The Eccentric Rise of Mikkeller

How a Danish physics teacher took his homebrewing operation international and brewed the highest-rated stout of all time
July 22, 2018Words by Joseph MeehanPhotos by Colin McCarthy

Whether it’s a frosty Tecate out of the camp cooler or a fine Belgian from a local brewery, we here at Huckberry like to toss a few back from time to time. We’ve admired Mikkeller’s adventurous brews for a long time now, especially seeing as their bootstrapped story resonates with our own origins. One thing led to another, and early this year we found ourselves in talks about a collaboration with them. Long story short, we made a beer together and ahead of the release we took a trip down to their San Diego brewery to get the lowdown. 

Trying to decipher the method to Mikkeller’s madness is a little like trying to catch a mud-covered piglet in the middle of a wallow — if you’ve never tried it, take our word for it: it ain’t easy. The Copenhagen-based brewing company encompasses everything from a brewpub in the New York Mets stadium to a Texas-style barbeque joint in the heart of Copenhagen to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bangkok — not to mention putting down roots in 2016 with their first-ever brewery in San Diego.

 


Clockwise from top left: Mikkeller Bangkok, Mikkeller San Diego tasting room, ribs and pickles from Warpigs.

What’s a Gose?
Named for the Gose river that flows through Goslar, Germany, where the style was first brewed, gose ale is dry and has very little hop bitterness, qualities which allow a light sourness to shine over a backdrop of refreshing fruity flavors.

The rhyme and reason to their worldwide footprint is hard to pin down at first, but inside the mind of co-founder and helmsman Mikkel is a spirit of innovation and creativity that’s grown what started as a homebrewing hobby into a worldwide craft brew empire. If their world-class brews and unique label art haven't caught your tastebuds and eyes yet, it's time to start paying attention because the future holds good things for Mikkeller. To get the full story of how they got to where they are, we took a trip down to their San Diego brewery ahead of the release of the Huckberry and Mikkeller collaboration that we’ve dubbed the Blue Hour Gose — a uniquely drinkable gose-style ale that’s perfect for winding down and appreciating the day’s adventures. 

 

 


 

How to Start a Beer Company With No Brewery


Before he grew Mikkeller into an international operation, Mikkel’s brewing beginnings were as humble as it gets. He attended college in America and found a burgeoning craft beer scene that revolved around innovation and creativity as opposed to the strict standards for beer found in many European cultures and markets.

Blue Hour Gose: Malt
Goses are brewed with a blend of traditional malt and wheat. Our Blue Hour Gose uses two-row malt, acidulated malt, and white wheat which contributes a slightly cloudy color and refreshing crisp character.

Back in Denmark after graduation, Mikkel worked with a friend to clone their favorite craft beers in the basement of his apartment building. The two knew they were onto something when one of their clones won a blind taste test at a local beer club meeting. They kept at it, medaled at a number of homebrew competitions around Denmark and Europe, and got a taste of international acclaim when their now-legendary Beer Geek Breakfast — an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee — won an award and was subsequently rated as the number one stout on ratebeer.com. It wasn’t long after that people started asking: “How do we get more of this?”


Despite having no brewery to call home, Mikkeller built a name for themselves as one of the most innovative and creative brewing operations in the world.


Asking himself the same question, Mikkel saw it like this: “We don’t have any money, and we’re not going to spend any money we don’t have.” So instead of investing in his own space, Mikkel decided to leverage the already-existing operations in Europe and joined the ranks of Scandinavian brewers pioneering the style we now know as nomadic brewing — a method where a brewing company with no dedicated brewing facility of their own collaborates on recipes with other breweries and shares their facility for the actual brew process.

 

 

Despite having no brewery to call home, Mikkeller built a name for themselves as one of the most innovative and creative brewing operations in the world. They took market by storm with their Beer Geek Breakfast iterations and a seemingly endless series of collaborations with local and international breweries of every stripe, accumulating a catalog of beers that now numbers over a thousand.


Fate Comes Calling

 

One of the first brewers Mikkel connected with was the head brewer of Ale Industries, based in San Diego. When Mikkel was homebrewing in his basement, he reached out to Peter Zien at Ale Industries for advice on brewing, especially how to achieve some of the big flavors and creative styles of the American craft brew industry. Peter graciously gave Mikkel some of the help he needed in those early days, and over the years their working relationship blossomed into a friendship that would play a part in another pivotal moment in Mikkeller history.


Peter Ziel, head brewer at Ale Industries, graciously gave Mikkel advice in the early days, and their working relationship blossomed into a friendship that would play a part in another pivotal moment in Mikkeller history — the establishment of a brewery for Mikkeller to call their own.


In a time of movement and change in 2016, Peter knew one thing for sure: as they moved out of their current brewing facility into a new, larger location, he was resolved to entrust the old brewery to someone who would ultimately be an exciting and healthy addition to the San Diego craft beer scene. There was only one man to call.

And so the story goes that one day in the Mikkeller Copenhagen office, Mikkel hung his phone up after a hushed conversation, popped his head up over his monitor, and announced with no fanfare: “Hey guys, we’re buying a brewery.”

 


A Brewery of One’s Own

 

With a new brewing facility came not only a new era of Mikkeller beer, but also a new set of challenges in maintaining the spirit of Mikkeller’s brewing ouvre up to this point.

 

 

Blue Hour Gose: Hops
Minimal hop character is on display in our Gose - leaving plenty of room to allow the fresh flavors and aromas of pineapple, tart cherry, and yerba buena to shine through.

On opening day, and in the weeks afterward, everything was humming along as smoothly as can be expected when a nomadic brewing company buys a brewery, but one thing in particular felt off. The menu in the tasting room looked an awful lot like all the other menus in all the other tasting rooms in San Diego. That’s not to say the beer wasn’t good — by any standard it was excellent quality — but to Mikkel’s estimation, it was lacking that initial creativity and innovation that defined his brand of beer. So he issued a challenge to his new brewery and its young staff: a special release beer, every week. 52 unique beers in as many weeks. The young staff met the challenge and then some, brewing upwards of 80 beers in that time, a number which forced them to get creative with style, recipe, and flavor.

 

 

It’s All About the Beer

 

The inventiveness that Mikkel demanded of his new brewery staff is exactly the quality that’s garnered the massive acclaim for his beers since he broke out of the basement and into the craft beer world. Beers that explore heretofore uncharted territory by combining unexpected ingredients; beers that could only be brewed by taking a chance on unorthodox methods; beers infused with the spirit of an open-minded collaboration process. And, most importantly, beers that embody the sense of adventure we here at Huckberry consider crucial to a life well lived.

 

 

Blue Hour Gose: Flavors
AKA, the good stuff: The fresh fruit of both pineapple and cherries are both co-fermented with the beer, the opposing sweet and tart flavors of which are bridged by herbal, ever-so-slightly minty Yerba Buena tea.

It’s with that same adventurous spirit that we created the Blue Hour Gose, our very own collaboration with Mikkeller. With a slightly tart and massively flavorful profile, the Blue Hour Gose is the perfect beer to enjoy at the end of a long day of getting out there and seeing a bit of the world — whether that’s a corner of your backyard you’ve never looked at closely before or a mountain peak you’re checking off your bucket list. It’s made for that moment of reflection, when the hard work’s been done and you can look back on the day and say to yourself, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.”

 

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