We’re highlighting Minnesota’s 100-plus craft breweries with our new flight series – four short questions for the people behind the beer. This week is Utepils Brewing.
Utepils (you pronounce it “OOH-ta-pilz”) is a Norwegian word that means something like, “The first beer enjoyed outdoors in the sunshine after a long, cold winter." And the 18,000-square-foot taproom and brewhouse aims to weave that experience through everything in the space.
"I don’t sell beer, I sell beer experiences," Justesen said. "Beer is all gone in a couple hours, but those memories of the experience is what makes you want to do it over again. No matter what we do, we are creating a beer experience, not beer."
I sat down with Justesen a few weeks before the brewery opened to try Ewald the Golden, a Bavarian-style hefeweizen, and asked him a flight of questions.
What beer made you fall in love with beer and want to do this for a living?
"My epiphany beer? It's a Great Northern Porter from Summit," Justesen said, pointing out that this epiphany happened in probably the mid-1980s.
"I'd gone through the cheap beer of college and thought I was really cool and sophisticated drinking in Leinenkugel's, and sitting around and I had a Great Northern Porter and went, 'There's a whole lot of flavor and real cool things going on in my mouth right now.' And it's still a great beer," he said.
What's the biggest/funniest blooper you guys have experienced?
"We have an incredibly powerful spent-grain pump," Justesen said, noting they have a pneumatic system that could shoot a football 300 yards.
"So when it started slamming the grain through the pipe, it literally was shaking it and ... we were thinking we would just steer it into the bin, and when it came blasting out, it literally blew the plastic duct off the end of it and completely drenched us," he said, adding there was spent grain 25 feet around, up the walls – "everywhere was covered in dried, spent, stinky grain."
The next day they thought they'd figured it out, but it happened again. Justesen said from his head to his boots was covered in a half-inch of thick grain.
"Yeah, we need to rebuild that system a little more securely than we have now," Justesen said.
What's your biggest pet peeve of others in the brewing industry?
"I think quality. I think that we've seen an industry grow so rapidly, so fast, that even breweries that don't have great beer are still making it because the consumer is still learning. It's like real estate – location, location, location – if you're the only brewery in an area, as long as your beer isn't terrible and you give them a good experience ... it's great," Justesen said.
"But I hate when somebody who has never tried craft beer before goes into a brewery that makes bad beer and they go 'Yeah, that craft beer thing – I don't need that.' We've just turned off a customer – potentially for life – from trying good beer because they experienced a bad beer first. So I think quality control, that every beer is consistently delicious, is our goal, and I would hope every brewery has that same goal and actually commits the resources to make that happen."
In 10-ish words, what would you tell someone to get them to come into your taproom?
"Delicious beer, outdoor beer garden, fun, delicious beer, friends," Justesen said.