The news that a brewery was officially coming to Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood first hit email inboxes and social media sites late July 2015, when Bryn Mawr Brewing Co. announced it had signed a 10-year lease in an 18,000-square-foot warehouse in the @Glenwood development. A backyard waterfall, natural springs for the brewery’s future beer, and, most importantly, a brewery in one of the few Minneapolis neighborhoods without a local watering hole to call its own.
Then, earlier this month, Bryn Mawr Brewing impressed everyone by announcing it had raised $1.2 million in less than three months thanks to 40 key investors, all of whom took the leap after talking to founder and president Dan Justesen and seeing the space. (The waterfall was a big selling point, Justesen joked yesterday on the phone.)
That was followed by a minor setback, in the form of an untimely name change.
Technically, the change is bringing the brewery full circle—just not exactly by choice. Justesen announced in a press release last week that when he originally started the process of building his brewery, two years ago, he and his team christened themselves Utepils Brewing. They only later decided to adopt the Bryn Mawr name after finding a site location in that neighborhood.
But then Justesen got a call from an Oregon-based, lawyer-owned winery with a similar name. Bryn Mawr Brewing was a no-go. Luckily, Justesen says, the brewery’s original name had stuck enough with fans and friends of the brewery, so Utepils it is.
(Little education about the name, via the brewery’s website: Utepils (OOH-ta-pils) is the Norwegian word for “the first beer enjoyed outdoors in the sunshine after a long, dark winter.” Ute means “outside;” pils means “beer.”)
Throughout all of this, though, no one besides a handful of people knew who would be helming the fermentation tanks of this soon-to-be brewery. Today, that all changes as Utepils Brewing reveals its head brewer.
This moment has been one-and-a-half years in the making, Justesen says, recalling that it all started when he was getting a beer at The Glockenspiel with his friend Mike Miziorko, formerly of Summit Brewing and Mankato Brewery, now the product development manager of BSG. Justesen had just made it official that he was starting a brewery, and asked Miziorko who he’d recommend being his head brewer. Miziorko thought about it a while, then gave Justesen his top choice.
It was a local guy—a guy making some of the best beer in the state with one of the best breweries in the state. So Justesen set up a meeting with said brewer, whom he’s been referring to as “Ewald” up until today, told him his plan (which involved Ewald having free reign over every aspect of designing the brewhouse, from fermenter tanks to floor tiles), asked if he wanted to be part of it, and, a short while later, had his guy.
That guy is Eric Harper, from Summit Brewing.
“It’s been a really fun experience,” Justesen says of working with Harper. “A dozen people knew who he was. The majority of our investors didn’t even know. Everyone thinks I know all these things about brewing, because Eric’s been crafting my emails to all these beer industry people—most of whom he’s good friends with (laughs)—but really it’s been all him. I’m excited for everyone to know who will be making our beer.”
Harper said that while the decision to leave Summit was a difficult one, the opportunity to brew styles he enjoys, as well as the European feel to the brewery, were big factors that swayed him into saying yes to Justesen and Utepils.
“When I imagine creating a brewery from the ground up for myself, Utepils Brewing is that place,” Harper said. “One of the things that helped in my decision was Dan’s recognition of the importance of quality. He understood the need to include a sophisticated brewery lab in his plan, in addition to quality equipment and ingredients, in order to make great beers. I think the Utepils team that he’s built is the ultimate reflection of that. The strength of the team is really what gives me confidence in our future success.”
Justesen and Harper told Mark Stutrud and Damian McConn, of Summit Brewing, about the upcoming announcement last week and are working with Summit to make Harper’s transition from there to Utepils as smooth as possible.
“Eric’s exit from Summit will be very professional,” Justesen said. “It will be a long transition to make sure Summit is okay and everyone has what they need.” He added that he anticipates Harper will be with Utepils full-time starting in February.
But first, a trip to Europe. Justesen and his wife, Harper, and Jim Moore, CFO and partner of Utepils, will be traveling to Germany and Salzburg, Austria, to inspect their fermentation tanks, brewhouse, and kegging equipment. They’ll also be doing a bit of sampling and homebrewing along the way, all in the name of research, of course.
As for what Harper will be brewing with his European-made equipment, Justesen said three beers are for sure going to be in the initial lineup: a traditional hefeweizen, an altbier, and a Czech-style pilsner made using special hops from Bohemia Hop Company. The hops, which Justesen says aren’t distributed to the United States but for which he was able to “cut a deal,” are currently in Harper’s fridge, ready to be brewed into what will soon be his signature pils.
If all goes well with “the layers of contractor and government regulations,” Justesen says Utepils will open in spring 2016. They’ll start with 50–100 barrel batches and self-distribute, locally as well as in outstate Minnesota.