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Ursa Minor Brewing opening Sept. 26

Ben Hugus, Mark Hugus and Andrew Scrignoli - Photo by Lissa Maki

Ben Hugus, Mark Hugus and Andrew Scrignoli – Photo by Lissa Maki

Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District will gain a third brewery by the month’s end. Ursa Minor Brewing, a five-barrel brewery that will also serve wood-fired pizzas, has announced it’s opening Sept. 26.

The new brewery at 2415 W. Superior St. creates a trio that includes Bent Paddle Brewing and Lake Superior Brewing — all within a mile of one another. Two cideries: Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider are slated to open soon in the new brewery’s immediate vicinity as well.

This explosion of craft beverages in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has been fueled by passionate young entrepreneurs. Ben and Mark Hugus are the brothers behind Ursa Minor, whose namesake is the constellation (also known as Little Bear or Little Dipper) that features the North Star. They liken this guiding star to the role craft beer has played in their lives, drawing them to Duluth to eventually start a business based on their shared passion.

The brothers are from Wausau. They moved to Duluth several years ago after falling in love with the city while spending summer vacations there while growing up, visiting their grandmother.

“We came here because we love it. We love the big lake and the outdoor culture,” says Ben.

Ben serves as chief operating officer while Mark heads up brewing operations. Both are longtime homebrewers. Mark gained commercial brewing experience by working at Red Eye Brewing in Wausau as well as Fitger’s Brewhouse and Castle Danger Brewing.

They started talking about opening a brewery together in 2015. Ben, who was previously a high school chemistry teacher, turned his attention to business planning. He says the process has been an adventure with lots of challenges along the way.

It has taken longer than they had hoped to get to the point of opening, but Ursa Minor’s primary aim is to make a top-notch, quality product. “We didn’t want to rush in and make mistakes,” Ben says.

The Huguses enlisted Andrew Scrignoli to serve as general manager about a year ago. Construction started in earnest in January when the building didn’t have heat yet. The building is more than 100 years old. It most recently housed Horseshoe Billiards until 2013.

Ben says a lot of the efforts to build out the taproom have been DIY, with the three of them pitching in and working many 18-hour work days. “We’re a bootstrap project. We didn’t have unlimited funding,” he explains.

Ursa Minor’s taproom is an intentional platform for local artists and artisans to showcase their work. “Duluth has a plethora of artists — young and old, experienced and non experienced,” says Ben. “We want to show people what Duluth can do.”

Ursa Minor Brewing - Photo by Lissa Maki

Ursa Minor Brewing – Photo by Lissa Maki

One of the taproom’s standout features is a long wooden table with a detailed, wood burned map of the Duluth Traverse Trail crafted by Evan Unverdorben of Pyrographic Images. Steins handmade by veteran potter Bob Husby hang in the bar area. They are salt-fired, like traditional German beer steins, and each one is unique.

For $100, a limited number of people can join Ursa Minor’s mug club. Members receive their own personal stein to drink from while at the brewery. The mugs aren’t just a stylish way to consume craft brew, patrons also get extra bang for their buck. The steins contain 22-28 ounces of beer (rather than the typical 16 ounces).

The brewery has an expansive dog- and family-friendly patio area. The taproom doesn’t have televisions. It does have a small stage area with an integrated sound system to easily enable live music performances. The brewery’s mission is to cultivate a space where people can have “genuine experiences” and make “meaningful connections” over brews.

Ursa Minor will open with a range of eight beer styles, including an IPA, double IPA, blonde, Berliner Weisse, pale ale, Scottish ale, Belgian wit and oatmeal stout. There won’t be regular flagship brews, but at any given time customers can expect to find a variety of rotating brews.

The brewery will also serve sparkling water, Duluth Kombucha and Lake Superior Brewing’s root beer as well as nitro coffee through a partnership with Almanac Coffee.

Ursa Minor will bring a different style of pizza to the neighborhood. Ben promises it won’t be the greasy gut-bomb variety. The Neapolitan-style pizzas will be comprised of dough made fresh daily and local ingredients when possible. Garden boxes around the patio are now producing copious amounts of basil. The brewery’s wood-fired oven can cook a pizza in an impressive 90 seconds flat.

The pizza menu will rotate, much like the beer menu. “It’s important to have variety in life,” says Ben.

Besides the three co-founders, the brewery has hired 12 employees, who will start training next week.

Ursa Minor’s hours will be Tuesdays to Thursdays from noon to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 11 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.

Ben notes that the community has been enthusiastic about the new venture.

“It’s been awesome. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response, both from our online presence and from people stopping in every day to ask if we’re open yet,” he says. “We feel very welcomed by the Lincoln Park community and by Duluth.”

Ursa Minor Brewing - Photo by Lissa Maki

Ursa Minor Brewing – Photo by Lissa Maki

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