The growth spurt of brewery openings in the Twin Cities has slowed, just as it has nationally.
Slowed, but not stopped. What had been a giant gush has become a steady stream — more than a trickle and less than a flood. In the past six months, only three new metro area breweries have opened their taps.
Utepils (pronounced ooh-ta-pilz) opened only a few weeks ago. The brewery sits in a small industrial complex along the banks of Bassett Creek, tucked between the northwest Minneapolis neighborhoods of Harrison and Bryn Mawr.
The 18,000-square-foot space feels expansive, with high ceilings and plenty of windows to let light stream in. With little separating the taproom from the brewhouse, one feels a firm connection with the beer-making process. It’s not hard to imagine, where guests are seated now, pallets of cans ready to be filled and sacks of grain stacked.
Although industrial, the taproom retains the welcoming feel of a German beer hall — a place for convivial conversation over a few pints. The brewery is built on a European model of beer culture where the beer is the backdrop to a social gathering, not its focal point.
And that’s the way founder and president Dan Justesen wants it.
“I don’t want people talking about my beer,” he said. Instead they should be discussing work, politics, sports or the weather — whatever day-to-day affairs may be on their minds.
“ ‘I’ll have another one of those’ is the only thing I want them to say about the beer,” Justesen said.
The beers themselves help this frame of mind. Utepils’ focus is on easy-drinking classic styles, particularly those of Central Europe, with German and Czech lagers and ales dominating the lineup.
There is nothing quite as invigorating as a fresh, German-style wheat beer. During the winter months, good examples are few and far between. Utepils is changing that with their year-round Ewald the Golden. This mouthfilling, bready brew favors the spicy side of the style’s characteristic clove and banana profile. But beneath the clove is a basket full of fruit. Bright lemon pairs with ripe banana and subtle stone fruit, making this a juicy treat.
Perhaps even harder to find are good examples of altbier, the quintessential beer of Düsseldorf, Germany. Utepils has that covered, too. Alt 1848 is a study in malt. Warm tones of toasted bread and caramel envelop the palate, followed by a cleansing brush of moderate bitterness and spicy hops. It’s all about malt flavor, though, not sweetness. The finish is dry, leaving you craving that next sip.
Perhaps the star of the show is Pils, a well-crafted Czech-style pilsner. It features a fine balance of cracker-like, kilned grain and peppery/floral Bohemian hops. The delicate balance of sweet and bitter is also on the mark. The sample I had was pulled from the fermenter, a true “keller pils.” The touches of bready yeast and light sulfur add homey depth to an already tasty beer. I made them promise to offer this in the taproom at least occasionally. If you see it, be sure to try it.
Bald Man Brewing
In contrast to the European ambience of Utepils, the vibe at Bald Man Brewing is all-American. The spacious taproom has the feel of an industrial honky-tonk — a Texas roadhouse set up in a warehouse. A rock ’n’ roll theme infuses the place, from the music that blares through the sound system to the song-title-inspired beer names — and fermentation tanks named after Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Occasional live-music events complete that theme.
The kid- and pet-friendly taproom is located in an industrial building just across the Minnesota River from the Mall of America and MSP airport, just off Sibley Memorial Highway.
The beer list at Bald Man is also a contrast to that found at Utepils. Instead of classic European styles, Bald Man’s offerings present the beers that built American craft beer — from blond ale to brown, pale ale to porter.
The darker offerings are the best bets at Bald Man. Dark Side of the Moon Porter is available in both a CO2 and nitrogen gas format. The nitro version is smooth and creamy, with a cold-press-coffee profile. Secondary notes of caramel, bitter chocolate and vanilla enhance the rich texture. A subtle hint of roast-malt bitterness helps to dry out the finish.
Black Velvet Milk Stout is sweet, perhaps a bit too sweet. A touch of bitterness from either hops or roasted malt would give it some needed balance. But the velvet-smooth palate and milk chocolate flavor are perfect for the style.
The rest of the beers at Bald Man offer a mixed bag. Nothing screams “Drink me!” But there is also nothing to turn away.
The limited-release, 9.5 percent alcohol Killer Queen Imperial IPA is a good go-to. Like the stout, it leans a little sweeter than I would like, but the level of bitterness is tolerable compared with some other beers of the style. There is a pleasing resin and citrus peel flavor and aroma. There is not a great deal of depth here, but it is a pleasurable quaff nonetheless.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.