Ursa Minor Brewing of Duluth is growing a Madison following – Isthmus

Beer from Duluth is gaining a following in Madison. Ursa Minor Brewing has been sending its regular lineup and a handful of seasonals to Madison and Milwaukee since the first of the year with plans to increase distribution over the summer. 

Note: Ursa Minor’s beers do not stay on Madison shelves long.

“People from Madison keep calling us saying they’ve visited our taproom, taken a tour, and realized that we have some pretty cool beer up here on the North Shore,” says Ursa Minor owner Ben Hugus. He thinks part of the allure of Ursa Minor is that it reminds people of good times visiting Lake Superior and locations along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Ursa Minor opened in 2018 and quickly became a favorite of Duluth craft beer drinkers. It navigated COVID times by installing a canning line to package its beer. As the pandemic eased, the brewery returned to catering to its taproom customers with a wide range of in-house styles and wood-fired pizzas. Last year it added a new production facility about a block away, and that has allowed for distribution into Wisconsin and Minnesota’s Twin Cities. 

Hugus grew up in Wausau and there are more Wisco connections among his employees — after all, the brewery is not far from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. Among the core Ursa Minor offerings in Madison liquor stores now is Galactic Face Slap. This is a big old New England hazy IPA loaded with Galaxy hops, hence the name, with the sharp fruitiness of clementines and peaches. The beer has an orange tint and comes in at 6.8% ABV. The brewery’s Hop Bear is a traditional American IPA with a piney West Coast personality that showcases a blend of Centennial, Sultana and Amarillo hops. Hop Bear finishes at 6.8% ABV and 60 IBUs. 

The star attraction from Ursa Minor is its cream ale. I don’t immediately gravitate to the light golden side of a beer menu, but this one has me re-thinking my strategy. It’s packed with Lemon Drop hops that give it a zippy, tropical, tart bitterness, an unexpected flavor that makes this beer the brewery’s number-one seller. This beer has the potential to grow a robust following.

Among other Ursa Minor releases to look for is 35 Southbound (a reference to Interstate 35, which stretches from Duluth to the Texas border with Mexico). It’s an amber-colored Mexican lager with subtle malty sweetness that finishes at just 5% ABV. Badass Warrior Goddess is another hazy IPA, this one made with Enigma hops (known for berry and stone fruit flavors); it’s also expected in Madison soon if it hasn’t already arrived.

If you happen to be in Duluth and check out Ursa Minor’s taproom, it’s known for sours and barrel-aged beers. However, their current production even in Duluth is limited. 

Ursa Minor beers come in 16-ounce cans (four-packs/$14-$18). I’ve seen the core beers at stores including BarleyPop Tap and Shop, Trixie’s, City View, Steve’s and Waterford Wine & Spirits; they are available although they move fast. There should be a store near you that either has Ursa Minor, has had it, or at least knows about the brewery and may order some for you. 

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