Ursa Minor Brewery focuses on quality not quantity
On Sept. 26, 2018 brothers Ben and Mark Hugus opened Ursa Minor Brewing to the public. They focus on experimenting with different types of beer and coming up with their flavors.
They brew all of their flavors of beer in-house. Only about eight are kept on tap because that’s the capacity they can have in their 4280 square foot facility.
“Our focus is brewing great beer,” Ben Hugus said.
Ursa Minor has a five barrel brewing system, which allows them to brew smaller batches so that they can keep a variety in their taproom. Having a larger barrel system wouldn’t allow them to have that variety because they would have a larger amount of a certain beer and would have to keep it longer.
Since opening about a month ago, Ursa Minor has run out of all the different brews they had at launch.
“As soon as Drunk Gandalf is gone, it’s going to be gone for a while,” Ben said.
Customers can request that a specific brew be kept on the menu after the next batch. The one with the most requests can stay in production or make an earlier appearance.
“We want to listen to our customers,” Ben said. “If enough people ask for a beer back we’ll brew it again. We want to involve the community into what we brew.”
Their journey of becoming brewmasters began as any, as Ben described as a “romantic idea.”
The brothers have been homebrewing for a lot of their adult life, a hobby that they wanted to become their profession.
“We kinda just fell into it,” Mark said. “We started drinking craft beer earlier than most people and started homebrewing.”
Four years ago they began the journey of making their dreams a reality. They began by coming up with a business plan and to get educated on how to care for a brewery.
The brothers knew that the craft beer market is very competitive, especially now with over 300 breweries in Minnesota and Wisconsin alone. They needed to figure out a way to separate themselves from everyone else and find their own unique spin.
“We didn't want to rush into the market with a mediocre beer,” Ben said, “and making beer isn’t difficult, but making great beer is.”
Mark began to work for other commercial brewing companies, as Ben said, “begging for internships.” They eventually landed at the Siebel Institute, a brewing school in Chicago that teaches the art of making beer. After Siebel, they traveled to Oregon to take classes at Oregon State on quality control in breweries.
Ben attributes some of their success to one of their mentors, brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger of Red Eye Brewing, who gave them direction in bouncing ideas off of him for different recipes. Eichelberger was also someone they could look to for business advice and about the pitfalls of the craft brewing industry.
After educating themselves on operating a brewery, they next needed to get the financing for space.
“You go into this wide-eyed like, ‘we’re going to get financing overnight,’” Ben said. “But no, it took us a couple of years to get the money we needed to open this place.”
Ben and Mark are originally from Wausau, Wisconsin. Their third partner and General Manager, Andrew Scrignoli, is a Duluth native who told them about the brew culture in Duluth.
“It is our home now,” Ben said.
They moved to Duluth not long after they began proceeding with their project and started to look at places where they could put a brewery. The current building was the third one they looked at before choosing it. Not only did they just walk through and tour the buildings, but they also looked at the estimates, and the architectural plans.
“Making a space work was very difficult,” Ben said. “Certain aspects of the building you need to have the appropriate drainage, appropriate weight requirements on the floors, and the ceiling height.”
It wasn’t until Jan. 2, 2018, when Ben and Mark finally broke ground and began construction on Ursa Minor. They were working on the building every day, coming in with their tool belts and tried to complete construction in time for their grand opening, literally working up to the bell.
“We finished up construction five minutes before we opened,” Ben said.
Every day, the brothers and Scrignoli arrive at Ursa Minor around 8 a.m. to get everything prepared. They have been on a long journey to achieving their dream and cannot believe the support they have received from the community.
“It’s been extremely rewarding,” Mark said, “the fact that we can’t keep up is beyond what we thought would happen.”
They also acknowledge that they have been lucky to be part of the movement of the Lincoln Park area.
“It’s been awesome being around all these like-minded businesses that all care so much about this community,” Ben said.
Although they have been approached about possibly distributing their beer, the brothers remain adamant about focusing on producing a high quality beer. They have thought about it, but they don’t have the size or the amount of beer it takes to distribute.
Ben said that one of the purposes of the brewery was to create a place that can be enjoyed by anyone.
“Everyone here has families and they want a place that’s built for them,” Ben said.
Ursa Minor hosts live music on the weekends and has a wood-fire oven so people can order pizza while they enjoy their beer.
“We feel really, really lucky,” Ben said. “It’s been unbelievable, to spend that much of your life working on something and then to see people enjoying a product you worked so hard to make.”