Meet the liquid architect, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is a phantom. A phantom brewer that is. While he owns and operates his Copenhagen-based Mikkeller Brewery, he spends most of the year developing craft beer recipes and travelling the world craft them into existence.
Bjergsø has a different way of looking at it: “I don’t often use terms about what I do, but in Europe we have started talking about beer architects. That describes it pretty well.”
Before he was changing the landscape of craft beer, he and his twin Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø studied at Kansas State University. He majored in chemistry and physics, which he then went on to teach. The twins and their friends created a beer-appreciation group in college; that this would inspire the two to go on to open their own beer store — Ølbutikken — back in Copenhagen.
While his brother handled the storefront, Bjergsø brewed the beers. “I decided to start brewing as I thought the beer world was lacking a more experimental and bold process,” he explains. His chemistry and physics background helped with the learning curve. “Knowing the chemical processes in brewing helps me understand the ingredients more. Also, the desire to educate people shines through in a lot of my beers, the single hop series being an example.”
Eventually, the twins went their separate ways. Bjergsø launched the Mikkeller brand and cultivated his beer architect status. He actively chose to stay away from the fixed brewery format. “I did not want to invest a lot of money and be dependent on sales,” he explains. “I wanted the freedom to concentrate on the quality of the beer. The approach was perfect and today there are many similar brewers in the world.”
Brewing is a discourse for Bjergsø. His recipes are answers to some interesting questions — what would happen if you added popcorn or Sichuan peppercorns? Which ingredient would give the beer a nice layer of umami? “I get inspired by a lot of things. Flavours, ingredients, music and moods. Meeting with chefs, coffee roasters, sommeliers and mixologists,” Bjergsø says. His goal is to “make the best possible beer, to try out new things and new ways of doing things. It’s to experiment, but the experiment never comes before the quality of the product.”
To find these answers, he outsources to breweries around the world. “I work a lot with a brewery in Belgium called De Proef, Lervig in Norway, a few other smaller places in Europe and our own brewery in San Diego,” he mentions. “I always look to work with people that can give me something back. I bring knowledge to them and they challenge me the other way. I love that.”
The process from concept to final product is not any different for Bjergsø than when he works at his place in Copenhagen. “I do the recipes,” he explains. “Communicate a lot with my brewers (or the brewers in the brewery we use) about processes, and they take care of everything.”
Today, Bjergsø exports to 40 different countries, has Mikkeller branded locations across the world and is internationally recognized as one of the most innovative and cutting-edge brewers in the world. “My goal is to have as many people drink craft beer as possible and I am working hard every day to achieve that.”
I asked him for his favourite beer of all time: “It’s impossible to say, but I’ve loved Belgium Lambics for many years, and enjoy the best New England Style IPAs these days. But nothing beats a great German Lager.”