Meet the Brewer: Ben Hugus, Ursa Minor Brewing

Jim Lundstrom

Q: What triggered your interest in beer and brewing? Did you begin as a homebrewer? If so, how long ago?

A: My fascination with yeast and fermentation started back in my college days. I was studying biology and chemistry and started doing “at home” experiments with fermentation. My experiments were rudimentary at first, and slowly began to become more refined as I realized I could make a drinkable product to share with friends!

My passion for craft beer and the craft beer business is rooted in both beer and in people. Beer has an amazing ability to bring people together for authentic conversations, arguments and genuine connection. Many of the best conversations in history have been had over a cold pint. It is my belief that beer is a medium to bring people together, the better the product, the better the conversations to be had.

Q: What beer have you brewed for the public are you most proud of, and why?

A: I’m proud of all of our beers, but if I had to choose one it would be Big Bad John, a huge triple IPA brewed in honor of my late father. My family came together after his funeral to brew this beer together that embodied his huge positive and magnetic personality. We only brew it once per year at our anniversary in honor of his influence on our little brewery. We designed our taproom to hold up to one of Big Bad John’s memorable backyard get-togethers with friends.

Q: What is your go-to beer? (It doesn’t have to be one of your own).

A: My “go-to” beer is our stand-by IPA, Bear Hop IPA. It is an American IPA with a clean, crisp hop flavor with sharp notes of mandarin oranges. It just never gets old for me!

Q: Is working at a brewery different than what you thought it would be?

A: There are many things that are different, but all in good ways. Owning and operating a brewery is a tough business. It is highly competitive, requires huge time commitments, and is insanely capital intensive, but I love every minute of it. I have been able to meet my neighbors on a level that I never thought possible and I’m afforded the increasingly rare opportunity to share products we make with our own hands with my friends. Beer is an amazing thing, in so many ways, and every day I am granted the opportunity of learning something new.

I cannot get enough. Craft beer is an amazing business that I hope I can do for many years to come.
Q: Are you able to locally source material for Ursa Minor beers?

A: Using locally sourced ingredients is one of the pillars we founded Ursa Minor Brewing on and we do our absolute best to source locally wherever possible. We source everything we can locally not for marketing reasons, but because because we believe we get better raw goods locally. Local ingredients do not need to travel as far and are usually fresher. A couple examples of the local ingredients we have committed to are our meat and our grain.

We almost exclusively use Yker Acres meat for our pizzas. Their farm is only 15 minutes down the road and we are able to actually shake the farmers hand every week (well, not during COVID-19 times, instead we bump elbows now). It is important to see how their farm grows and changes over the seasons and we adapt along with them.

Another example is our malt. We source almost 100% of our malt from Maltwerks located in Detroit Lakes, Minn. These grains are grown on Minnesota farms and carefully malted before being delivered to our brewery to be turned into sweet, sweet beer. Malt is a hugely underappreciated ingredient in beer and plays a large role in the overall flavor makeup of each beer. We are proud to use these locally grown malts because we like supporting our neighbors.

Q: How large of a team do you work with at the brewery?

A: Our team is currently at 23 employees! We are an employee first company and have proudly offered health insurance to employees from day one of operation two years ago. Our brewery is built by the team that surrounds us and the amazing beer is a direct result of the amazing people that work at Ursa Minor Brewing.  

Q: Is there a beer on your to-do list that we can look forward to?

A: We have so many beers in the works at any given time, I’m excited about all of them! Our team is always cooking up new stuff.
One beer I am very excited to see again is Agate Hunter which will be coming out again sometime near the end of August.

Q: Anything else you want readers to know about being a brewer?

A: Brewing is physically and mentally tough work, especially at our small scale. We work so hard every day and toil over each batch because we are passionate about our craft. It is amazing working every day with incredible people to produce amazing brews.

Q: Has the pandemic changed the way you do things at the brewery, such as concentrating on flagship beers rather than brewing specialty beers?

A: We have not changed our brewing philosophy at all. We have always prided ourselves in balancing the need to continuity in brands as well as the need for innovation and pushing of limits. We brew ol’ classics like traditional German Pilsners and put them on tap next to extremely “out-there” beers like Blackberry, Cardamom, Vanilla, Lactose Sours. Our system is small so we can continue to push limits of what beer can be; its size affords us the ability to experiment extensively and often.

We have refocused ourselves on our staff and our ability to give all employees at Ursa Minor Brewing live able and dependable wages. This has no doubt been a stressful time for all people. We are simply trying to do what is right by each other and our neighbors.