Dan Justesen, the founder, and owner of Utepils Brewing, betrayed his enthusiasm for his craft the moment we met. He offered me a beer, which is what he does. I asked him what he recommended, which is what you say.“Everything,” he said — and he meant it. Dan looked at me with intense blue eyes while I decided on the same beer the man sitting at the bar next to me was having. “Good choice,” Dan told me.
Just as necessity is the mother of invention, Dan got into professional brewing when he needed a job after he was laid off from the teacher’s union. His unemployment counselor told him he was fit for one of four careers: priest, politician, unemployment counselor, or entrepreneur. Dan did what any rational person would with that feedback and got into the beer business. He bought Vine Park, a place with all the equipment and space amateurs needed to brew their own beer, with a partner shortly thereafter.
While the off-site home brewing business did well, Dan soon appreciated that the better part of his business was selling ready-made growlers of beer, for which people came far and wide. He had found his true calling: not to help other people make beer, but to make his own beer for other people. He left Vine Park in 2014, started getting his ducks in a row, and opened Utepils Brewing on February 18th, 2017.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Dan told me while I belted down the Ewald the Golden Hefeweizen he had technically recommended. “People have made beer for thousands of years. We don’t have to reinvent it. We don’t need gimmicks. Beer done right is simply beer made well, and making good beer is what Utepils stands for. That’s why I’ve got Eric Harper, a virtuoso brewer and beer man, to run my brewery. I give him the best ingredients to brew in the best facility, and he makes me the best beer.”
“Beer is the anchor we throw down in history. It deserves the respect that it’s due.”
My Hefeweizen was delicious, so it was in a vacuum of protest that I continued on to try Dan’s copper-colored Düsseldorf-style Alt 1848, his clear, nuanced Kölsch-style Copacetic, and finally his Czech Pils, my personal favorite. Now, I’m no beer sommelier. I know when beer is good, and I know when it deserves to be drank — by me. The quality of Utepils’ drafts floored me.
As Dan had said, this was not by chance, because he pays dear attention to the ingredients that he uses. The basis of all beer, of course, is its water. This is one of the reasons why Utepils is where it is, just over a cool, clear natural spring that supplies more than enough for the brewery’s demands. The hops are imported from Germany or the Czech Republic, depending on the style, keeping Utepils beers authentic to the sources of their styles. The grains are similarly from their respective European countries, arriving in either bags piled on pallets or in monstrous, 1,000 kilogram “super sacks” hung with care in the brewery. (The yeast is local, but only because it can be without sacrificing authenticity — yeast is yeast is yeast, it turns out.)
I had to ask: What does “Utepils” (pronounced OOH-ta-pilz) mean? “‘Utepils’ is a Norwegian word,” explained Dan. “It has a lot of meaning given how short it is. It describes the longing to go outside and have your first beer of the summer with your friends.”
There is such a thing as “a taproom in a brewery,” an area set aside from the production where patrons can try what has just been brewed up on-site. Utepils’ taproom, on the other hand, is as literally in the brewery as it’s possible to be. Enormous tanks and the network of pipes that connect them loom over Utepils’ guests, giving the taproom a cathedral feeling. The giant copper lid of a brew kettle umbrellas the bar, making the drinkers under it feel like they themselves are brewing, too. Beautiful Art Nouveau murals, each representing one of Utepils’ beer styles, bathe the taproom in a summery glow. I felt right at home in this Wonka-esque beer room.
Dan showed me the newest addition to his operation, a huge canning station and the thousands of empty cans that would soon be filled there. “Being on a beach is not an excuse to go without good beer,” said Dan. “Cans are great: no broken glass, no light contamination, and easier to carry into the woods, too. Beer should be drank in the woods. That’s why we’ve got the garden out back, to better establish that connection to nature.”
After I boggled at the machinery, Dan took me to the entrance of his operation to greet the small army of visitors coming in. I went to Utepils during the homebrewing convention, and its attendees were identifiable by their elevated spirits and bright yellow shirts. “I wanted to show my friends my favorite brewery,” said a man who looked just like Jeb Bush. “You guys are doing it right, no question” another, soul-patched guest assured Dan.
Indeed they are. Beer that good in a place that good? It’s only upward and onward provided Dan doesn’t change anything, and I’m unconcerned that a man so categorically against changing good things could be capable of doing so. I finally tried the Ewald the Brilliant Krystallweizen, seeing that it was only available at the taproom, thanked Dan for his hospitality, and left feeling better than I had all day.
I walked over to the old, abandoned mill towering over the wooded lot where Utepils makes its home. It’s beautiful in its decrepitude, all broken glass and odd angles. I thought about how we’re surrounded by reminders of the past. Some are the factories where our grandfathers worked. Some are the beers that our ancestors drank. Even the sun then on my neck was a return to the most atavistic feeling there is. Then I felt hungry, so I grabbed a brat from the truck parked outside the brewery, and then I went home.
By David Scheller