Gypsy Brewing, Sibling Rivalry & Mikkeller's Truly Unique Beers

By Chris Foste, February 27, 2019

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201804/foste.pngThat's columnist Chris Foste is a bearded beer fanatic whose frothy pint glass of knowledge flows over with wisdom on the wetting of one's whistle. 

All over the world, chefs meticulously put together recipes that are designed to attract hungry restaurant-goers, and keep them coming back for seconds. Waiters bring out an endless amount of delectable dishes, specifically designed to tingle the taste buds. While the table is a rotating roundhouse of delightful delicacies, the lowest common denominator rests in the middle – the table wine. 

Inexpensive and inoffensive to the palate, table wine is simply simple; no extravagant flavors, just a fruity drink to help wash down the meal. One would hope to never see this low level of wine on a table of a fine sommelier or high-end restaurant. The drinking society begs for more with their meal, and this goes doubly for beer!

There is one brewery that thrives with designing beers so unique that they might as well be listed under the entrées section instead of the drink list: Mikkeller.

All too often the ≥3.5% ABV table beer sits on the round table of nearly all Chinese restaurants, playing food janitor to the leftover bits between the teeth. While drinkability is a good quality of beer, the aforementioned table beer does a massive injustice that strikes at the heart of the craft beer movement. The soul of the craft revolution is creativity, which is making a beer that is more than just a good palate cleanser, but a flavorful entity all its own. 

Finger in the Soil Pale Ale 

There is one brewery that thrives with designing beers so unique that they might as well be listed under the entrées section instead of the drink list. Mikkeller, from Copenhagen, Denmark, puts a spin on beers that are truly all their own. A genuine individuality pops from each bottle, not only with the ingredients used, but also with the methods used by co-founder, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, to brew his craft.

Founded in 2006, former science teacher Mikkel and his longtime friend Kristian Klarup Keller teamed up to ride the wave of the rising revolution and began homebrewing. A combination of both founders’ names, Mikkeller began by brewing extravagant beers that were an answer to the growing disdain for dull lagers. 

The two quickly found their beer to be a smash hit with the locals, and the demand quickly outgrew their homebrew production. After a year, Kristian chose to return to his previous position as a journalist and decided to let Mikkel take over the company. Mikkel then made a bold move which skyrocketed his beer to great levels of success. 

He began ‘gypsy brewing.’ 

A process in which a brewer creates a recipe, purchases the ingredients and rents a space in a brewery, gypsy brewing, or phantom brewing, is a solution for those who want to make lots of beer quickly, but do not have the finances to purchase a venue and equipment. Mikkeller has perfected this method and to this day, is arguably the world’s most successful gypsy brewing company. 

As of 2018, Mikkeller has a beer portfolio of over 800 recipes, has their products sold in 40 countries, and now owns a physical brewing location in San Diego, California. 

Due to this method, Mikkel has been able to travel the world seeking out stellar ingredients for use in his beers, while he pays someone else to oversee the actual brewing and fermentation process. While the average USA-based craft brewery produces 20 unique or limited-quantity beers every year, Mikkeller can easily produce 100, and in 2013 the company brewed 123 different beers! Unfortunately, his triumphs of creative craft have not come without a price. Back to when Mikkel was just beginning to gypsy brew, he exclusively sold the beers at his brother’s, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, craft beer shop, called Olbutikken. They both rose to fame in Denmark’s capital with this symbiotic relationship. 

One to brew, one to sell.

However, the brothers had been extremely competitive all their lives, even to the point that as children, they would race to see who would be the first to finish their chores the fastest. This cutthroat attitude carried into adulthood, and when Mikkel finally earned enough money from sales to open a bar, he opened it only a few blocks from where Jeppe had his shop. This struck a chord with Jeppe, prompting him to create a line of gypsy-brewed craft beer all his own. Thus, Evil Twin Brewing Company was born. 

Hair in the Mailbox IPA

Now both brothers were running bars and beer brands of their own, and in this fire-meets-gasoline situation, the rivalry intensified. Eventually the rift between the two brothers grew so great, that Jeppe and Evil Twin moved to the United States and found a home in Brooklyn, brewing beer that mocks the style of his brother. The Bozo, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa, chocolate, coconut, cinnamon, oak chips, chili, coffee, vanilla, hazelnut, chestnut, and marshmallows, personifies how Jeppe views his brother’s elaborate concoctions. 

Regardless of Jeppe’s jabs at his brother, Mikkel drives Mikkeller to constantly evolve, pulling at the heartstrings of true beer geeks. As of 2018, Mikkeller has a beer portfolio of over 800 recipes, has their products sold in 40 countries, and now owns a physical brewing location in San Diego, California. 

Through gypsy brewing, an overblown case of sibling rivalry, and handpicking exotic ingredients for its beers, Mikkeller is a strong force in the craft community, and will continue to craft beers that beer nerds drool over. 

[All images courtesy of Chris Foste]

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