How do you make beer without a brewery? The absence of a dedicated brewing space hasn’t stopped Mikkel Borg Bjergso, namesake and founder of the Copenhagen-based brand Mikkeller, from being unusually prolific. In an e-mail, Bjergso writes that he’s released around 600 different beers in eight years.
Choosing just one can be daunting, but it helps to know that all of Mikkeller’s beers are brewed “somewhere else.” Bjergso writes exacting recipes for each, then is sometimes present and sometimes not when they’re made. The results, packaged at breweries all over the world and shipped to 40 countries, qualify more as artistic expressions and passing fancies rather than staples. If you liked the Mikkeller oatmeal stout you had last week, don’t expect to get it again.
The vast majority of Mikkeller beers are brewed only once, making it hard to sample all, even for consumers who pay close attention. Brews don’t adhere to any particular genre or style guidelines; Mikkeller’s canon includes IPAs brewed with licorice and lambics made with rhubarb. Recently at a shop, I spotted nearly a dozen Mikkeller offerings, the colorful labels popping off the shelf. Designed by Keith Shore, an American who also does merchandise design for the rock band the Shins, the labels are canvases painted with pinks and yellows, and cartoon drawings of French press coffee makers. Mimicking the beers themselves, Mikkeller, the brand, is nothing if not eclectic.
“I don’t fear that the many styles will be a bad thing for Mikkeller,” Bjergso writes. “I actually think this is what people love us for.”
A bottle of Wheat Is the New Hops, a collaboration with Vermont’s Grassroots Brewing, is an India Pale Ale, brewed with wheat and fermented with Brettanomyces, a yeast strain known for imparting funky flavors. It was brewed at De Proefbrouwerij, in Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium.
The beer pours a pale yellow and wafting up from the liquid is a musty combination of mothballs and freshly squeezed oranges. As a fan of both funky beers and IPAs, I found that inviting. Sometimes the best way to describe a beer is to say what’s missing. There’s no assertive IPA bitterness in this brew, replaced by mellow passion fruit and mango notes from the hops. There’s a lack of a true barnyard funk, but the Brettanomyces dries the beer out and adds complexity. Bjergso writes that Wheat Is the New Hops is “taking the best from two worlds and combining them into something unique and complex.”
The brewery has never tried to be one thing. In addition to the beer line, Bjergso owns bars in Copenhagen, Stockholm, San Francisco, and Bangkok. Chefs from places like Noma, in Copenhagen, rely on him to come up with beers for their menus. Bjergso has a lot of irons in the fire.
Keep up if you can.Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.