That was the cheer when Utepils Brewing president Daniel Justesen raised aloft a glass of Utepils’ new dark lager for a small crowd Tuesday night. The people raised glasses, too, and yelled “Nice driveway!”
It’s a phonetic shortcut to the Czech beer toast, “Na zdravi.” Cheers were in order for two things: Utepils’ first year in the market, and the release of this beer.
Surely you know by now the word “Utepils” translates loosely from Norwegian to “The first beer enjoyed in the sunshine after a long, dark winter.” As wintertime’s grasp on Minnesota weakens and spring closes in, the Bryn Mawr-based brewery is doubling down on the celebration with a unique annual offering.
The beer is called Moment, and Justesen says the beer’s style differ from year to year. Think Schell’s Snowstorm as an example. Moment officially released Wednesday.
“Beer is kind of an agricultural product, so it’s on a yearly cycle,” says Justesen. “It seemed natural to create a yearly cycle. In terms of the moment, every year is different … so I just really embraced the idea of releasing a beer that celebrates the moment.”
The idea for the beer evolved during a beer-tasting trip to Europe last fall, specifically the Czech Republic. While that region’s history with pilsners runs deep – from the ancient city of Plzeň to the Czech-based brewery Pilsner Urquell – the beer-makers who really inspired him were those at U Fleků.
“They don’t make any pilsners,” he says. “They make a dark beer, and that’s what they have survived on in the country of pilsners. They’ve done it for 600 years.”
A pint of Moment also happened to be Justesen’s definitive Utepils. He confessed to sneaking some off the filter lines during a freakishly warm day last week and drinking it in the sunshine. He held up his glass during our chat and said “Eric [Harper, Utepils’ head brewer] nailed it.”
It wasn’t my Utepils – the sun had long set by the time I’d arrived. On a 20-degree day, one that saw an unlucky driver slip off the road outside the taproom and get stuck on a train track, the beer lands gracefully on the line between winter drinking and spring drinking. It’s dark, and its head is almost thick enough to outlast a dozen bad iPhone photo attempts; yet, it drinks light. In my small pour was a toasty malt flavor and a whisper of chocolate, such that I wasn’t sure if I was really tasting it or just tricking myself into believing I was. Its alcohol content is reasonable, clocking in at 5.1 percent.
Moment already has one high-profile appearance in its appointment book, as the Czech Embassy requested permission to serve it along with Utepils Pils at the Craft Brewers’ Conference (CBC). Justesen will have to hide it from himself pretty well: the CBC is set to run April 30-May 3. At the very least, driveways ought to be free of snow cover by then.
“It’s quite an honor to be tapped by such experts in Czech beer,” Justesen said in a press release, “especially when we’ve only been open for one year.”
Indeed, it’s only been 370 days since the Utepils pool table was christened and first aid was administered at the bar. Justesen called the first year “amazing,” citing a largely positive public response to the beer and engaged crowds in the taproom.
“I think I was a little numb [last year],” he said when I asked to compare last year’s Utepils beer to this one. “I was a little bit in awe of everything that was happening. It was a much different intensity. [Last year] was exhilaration This year is savoring it.”