Interview: brewmaster Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø (Evil Twin Brewing)
No longer must brewers be constrained by convention, geography, or even walls. In a world with a global economy, a new band of gypsy brewers can make beer where they please with complete disregard for borders. One such individual is Evil Twin Brewing’s Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, who owns the famed Ølbutikken bottle shop in Copenhagen, imports and distributes craft beer throughout Europe, and until recently, also worked as a full-time school teacher. His brother also just happens to be Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, another gypsy brewer that owns the Mikkeller label. On August 10, as part of 12% Imports’ West Coast promotional tour with Stillwater Artisanal Ales brewmaster Brian Strumke, we met Jarnit-Bjergsø on the back patio at Library Alehouse, and he better explained his background and approach.
What inspired your initial interest in beer?
It started way back. I come from a country that’s dominated, or was dominated by one brewery, Karlsberg. Back when I was young and went to school, Karlsberg was everything you could get. We were a couple guys who liked to try something different, so we started seeking out other beers and produced beers by ourselves. I made a beer club back in ’97 for 15 people, and we met every couple months. Everybody brought a beer and we talked about it and rated them and all kinds of things. To do something different, we started making our own beer and put them into the competition to see how we’d fare with all the ones we bought and started from there. In ’05, I opened a bottle shop in Copenhagen called Ølbutikken, which has actually become a really famous bottle shop. It was voted #1 Bottle Shop in the World in RateBeer in 2008. Three years, I started importing beers from the U.S. I actually have four California breweries and I’ve always been homebrewing for over 10 years, and now that I have my own shop and my own distribution company, I just thought why not brew commercially and start serving my own beers? That’s where it came from. I’ve been brewing for years, and it’s always fun to have other people try them. You always like your own beers, but it’s also good to hear other people say what they like about it.
What was the first beer that you made, and how did it turn out?
My very first beer was a Belgian wit, which is probably the style I enjoy the least now. I was just into wheat beers back then, and it seemed like a good start, and I have to say, it turned out pretty good. I was surprised how good it was. As Brian said, that was from a recipe, and it turned out really good. We liked it. We made some mistakes later on, blew up some bottles and all kinds of things.
Are you going to collaborate with Brian on a beer?
Probably. We already talked about it. Brian is doing a lot of collaborations. I haven’t done any yet. I’m pretty new on the scene, so I want to build my own brand first, not depending on others. I know Brian has a lot of success already, and I just want to do my own thing first. We have a good relationship, and we have the same guy who sells our beers, it seems like a good thing to do at some point.
What is the criteria for an Evil Twin beer?
Stumke: It has to have a weird name.
Jarnit-Bjergsø: It has to have a weird name. that is true. Actually, my idea of brewing is pretty simple. I don’t care too much about the process, about what yeast or if I do it the right way. The only thing I care about is the result, like what comes out of it. And I don’t care if I have to do it one way or the other. I know what I like and I always make beers to drink myself. I see no reason not to. If I can make it easier for myself to make beer that’s good, why not do it. I did one keg of chile-style beer, and I did it for a special event in Copenhagen. I used chile and it wasn’t as hot as I wanted, so I put in some hot sauce and it tasted pretty good. I don’t care for big secrets of that kind of thing. For me, the most important thing is how it turns out, and it tastes good, that’s important.
What was the most recent beer that you made, and what was your approach?
It’s most recently bottled. It was brewed some time ago, but it’s been barrel aged. It’s called Ninth Symphony, it’s a Belgian blonde, a very simple recipe, with only one malt and sugar. And I wanted it to be really simple because we got really some really good [white] wine barrels from Austria. These barrels – one of my friends who’s a wine expert got them for me, it was one of the best wines I’ve ever seen, ever smelled – and I just wanted to do a really simple beer to get as much wine as possible. It has a lot of wine. It’s almost like drinking a carbonated wine. It has nothing to do with wine, but it’s really close to wine. I enjoy wine a lot and am getting more and more into wine, also. I buy it and enjoy it. It just seemed like a fun thing to do, to make something as close as possible to wine without actually making wine.
What other brewers or breweries inspire you?
My big guy in the brewing world is the guy from Jolly Pumpkin, Ron Jeffries, first of all, because I love everything he does, and it’s so unique and goes against everything everybody else does. It’s not American, and it’s not even Belgian because it’s like Belgian with an American touch. The way he does it, and his whole philosophy about brewing, I love that.
Have you met him?
I’ve met him, and he’s such a nice guy. And I actually import Jolly Pumpkin also…I think he makes the most unique beers in the world. Other than that, I very much enjoy Belgian Lambics a lot. I do my own Lambic at Cantillon in Belgium also, which is a very unique style. Just like Jolly Pumpkin, it’s all barrel aged, it’s all wild, wild fermentation. Ron Jeffries is my man.
If you could only have one more beer, and it wasn’t yours
[Orval]. Nine out of 10 beer geeks would say Orval. It’s just a beer that’s so unique. It has a lot of components. It has hoppiness, and if you wait a little bit, it’s very drinkable, it’s very complex. It’s just one of a kind and a beer that covers a lot of different attributes. It’s a beer I can drink every day, all day, and it’s just so unique. It changes a lot. It’s a little bit of a magic act, because when you get it, at first, it’s almost like an IPA. It’s hoppy and it’s drinkable, but if you wait a little bit, it’s sour and not a Lambic, but sour at times because of the Brett.
If you could drink it anywhere, where would you drink it?
On the moon…I hear they have it on draft at the monastery. You can’t get it through the public. They have it on draft in the monastery, in the basement, only for the monks. I would like to drink it down there.
How interested are you in establishing a permanent location for your brewery?
I like the idea of opening my own brewery at one time, but I like the way I do it right now. I make the recipe and I discuss the recipe with the brewer, and if he has input, I’m open to it. I can’t see myself in a brewery, brewing every day, cleaning tables and stuff like that. I like to make the recipes and to do some brewing sometime. I don’t want to do it as the only thing. I like the whole thing about building the band and doing all the events. It’s much more than just creating the beers. It’s also about building the brand and making the label and coming up with stupid names and whatever. There are a lot of dimensions to it. To me, there are a lot of breweries that do pretty good beers, but if you can’t sell it, it never gets out into the public because nobody recognizes it. You have to have the other part.