Old World experience with an expansive biergarten along Bassett Creek, which runs alongside the brewery.
Utepils’ layout was inspired by a visit to the beer spas of Chodová Planá, where Justesen spent a memorable day of basking in history and beer culture, and sharing laughs with a group of non-English speaking Russians. At Utepils, he hopes to convey that same sense of escape.
Upon entry, visitors are taken on a step back through beer history. On the right is a mint green wall that is a nod to the Wurstkuchl, a 12th century beer and sausage house in Regensburg, Germany. On the left, a copper lauter grant rescued from a Bavarian brewery has been installed as a public filling station for the site’s spring water. Further down the walkway, flanked by towering German-made fermenters and brewhouse, visitors arrive in a cozy taproom that looks out into the neighboring park. Hanging above the bar is an original copper kettle top from Brauerei im Füchschen in Germany.
“It’s a journey where you leave your work or the baseball field or wherever, and now you’re coming into a new place. We want to give you this deceleration zone and to tell a story along the way,” he explains.
While Utepils’ taproom is an inviting space, one need look no further that the state-of-the-art brewhouse to see that the brewery is first and foremost about production.
“We decided from the beginning that, if we were going to do something, we were going to do something right,” Justesen laughs under the shadow of his towering, ultra-efficient 50-barrel tanks. It’s a high-tech brewhouse manufactured by Germany’s Esau & Hueber and is the first of its kind installed in the U.S. “We decided we were going to build a big locomotive and never change it. We can add on more locomotive cars,” he explains, but the brewhouse is built to last as is.
With a focus on energy efficiency, the brewing system uses vacuum technology to lower the boiling point and to capture heat. It will save on the electric bill but, more importantly, he says, it keeps the beer in pristine condition. “It’s optimized for light colored beers,” he explains. “We don’t scorch. We get a lighter, blonder, beautiful beer.” Utepils plans to showcase a house Pilsner as their flagship with other classic European lagers rounding out their beer roster. Summit veteran Eric Harper is leading recipe development.
By opening so large, Utepils can brew time-consuming lagers without needing to push ales to turn a profit. He thinks of lager as a classic that never goes out of style, like blue jeans or Red Wing boots. They’ll sell it by the pint in the taproom and at bars, and in cans at local stores.
“Everybody lies in this ale kingdom but 90% of beer is lager,” Justesen says. He enjoys IPAs, cherry sours, and other styles, but at the end of the day, it’s about something you can sip a few of, he says. “I want to be your six- or 12-pack guy, but good beer, not macro lager.”
That’s not to say they’re opposed to brewing ales. “We’ll make an IPA and hopefully it will be successful,” he explains, noting market demands, but ultimately Utepils’ identity will be rooted in well-built lagers.
At the end of the day, Justesen sees Utepils as continuing classic beer culture but without the hype.
“We don’t want to be the coolest brewery in town. We just want to deliver delicious beer forever in styles people want to drink more than one of,” Justesen summarizes. “I’m not enamored with the word ‘craft,’ I’m enamored with the word ‘delicious.’”
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
Brewers: Eric Harper (formerly of Summit Brewing and New Glarus Brewing)
Beer: Kölsch-style, Czech-style Pilsner, Bavarian-style hefeweizen, Düsseldorf-style alt, and Belgian-style IPA
Address: 225 Thomas Ave N, #700, Minneapolis, MN 55405
Hours: Wed–Thur Noon–10pm; Fri–Sat Noon–11pm; Sun Noon–6pm