Something is Hopping in the State of Denmark (and Beyond)

Six years ago, Danish home brewers Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller decided to go pro and launched Mikkeller, a craft brewery with the mission of producing quality-forward, uncompromising beers that push the brewing boundaries and challenge the palates of their fellow Danes. Many in the beer geek community would agree that Mikkeller has managed to do just that—and not just at home: It’s developed a cult-like following wherever there’s a thriving craft beer scene, including the United States. And it’s done so without a brewery of its own. It’s a “gypsy” or “phantom” brewer where the brewing teams rent space, time and equipment at a number of different breweries that will have them. Think of it as a larger scale version of the “brew on-premise” model that home brewers use at such facilities designated for that purpose.

Mikkeller’s nomadic adventures have produced such noteworthy brews as Beer Geek Breakfast stout and its series of Single Hop India Pale Ales, each using one specific type of hop to enable drinkers to experience the distinctions among hop varietals. Since 2007 Bjergsø has been running Mikkeller solo and recently had a few minutes to share his experiences with Beverage World.

Beverage World: Tell us about the history of the brewery and the inspiration behind it.
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø: We started home brewing in 2003 and started brewing commercially in 2006. We wanted to show the Danish consumers what was going on in the U.S. with craft beer. We are very inspired by the American craft beer scene.  

BW: Describe the styles that you brew?
Bjergsø: Well, we do pretty much every possible style of beer. I am very curious and always like to test new ideas, also new styles. We brew according to what we like and what I find interesting, never because it is expected. At the moment, we are getting more into session and low-ABV beers, which I find interesting to improve.  

BW: Your single hop series is quite popular. What was the motivation for that?
Bjergsø: I brewed it as a home brewer to learn about the different hop varieties. I do it commercially to teach consumers what I’ve learned.  

BW: Denmark seems to have a thriving craft brewing scene.
Bjergsø: That’s both true and false. We have a lot of breweries for a small country—5 million people, 140 breweries. But most of them are not worth talking about. Honestly, only a handful or two make interesting beers. We are a small country with the fourth-biggest brewery in the world, Carlsberg, and are very dominated by Carlsberg. I think the beer revolution was a movement against bland, boring lagers.

BW: What have been the advantages, as well as challenges, of brewing in multiple facilities?
Bjergsø: I don’t think I will ever have my own brewery. The challenge is of course that each time I go to a new brew house it is different than the rest, meaning I have to get to know the brew house. Brewing the same brand in different places and getting identical results is always a challenge, but also makes things more interesting. The advantage is that I can take advantage of the different breweries. I can brew styles at a certain place that they are already very good at, for example stouts at [Grimstad, Norway-based brewery] Nøgne Ø.

BW: Two years ago you opened a Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen. What do you hope visitors experience there?
Bjergsø: We wanted to have a showroom for our beers and show the best beers from around the world. Our goal is to make the best beer bar in the world, and I want customers to feel that. We never know if we succeeded so we keep improving things every day.

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