The tranquil beer scene was in an uproar when news of Evil Twin’s visit to beer café Au Trappist made the rounds. We bristled at the Evilness and ventured to a table with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin. In the interview we talk about Beerhunter, his knowledge of Switzerland, the secret collabo – about which we know nothing, of course -, sources of inspiration and Michael Jackson.
Which of your beers would you have served to Michael Jackson?
The singer or the beer hunter? (smiles)
I don’t know – that’s a funny question. I can’t think of a specific beer. I don’t know him that well and have never met him. I know that he was mostly into Belgium stuff.
Hmm, what would he have liked? Well, maybe I should have served him a beer he wouldn’t have liked. Maybe Sour Bikini.
Sour Bikini is like a low alcohol sour IPA. It is very fruity. That could be something he has never tried before. He was an old-school guy, before the whole sour beer thing went crazy. With a guy like that you want to challenge him a little bit, because he has tried so much and he’s been in the game for so long.
What motivates you to brew?
When I started out it was just because I was tired of the beers we could get in Denmark at that time. So when I started homebrewing many years ago, the motivation was to get better beers. And if I couldn’t buy them I had to do them myself.
Now, it’s still kind of that too, actually.
You still can’t buy good beer? (smiles)
No, you can buy a lot of good beer, but the beers I make now, I make them for what I want to drink. I don’t make them to sell them. Not owning my own brewery, I don’t have to sell a lot of the same beer. If one doesn’t go well, I just make a new one.
If I have an idea of something I want to try and I can’t go out and buy it, then I do it myself. That happens with a lot of the ideas that I have.
Do you then drink a lot of your own beer?
I don’t know if you can say a lot. But I drink them. It is not the only thing that I drink. And it would be wrong to only drink my own beer. I know brewers that only drink their own beers. I don’t understand that, because I get inspired by other people’s beers.
I drink more wine and cocktails, actually, than I drink beer. I’ve been into beers for so long and in the industry for eleven years, and have been into craft beer for more than 15 years. I like it, but I also like other drinks. I just like things that taste good and it doesn’t have to be beer, necessarily. I like wine and coffee and food and cocktails. It just has to have good flavors.
Is this also where you get inspiration for designing new recipes?
Yeah, definitely. Like food: I have made beers with Strawberries and olives, or beet. I get a lot of inspiration from food and tastes that I try. I get a lot of inspiration from coffee. I make beer with coffee, I make beer to imitate coffee – The Worst Twin with Jester King. Or cocktails: I’m really into cocktails now, because cocktails have so many layers of flavors. I think it is fun to bring that to beer. And I work with a lot of cocktail bars.
When I brew with other people, it’s about checking their beers and my beers and bring them together. So with a cocktail bar, it’s obvious to take one of their cocktails and figure out a way to, not necessarily something that tastes the same, but to get inspiration and maybe the same flavor profile into a beer.
Culture Bar in New York, they have a cocktail with pineapple and chili. So I thought it would be fun to make a pineapple chili beer. I have had the drink and it is very well balanced, so I figured it’ll be fun to play around with those flavors.
You mentioned brewing with other people and at other people’s breweries. Is there a little bit of the brewery where you brew your beers in all of your beers?
Yes and no. I work mainly with two breweries: Westbrook in South Carolina and Two Roads in Connecticut. The set-up with Two Roads is more that I make my recipe and they do exactly what I want them to do. In a good way. They make their own beer and they are awesome, but it’s not a place where we work in the same way as I work at Westbrook, for example. [Edward] Westbrook is a good friend of mine. We talk about things and we learn from each other and we get inspiration from each other; we do collaborations. So I definitely get a lot of inspiration and they get inspiration from me. It is a good relationship where we can help each other. I like that.
Often when I brew all over the world, some of the breweries are very new. With their brewing, they have never tried or attempted to brew what I want to try to do. So when we work together, I hope they learn from me.
Are you specifically talking about the brewing you do for the series on Munchies?
How did the idea come about?
The idea was that I was already doing it, brewing all over the world. Vice then contacted me and asked me if I want to write about it. But it’s not like I go out and do these beers for Vice. I would actually do them anyways.
Well, now that we do the series, I try to think of more exotic places to brew, because it is more fun to write about that.
Every time I make a beer in a new country I want to add something of the country into the beer, just because then it makes more sense. You can brew the same beer all over the world, but not if you use local ingredients.
Is Switzerland one of those exotic places?
Yeah. I don’t know if you can call it exotic in the same way as some other places. The set-up where we brewed yesterday was very different. Very small. Well, every set-up is different. And every person I work with is different.
What do you get out of the experience?
It is always fun to meet people that have the same passion as I do. That is the main thing. But also learning. Sharing ideas. I don’t know if you can call it learning. I’ve done it for so long now, I don’t want to say that I know all of it, but I know a lot. So it is more sharing ideas. Maybe they are telling me something they have tried out and that might inspire me to try it too.
What did you know about Switzerland before you came here?
Uhm, I have to be careful what I say here. For a while I thought I was going to Austria. I travel so much and sometimes I don’t pay too much attention when I get invited to stuff.
Did you know anything about our beers here or breweries?
I know BFM. I am a big fans of Jérôme Rebetez’s beers and he’s a funny guy and I’ve met him many times. He has a cool approach to beer. I love BFM.
I have heard good things about Trois Dames, but don’t think I’ve tasted too much from them. I have also heard of a couple of others, but it really depends on what is available in the US, as I am not in Europe that much anymore.
Evil Twin is rated as one of the top breweries. You used to be a teacher, thus it seems obvious that you share your knowledge with these small breweries. Is that something that’s close to your heart, to share your knowledge?
Yes, definitely. I started in the beer industry in 2005 with a bottle shop. Now I own an import company that distributes US beers all over Europe, I have a restaurant now and a bar. And I have Evil Twin. So I cover the whole aspect from production to distribution to retail to restaurants. Of course I do all of this as a business and to make money. But all the other stuff that I do, like writing for Vice, brewing all these collaborations, doing all these things that I do, my whole mission is to spread craft beer to the whole world and to have the whole world drink craft beer. That’d be better for my business, but it’d also be better for everybody in the world, because craft beer just tastes awesome. If I can inspire other people to do more beers and new beers, I’d like that.
Sometimes I call myself a beer ambassador, because it is not just about myself. I think I am one of the people in the beer industry that shares most. I am not afraid of sharing. My company is doing very well, so I don’t have no reason not to share. I don’t think we as a company would do better, if we’d keep everything to ourselves.
You seem to be somewhat tongue in cheek with your name Evil Twin or with your collabo with Jester King “The Worst Twin” that you previously mentioned. What would need to happen for you to do a collaboration with Mikkeller?
Not gonna happen.
You started to import beers to Europe because you couldn’t get them here.
Yes. In the beginning, I was mainly selling European beers in the bottle shop. After going to the States and tasting all those beers, and there not being anybody who imported them, I figured I might as well do it myself.
When we started our import company eight years ago, we couldn’t get anything. We had to ask, and almost beg to get anything from these US brewers. Now brewers approach us and ask us if we want to sell their beers. So that’s a big change.
But you focus on getting beers into Europe and don’t distribute European beers within Europe?
We do a few breweries, like 3 Fontainen along with a Spanish and Beavertown, Redchurch and Siren from the UK. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to distribute European beers, because a lot of breweries want to do that themselves.
What would the 2005 Jeppe think of the 2015 Jeppe who’s selling most and sometimes all of his Evil Twin beer in the States and not Europe?
I don’t know. I didn’t have any plans of Evil Twin in 2005 so it’s difficult to say. Up until four years ago I was a school teacher.
When I moved to the US a few years ago, it just made more sense to build up the US market first, because it is such a big market. And if you can get into the US market, then it is easier to get into other markets. So this strategy was very obvious to me.
But it never was my plan to only sell in the US. And we do export a lot and export more and more. We wouldn’t have to export at all. We could easily sell everything in the US. We are always behind demand anyways. But I just like the idea of my beers being in Taiwan and Brazil and Mexico. That’s kind of cool.
I read that for some years you rated some thousand beers on RateBeer. Were you a beer hunter?
Yeah, I guess I’ve had like 2400 reviews. But I haven’t rated in 10 years. When I started on RateBeer, many years ago, I just wanted to learn more. And if I wrote it down I would remember it better. Yeah, I was a beer nerd. But it wasn’t about getting the high numbers, it was more about tasting as much as I could and learning as much as I could.
So that would be one of your advices to an emerging brewer to taste as many beers as possible?
Definitely! But not just beer, also food and everything else you can taste. You need to know flavors in order to make good beers. I don’t think you can make good beer if you eat donuts every day.
Making beer is not that difficult – to brew with various ingredients. But it is difficult to figure out how to get it to taste right and find the right balance. If you don’t know what tastes good, how would you know how to make good beer?
Considering your recipes are created in your head, is there a risk element when you brew them?
You can always call it risk, but I kind of know what I am doing by now. And it’s not like you brew a new beer from scratch every time.
The ingredients that we have are pretty limited: We have three main ingredients – sure you have water, but you’re not going to change the water every time. As we have three main ingredients, it’s not like going into the kitchen where you have thousands of different ingredients. Sure you can add stuff and there’s variety in your base beer – as in variety in different beer styles. But when it comes to the main ingredients, I know how they play together. And I know how yeast works. So when I make beer I am never surprised. Maybe it doesn’t exactly taste how I wanted it to, but it will always be in the direction I intended.
You mentioned food a few times. How does food and beer belong together?
I have a restaurant, but only do beer, so…
Wine and food also belong together, but everybody knows that. Now we have to tell the world that beer and food belong together as well.
As for our final question, it is the same we ask everyone: Which five beers do you suggest to someone to drink before they die?
That whole hype thing is getting a little weird. Some beers are so hyped and people wait in line for ten hours to drink it.
Well, last year at the CBC you had the longest cue.
I know. While I like it, it’s just weird for me that if you go to CBC and there are so many good brewers, why anybody would line up for the same beer when you could have all these equally awesome beers without having to wait. I just don’t get it.
Maybe I’ve been in the beer industry for too long. I have been into the whole whale hunting thing in the past, but my answer to your question is: Just enjoy what you like. Don’t be too concerned about what’s rare or what the media tells you to drink. We had a lager from a Swiss brewery earlier today, just out of a stein and it was awesome. I have no idea what the brewery is and it was just a lager. But it tasted really good and it was fresh and it had a little bit of haze to it. And that’s what it’s about: What tastes good and not what people tell you tastes good.