King of the ‘Gypsies’
Very soon we’re going to have to devote an entire column to the relatively recent phenomenon of the ‘Gypsy Brewer’; beers produced under labels without their own brewery or brewpub. By opting out of the costs associated with owning and running their own facility, Gypsy Brewers are freed to explore their own interests more, and to very quickly turn a passing thought into a product hitting store shelves and bar taps. Some of the most exciting beers being produced today are made by these Gypsy Brewers, and as their ranks and influence grow, so does the importance of the palate and outlook of one Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the spear’s head of the Gypsy movement and mad genius behind the Mikkeller line of brews.
While working as a math and physics teacher some eight years ago in his native Denmark Bjergsø started to experiment with homebrewing, with the thought that it would be cheaper to drink his own beer than the craft beer he’d been trying and rating for four years beforehand. In 2006, along with fellow homebrewer Kristian Klarup Keller (who later left the business to take an editorial position at the Danish music magazine Soundvenue), Mikkeller beer launched with the aim of bringing the fearless, bold, and imaginative beers found in the American beer scene to the “if it’s cheap, it’s good”-minded Danes. Soon, Mikkel’s inventive beers started finding an audience here in the U.S., and the label took off, along with the idea of the Gypsy Brewer.
With so many beers made under the Mikkeller label and their sometimes scarce production, it’s hard to pick out some to recommend. Some favorites of mine include Beer Geek Breakfast, an Imperial Stout that many of us beer geeks were introduced to Mikkel’s beers through. I’m partial to the yearly release of Jackie Brown Ale as well—its American Brown Ale influence is apparent with a great balance of roasty malts and sharp, yet subtle hops. I Hardcore You, made with Scotland’s BrewDog, is a big IPA that stands up to the baddest hop bombs American breweries have to offer. So far in 2012, we’ve been fortunate to see some great Mikkeller beers for the first time: Czech Pils and Dream Pils, BooGoop (a wheat-malt based Barleywine made in collaboration with the gang at Indiana’s Three Floyds Brewing), Black Hole Stout, and my personal favorite Big Worse Barleywine. Big Worse has the richness and cohesion of flavor you’d expect from a cellared Barleywine, but it’s young and all of those flavors come through with a vibrancy that is simply not possible with an aged beer.
Other Gypsy Brewers have emerged in the wake of Mikkeller’s success — not the least of which being Mikkel’s twin brother Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø whose Evil Twin beers have emerged as bold beer geek favorites; and Baltimore-based Brian Strumke’s Stillwater Artisanal Ales, whom I consider one of the best brewers working in the U.S. today. But it’s the unexpected reach of Mikkeller that has made it all possible for those who are looking for a different path as craft brewers. Those are different stories for another time, however. If you’re in the neighborhood this Saturday, come by to check out a special tasting of new Mikkeller arrivals featuring the beers of his Lambic-style program along with the massive Black Stout. If those aren’t to your liking, we’ve got a great selection of other Mikkeller beers to choose from.
Until next time.