10 Questions For...

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø

Mikkeller/Co-Founder/Brewmaster

1) So Copenhagen… A great city!  You travel the world and obviously you’ve made the world almost like your playground but I’m really interested in what it is that makes Copenhagen home, and what is it you think makes it such a great place to live?

Copenhagen, I think is as great in the summer, as it’s bad in the winter.  It’s a fairly small city compared to a lot of big cities around the world but it has a lot to offer for being that small. It’s very easy to get around in Copenhagen – you can pretty much bike everywhere in 30 minutes. It’s pretty good looking, it’s a beautiful city. It has a lot of nice buildings with a lot of history. I think we have maybe the best architecture in the world, like from back in the days and if you walk around some of the older parts of Copenhagen, I think it’s really beautiful.

And besides that, our food scene for example is on top of any city in the world, if not maybe the best compared to the size of the city. We have so many great restaurants in Copenhagen and there are such a lot of things going on in the food community, which I really enjoy.

I also love just being able to pretty much walk around in Vesterbro where I live and where Mikkeller is situated, and just be able to find a lot of great restaurants, a lot of great bars and places, and yes you don’t find many cities like that in the world. There’s only a few in Europe that I would compare with Copenhagen, but that’s pretty much it.

2)  So where would be your perfect places to visit in Copenhagen that you would recommend to people visiting for a few days?

First of all, I would ask them to come in the summer between mid May and mid August, maybe late August because that’s definitely the best time… But probably not July because that’s when Copenhagen dies, because everybody goes away but May, June and August… Because when the weather is good, it’s a great city.

I always tell people to go to Christiania, our freak area because Christiania has two sides – it has the bad sides which has a lot of drugs and a lot of gang related drugs and then it has the good side, which is where people live and people build their own houses and it’s a really beautiful area to walk around and to see how people live out there, because it’s so unique. So I always ask people to go out there.

And then I would probably recommend our newest place called Baghaven which is in Refshalevej. It’s a little bit further out; it’s a new area of Copenhagen that is developing right now. It’s very industrial and very rural and it’s by the water. Our barrel house Baghaven is just by the water on the opposite side of the Little Mermaid, and it’s pretty much the most beautiful place in Copenhagen. I mean we are so lucky we got that spot and when the sun is out and it’s warm, I don’t think there is a better place in Copenhagen honestly, so I would tell people to go there as well.

And then I have a good friend who has a restaurant in Frederiksberg Havel; it’s called Mielcke & Hurtigkarl It’s a very high end restaurant but in my opinion I actually think it is up there with Noma – I think it’s the best restaurant in Denmark, together with Noma and the location and the setting is simply the best when it comes to restaurants – I’ve never seen a more beautiful restaurant in the world, so I always ask people to go there and eat in the garden, and then it’s so beautiful.

3) You travel so much with Mikkeller – you’re even in Jerusalem brewing with Alexander at the moment. So leaving Copenhagen for a minute, where are your favourite world destinations and some of your favourite places that you visit when there?

First of all, Tokyo is my favourite city and my favourite place in the world. I don’t think I could live there because it’s very hectic, but every time I go to Tokyo  there is something about it that I just love. There is so much to explore, and the people are great, and there is so much good food. It’s hard to pinpoint anything specific because there are so many great things.

There is a cocktail bar that I try to go to every time – it’s called Gen Yamamoto it’s a cocktail bar where it’s a guy and a counter and he has I think eight seats, and you get a set menu of cocktails like you would get at a restaurant. It’s so Japanese and so extreme and not extreme in the same way, at the same time, so it’s a really great place but Tokyo is… I mean, I pretty much tell everybody if they ask me where should we go on holiday, where should I travel to? I always say Tokyo because if you haven’t experienced that, it’s something that you have to experience and I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t fall in love with Tokyo when they go. Japan in general but I spend most of the time in Tokyo actually.

Then in San Francisco, there is a restaurant Mission Chinese which every time I go to San Francisco, I go pretty much directly from the airport to Mission Chinese. It’s a very well known restaurant – it’s the hipster restaurant in the US. That’s not why I go because I want to spend time with the hipsters (laughs); it’s actually because I love the food and I love the surroundings and I love the interior – it’s just such a unique place and the food is very, very unique!

It’s actually inside an old Chinese restaurant, and they’ve never changed the décor, so it’s very old school Chinese. It has a paper dragon on the ceiling and it has light bulbs and stuff. They do Szechuan style food but in their own way and it’s amazing.

Mikkeller Mikkel
Mikkeller Logo
Mikkeller BarrelRoom
4) Keeping the global aspect going, Mikkeller has been a massive success over the last 10 years say, but when did you really start to feel that this could be a truly global company, and what really made you so bold in wanting to make Mikkeller a brand that goes to every corner of the globe?

I don’t think I can answer that actually because it’s not something that I decided; it’s something that happened slowly. When I started Mikkeller, I was a full time schoolteacher and I loved teaching; I just wanted to do my hobby and it wasn’t working to make a living off all of it. We were lucky as Mikkeller got a lot of attention from day one – a lot of interest from all over the world, which of course was amazing but I’ve always been a guy who keeps both feet on the ground and I just took one day after the other, and I still do that.

Obviously I can see that it’s a success and that people are happy about my beer and we’re growing, but I’m still pretty realistic and I know that someday it might turn around and it might go the opposite way so I try not to think too much about it – I just do what I believe I’m good at and what I believe, what I think is fun and what I want to explore in the beer world and what I want to show people and then I hope it works, and I mean…it does!

I know it sounds like, obviously I don’t do anything if I’m not sure it will work… I don’t open a new bar if I don’t have that plan for it, but I don’t think too much about it… and because for me, making beer is the same as it was 12 years ago – it’s about flavours and it’s about exploring new things, and every time I make a new beer, I’m as excited as I was ten years ago, to taste it and to see how I can improve it, and when I do open a new bar, it’s the same process.

I work constantly on making things better and exploring new ways of doing things. So I don’t think I’ve realised a formula yet.

When we open up a bar somewhere, it’s not because it’s the best business – it’s because it’s a fun place to do it and it comes up and we get an opportunity and we just do it, and it’s a different approach than… Some other companies or breweries, I think they are a lot more planned than we are, say Brewdog for example, when they open a new bar, it’s a lot more planned and they do a lot of research and stuff like that, but that’s just not how I work.

I want every project and every beer and everything I do to be fun and interesting for myself as well.

5) If you could choose a global adventure to go on next, whether it’s beer research, taking the family on holiday at the same time or you’re going somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit where and what would that adventure be?

There’s one place I really want to go and I’m actually working on that, and that’s North Korea. Just because – as much as I know how fucked things are in North Korea and how insane the people are treated there, as much I’m drawn to that place in a strange way because I think it must be the most unique experience to be in North Korea and see how things work and how people are, and how… There’s something about it that I just need to, I need to check it out – I need to see what’s going on out there.

I don’t know if there’s a home brew community but I know there is a beer community – there are craft breweries and there are group pubs and stuff like that, and I’m actually talking to a few about coming over to brew. It’s not very easy, it’s a dream that I would love to be able to brew in North Korea.

Also because I think that what they do is probably very limited, I can’t imagine brewers going too crazy in North Korea, so I would love to just come and brew a Mikkeller beer and show them what is going on in the rest of the world. I think they have a beer festival as well, which is kind of funny.

6) With you travelling so much and obviously having so many different things going on, what’s your daily process to get in the zone? Do you have a set schedule or does your brain just switch on when you need it to?  

Mikkeller is pretty much my life. There is very little distance between the personal and private Mikkel because I am pretty much Mikkeller. When I’m away like this week visiting Jerusalem obviously I can relax. I work a lot from here as well but I can relax because there is nobody around me that knows anything about me, and I can be with the family and I can work with a computer and shut off the computer when I don’t want to work anymore, but when I’m home – it’s pretty much 100% work, private, everything as a big mix.

What I enjoy the most…not a lot anymore but for many years I tended to wake up really early in the morning, like sometimes two o’clock in the morning and then I actually would just wake up and go and sit by my computer and work, and I actually love those times because that’s where I can actually be myself and just relax, and not having to relate to anything or anybody except for what I’m doing. I always used to say also that I do my recipes when I’m in the shower in the morning, because that’s when I actually have time to think.

I have time to think and not be disturbed by anything. And then I run a lot, I run every day, and on my runs it’s also where I can actually feel that I get something done because I can think not only about work but about stuff and I actually go a little more deep into things. So actually I am a person that loves to be alone which is kind of strange, since I’m hardly ever alone but when I am, and I am able to be, I really love that.

Mikkeller It's Alive
Mikkel Mikkeller
Mikkeller Peter Pale Mary
7) Apart from those times when great beer is being cooked up in the shower – where else are you coming up with your inspiration for Mikkeller beers? Is it the food that you eat? Is it being on the streets of Tokyo? Is it from other breweries? I’m quite interested again in where that inspiration comes from?

It comes from a lot of things. I pretty much try to taste as many beers as possible, which I think is extremely important if you want to become a better brewer and if you want to expand your horizons. It’s very important to be open minded and to be realistic about your competencies.

I taste so many great beers and I contact pretty much every new brewery I hear about that makes good beer, I contact them and I ask them if I can buy samples because I want to taste what they do and I want to get inspired and I want to learn from them.

I don’t think a lot of brewers do that actually. I think a lot of brewers are very into their own beers and very into believing that what they do is some of the best if not the best in the world, and I think that’s completely wrong because there is a lot of good beer out there and if you don’t explore that and if you don’t realise that, I think it’s hard to become a better brewer.

But also from food, restaurants and talking to chefs and coffee roasters, and a lot of people yes, as you say, in Tokyo or I travel to Brazil and eat their local foods, or there are a lot of flavours that are very inspiring.

8) If I put you on the spot, who do you think is doing the most exciting things really at the moment in European or world beer? What breweries should we really be looking out for?

That’s difficult. There are a lot of good ones. What I think is great at the moment is that European breweries are challenging American breweries in being on top of the game. For so many years, American craft breweries have been extremely well received and they are doing great.

There have been so many great breweries from the US over the years and a few of us have actually been able to challenge them, but only a few of us in Europe, but that has changed now.

For example in the UK, there are a lot of great new breweries in the UK that actually, even for the styles that you would always consider very American like this New England style which is a very American thing I think, I honestly think we do as good ones in Europe now, which I think is great.

I think it’s great that young European craft breweries are challenging the American ones at the moment. I mean, a brewery like Cloudwater in Manchester, they’re doing pretty much the best of these style of beers in the world and I don’t think anybody expected that an English brewery would be the top of the game when it comes to this because it’s always been a very American thing.

It’s great stuff and then also some of the new guys from the US, like Voodoo is a brewery that we had at MBCC. I hadn’t heard about them until a month ago and suddenly they do some of the best stouts in the world, and I just love the fact that there is a very short distance from nobody to top of the game – it’s great. If you go back two years, everybody talked about the good old guys, like Russian River and Stone and all those guys who are also making amazing beers. The game has completely changed over the last year or two, which I think is great.

It makes it harder for us old established ones which I can probably say that we are after ten years, to actually be recognised. I mean, we have to work really hard which I am obviously and I’m trying to develop and redevelop myself all the time but you really have to stay on top of the game if you want to stay on top obviously. You can’t just rest on your success anymore.

9) Obviously Mikkeller Beer Celebration was a massive success this year but is there anything you really want to share about your plans in terms for this year – what sort of super cool things should we be looking for from Mikkeller this year?

We’re only in June, so it’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the rest of the year, because things happen really quickly in our company. We have quite a few Mikkeller bar openings, we have had quite a few already this year – bars and restaurants and we are opening quite a few more actually.

One that I am very, very excited about is our Mikkeller bar in Faroe Islands in Torshavn which is a country of only 50,000 people. Torshavn is the capital and has 20,000 people. It’s obvious that it’s not a good business case, but we have been – just when the word came out about us opening a bar, the whole community in Faroe Islands have backed us up and have been so extremely excited about it.

We started a running club up there, and we shipped off 300 membership t-shirts – they sold out, we shipped 300 more which means that potentially 600 people out of 50,000 people are running in our running club. It’s becoming the biggest chapter next to Copenhagen, it’s insane and the bar will be in a 400 year old house in the original centre of Torshavn, which was ten houses.

And it’s going to be the most unique beer bar in the world – I can pretty much promise you that; it’s going to be the most… it’s so beautiful. The Faroe Islands is so beautiful and that place is just amazing.

10) Thanks loads for chatting with YEAST BERLIN today Mikkel, we really appreciate your time and look forward to catching up with you at MBCC next year. Where can we also keep up to date with everything Mikkeller that’s happening in 2017? 

Thanks a lot, thanks for calling. Everything will be on our Facebook page so keep an eye on that. 

*You can read more of our exclusive interviews here

Jonny Q
JONNY Q Big cheese at YEAST BERLIN... Lover of food, drinker of great craft beer. Slowly moving from a steady diet of IPAs to a love of stouts and the dark side. Can usually be found travelling somewhere to treat all 5 senses at once and trying to make life as exciting as possible. QOTSA and big classic HipHop fan!

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