Interview with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeller

Readers of this blog know who Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is. In our interview he talks about focus and best things. But we also get some news on the CBC and what it would take for him to do a collabo with Evil Twin. Or did it already happen? Answers and information you can find below.

Our traditional first question: Which of your beers would you have served beer hunter Michael Jackson?

I would have served him Nelson Sauvignon. Because I know he loved Belgian beers and Nelson Sauvignon is in my opinion one of the most unique beers I’ve ever done. It is a beer in a Belgian style, even though that is not what we are most famous for. It is very complex and very unique. It has a lot of winey character; I love wine as well. We brewed it first in 2009 and then 2011 and now we try to brew it once a year.

We got to know Mikkeller for doing beer. Now Mikkeller does bars, restaurants, festivals, wine and produces spirits. What is Mikkeller?

Mikkeller obviously is a company and we make beer. But it’s become a playground for what my staff and I like to do.
Obviously our biggest focus is making beer. But we also try to do other interesting projects, because you kind of get bored, doing the same thing every day. That is also why we do so many different beers.

Do you think you will ever stop doing beer?

I don’t think so, but you never know. It’s not in my plans, but maybe one day I get bored and find something else to do. I buy a wine castle and make wine full time instead.
But I hope that I will always enjoy making beer like I do now. I am happy with what I am doing. I am not complaining.

What is your part in Mikkeller?

I do all the beers. I do all the recipes, come up with all the ideas, and develop all the new styles that we do. Then I also work on all the new projects that we have; the restaurants and the bars.
I try not to do the boring administrative stuff, anymore, because I’ve done that a lot in the past. When we started the company we were two people, but for one year I was alone. Then I did pretty much everything, from accounting to warehousing, shipping, everything. Now I am mostly focused on what I’m good at which is developing the company and the beer range, working on new ideas and travelling a lot, obviously. Too much, actually.

Will you eventually or have you already delegated doing the beer?

I keep that to myself. Not that I don’t trust my employees or anything, but I would not feel comfortable, having somebody else create my recipes, for example. It is what I enjoy to do.

But you feel comfortable letting other people brew your beers.

Yes, for sure. Because they are better than I am. I guess I was a fairly good homebrewer and I’ve done some good beers in my kitchen. But I’ve never really worked in a brewery, although I can brew in a brewery. The brewers that I work with are a lot more skilled and have much more practice working in a brewery.
Some brewers will disagree with me, but I don’t think you can do big changes during the brewing. If you have a good recipe and you follow that recipe and you do what you’re supposed to do, then I don’t think there’s a lot that you can do as a brewer in the brewery to make it better. It’s working with raw materials that are pretty much always the same. You work with stainless steel. You get a recipe that is pretty detailed.
I know this sounds arrogant and might not be right, but I always say you can train a monkey to brew a beer.

Or program a robot?

Exactly. Some people and brewers think that you make the least good beer when it is computerized, but I think that’s complete bullshit.

How often are you still in a brewhouse?

I’m mostly at Warpigs, my brewpub in Copenhagen. I go there at least a few times a week and talk to the brewers and taste from the tanks and barrels and discuss raw materials and recipes. Then I travel to Belgium as often as I can which is not often enough. And now that we bought a brewery in San Diego, I will travel to the States more often. But it is pretty impossible for me to be in all these places at the same time.

Would there be something you’d miss if you were not to go to brewhouses anymore?

No. Spending a whole day in a brewhouse with stainless steel is not really my thing. I love to be with people, tasting beer and talking about it.
I know brewers that see it as a church and they just love being in there, working on little details and stuff, but it’s never been my thing.

In the video by The Architect, you mention that your favourite part is comparing the final beer with the idea you initially had in mind. How often do you get surprised?

Almost never [laughs]. At least not anymore.
Obviously the more practice I have, the more recipes I’ve done, I pretty much know what comes out in the end. I get pleasantly surprised once in a while. When I get surprised it’s mostly due to ingredients, for example. If I use something that I’ve not used before.

You mentioned San Diego where you bought the old AleSmith location. Is it a partnership? What does it entail?

It is actually a Mikkeller company. AleSmith moved to a bigger brewhouse, pretty much next door. They are still minority partners, which is like with the bars, where we have local partners. AleSmith have a lot of knowledge in that area and in that brewery.
90 percent of the recipes will be my recipes, with Peter Zien [founder of AleSmith] checking them to work with that brewhouse. And then he will do a few recipes and we will do recipes together. All the beers will be called Mikkeller San Diego.

You also mentioned Warpigs. With both those locations, is this the end of your gypsy brewing days?

No. But it depends on what people think a gypsy brewer is. I will still brew the exact same way in Belgium and Norway. And we’re still going to brew in other breweries in the States. San Diego will just be an addition to what we are already doing.
The focus of Mikkeller San Diego will be to bring fresh beers and more competitive priced beers to the American market.

So, that means you will also re-brew some previously brewed beers there?

Yeah. We’ll do some of the most popular ones, like Beer Geek Breakfast and Beer Geek Brunch. And then we’ll do a lot of new ones as well.
With beers like Breakfast, Brunch and Vanilla Shake it is impossible for us to keep up with the demand. We can never brew enough where we brew them now.

Mike of Lervig mentioned to me that he brews it for you.

Yes. And I’m always asking him to brew more [laughs]. He does an amazing job, but they just don’t have the capacity to fulfill our demands.
We will also do IPAs and stuff in San Diego, but we’ll also focus on doing more non-San Diego beers, as there are already plenty of extremely good IPAs in San Diego. So we’ll also do Wild Ales, beers with brettanomyces, Berliner Weisse and some Belgian styles, like Blondes and Triples, but the European way. As the European breweries do it in a different way than most US breweries. So yes, we’ll be doing a lot of fun stuff.

You mentioned Beer Geek Breakfast. It scores 100 on Ratebeer. What would be the overall average rating for all of your beers?

[laughs] No idea. I think some are really good and some can be a lot better.
I never thought that I make the best beers in the world. But I think we make pretty good beers and some of the beers we make are very, very good. Though not saying that they are the best beers in the world.
There are so many really good beers in the world. And as long as I can say that beers from other breweries are equally good as mine or better, I can improve as a brewer. I’ve always said that the worst thing you can do to a brewer is telling them that they do the best beer in the world, because then there’s no reason to improve.

Let’s talk about the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. What do we not yet know about CBC that we want to know?

All the behind the scenes stuff! But you’ll not hear about that [laughs].
When we decided to do CBC, we wanted to do a festival for the brewers and not for the customers. We were the first ones to have that idea. The reason for that was that if we make the brewers happy, they will make the customers happy. Now the best brewers in the world want to travel all across the world to Copenhagen, because they think it’s a fun place to be and it is a great festival to attend. Then the customers will be able to taste beers from some of the best breweries in the world that would never come to Europe otherwise. And if we are making the breweries happy and give them a good time, they will present their best beers and will be nice to the customers. They will think of it as a big party instead of a festival, where you have brewers on one side of the table and customers on the other side of the table. And I think we succeeded in that. Because we get so many requests from brewers from all over the world that would love to join, because they hear from colleagues that the festival is so much fun.
What we hear a lot is that the brewers think that our, customers, the festival goers, are the most knowledgeable and polite they ever met at festivals. They’ve never been to a festival where the customers know so much about beer and are so polite. Which is obviously great for us to hear. I think that is because everybody is feeling comfortable there and has a good time. Customers can talk to their favorite brewers, they can meet Shaun Hill this year or Nick Floyd. And I think that’s perfect.

You just had Heady Topper for the opening of your new bottleshop. Is The Alchemist coming?

No. Not this year. Unfortunately. They are extremely busy.
There are quite a few brewers that we’ve never had who we are talking to to bring over in 2017. We always want to make it better than the year before.
This year we have focused on new, like young breweries and very traditional ones, like we have three different lambic producers, which is very unique for us: Boon, Oud Beersel and Bokkereyder.

Looks like I’m not going to successful to coax any new names out of you.

I actually don’t remember who we have announced at this time.
But we are going to have Hill Farmstead, Shaun Hill, coming. He’s a very good friend and always wanted to come. We are really happy to have him. So yes, there are some amazing ones this year.

It is also a bit going back to his roots, as Shaun has worked in Denmark.

Yes, that’s when I met him. Back then he was completely unknown in the beer world and now he’s the number one.

How many breweries are going to be there in total?

In total we are going to have at least 70 brewers. Which is quite a lot more than last year, but it’s also in a bigger venue. Yeah, plenty of beer.
We’re going to do a Scandinavian stand. Did we talk about that yet?

Not anywhere that I was reading.

So, you heard that first then.
We are doing a new stand with all Scandinavian brewers, five from Norway, five from Denmark and five from Sweden, that haven’t been at the festival before. So new ones, younger ones, upcoming breweries. It will be breweries that may not be established enough to be invited as “full” brewers right now.
But this is to show what we have up and coming in Scandinavia. We have so many customers coming from outside of Scandinavia. Everybody obviously comes to drink Three Floyds and Cigar City and other US breweries. But we also want to show what we have in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. So we are putting more focus on that this year.

I started with “what is Mikkeller”, now let me ask “what will Mikkeller become”?

That is obviously impossible to say.
I hope we’ll become a brand that everybody thinks of as somebody that makes great beer, and great restaurants and bars, festivals and wine. For me it’s all about doing the best I can and have respect for what we do. No matter what we do, we will never compromise. We will always do our best and will always try to do better the next day. And through that I hope we’ll become a brand that’s changing the craft beer world along with other craft brewers. So that there will be more focus on craft beer and good beer bars and more focus on beer and food.

We interviewed Jeppe and asked him a question that I’d like to ask you too: What would need to happen for you to do a collaboration with Evil Twin?

Ha, I don’t know. Maybe if De Dolle from Belgium would ask if we want to do a three-way collaboration? That could convince us [laughs].
I’m not saying that we’ll never do a collaboration, it’s just not in the cards right now. And it’s also fun to say no, because a lot of people want it to happen.
But I did a collaboration with Jolly Pumpkin and Jeppe did one and Ron just released a beer where he mixed up the two collaborations. So he actually created his own three-way collaboration with us. It has actually happened now [laughs].

That’s funny, because both Tobias [of To Øl] and Mike [of Lervig] mentioned the exact same idea to me as a joke.

Well, Ron Jeffries just did it.
The reason why I mentioned De Dolle is because Jeppe loves them as much as I do. The same goes for Jolly Pumpkin: We are both big fans. Ron is a great guy and brewer. So I actually think it’s pretty cool that he did that. He didn’t even ask but I think it’s cool.

Is Jolly Pumpkin coming to CBC?

No, unfortunately not. I ask him every year. Maybe next year.

And our traditionally final question: Which 5 beers you suggest people should drink before they die?

Hmm. You should probably drink Bud Light, Miller Lite, Tuborg Super Light…

Because then you want to die?

Yeah, because then you’ll not be so unhappy to die. Because you’ll not feel like you’ll miss out on beer anymore.
I would hate to drink an Orval as my last beer, because it’d be pretty sad to die then.

It would be a good last hurrah though.

It would be, yeah [laughs].
But seriously? I would drink Girardin Gueuze Black Label, De Dolle Stille Nacht, Orval, Zombie Dust from Three Floyds and I would drink Ann from Hill Farmstead.

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