a first look at utepils
Perhaps no other brewery has had as much presence before its opening day since 612Brew opened in Northeast Minneapolis. Utepils Brewing has generated buzz for over a year (since about July, 2015, but who’s counting?) prior to opening their doors due to their capital-raising strategies, name change, location, and size.
Formerly founded as Bryn Mawr Brewing, admittedly a much more attractive name, 18,000 square feet makes Utepils a very large brewery. In fact, owner Dan Justesen told the Star Tribune that Utepils is capable of churning out up to 60,000 barrels per year, about half the capacity of Surly’s total production. The expanse is portioned into table seating, bar seating, large, visible stainless fermenters, and 50-barrel brewhouse.
Depending on how busy the space is, 18,000 square feet can either feel surprisingly cozy or unexpectedly cramped. This is an indication of their serious popularity and the anticipation with which they finally opened. The taproom at Utepils showcases an effective use of color, lighting, and branding which help to set the tone as well as set the place apart. In a state with 100 breweries and nearly as many taprooms, the rich copper on a saturated blue-teal lets drinkers know where they are.
The opening list of beers was better than expected based on the general track record for brand-new breweries. One critical quality determinant is head brewer Eric Harper, formerly of Summit Brewing, which is, of course, also known for classic styles with an understated amount of modern flair. Utepils also makes their water source known: Glenwood Inglewood springs that feed the site. According to the founders this spring makes all the difference in brewing. How they do or do not manipulate this water is not made public.
One favorite was the Alt 1848, a classic alt-style beer with slightly nutty character and excellent balance of lightly toasted malt and bitterness. This version is incredibly true-to-style and alt lovers should take note as this north German specialty is hard to come by locally. The aroma isn’t quite perfect, it is sharp in a way, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the experience. The finish is pleasantly on the bitter side, contrasting with the initially sweet profile.
The favorite of our visit was the Ewald the Golden Hefeweizen (first photo) which only promises to be more popular in the warmer months. It possesses strong phenols on aroma and on tasting, including clove, black pepper, and a hint of phenol just bordering on plastic that never becomes too much, even on warming. This recipe could benefit from more carbonation to be entirely traditional, but it is otherwise remarkable.
There wasn’t much special about the Glocal IPA (above, right), a Belgian-style IPA that seemed out of place in light of the other traditional styles. It left me wondering whether a true British hoppy beer would have been the way to go, or, a Belgian abbey-style beer. To merge the two flies in the face of either country. After a few sips, it was clear that hops were the star here, making it an IPA with very little Belgian character. On the positive side, it skirted the pitfall of being too bitter without flavor, and the tangerine finish and fresh cut pine bough flavors were appreciated.
Finally, the Copacetic Kolsch (above, left) was highly anticipated, as the style isn’t easy to master. Getting past the vegetal aroma is tough, and significant diacetyl notes made us apprehensive. However, the taste was very nice with no off-flavors to speak of. Mild esters gave the beer some intrigue, and the brewing team clearly has a handle on fermentation temperatures and techniques for this hybrid type of beer. More diacetyl rest time may help the aroma. The flavor is crisp cereal with a very clean profile and perfect effervescence.
[photo credit: B. Grondin]
Directly translated, the word Utepils means “outside beer” in Norwegian. The owners hope to have a patio available to visitors soon, one that will overlook adjacent Bassett Creek. An expansion of their core beers is underway, with seasonals and specialty releases soon to follow.
In terms of to-go beer, growler sales are reasonable, with $12 fills and $6 glass cost. At least for now, Utepils will trade out any growler for their own, which is an added bonus for those with out-of-state growlers gathering dust. The taproom is located in the Harrison neighborhood and gets busy fast. Parking was not an issue for us, though visitors should be prepared to walk a short distance.