Copenhagen is at the forefront of the global culinary movement, but Rene Redzepi isn’t the only person pushing boundaries. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who put the Mikkel in cutting-edge gypsy brewery Mikkeller, started the company with friend Kristian Keller and took full control in 2007. He also has a brother who brews, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing, and even runs a well-regarded beer bar. On June 9, I met Bjergsø at the Firestone Walker Invitational Brew Fest, and he helped to explain how he’s found hop-fueled success.
Was it a given that you would work with beer for a living, or did you think of other careers?
I’m a schoolteacher, actually.
You still are?
I don’t work as a schoolteacher. That’s my education. I’ve worked as a schoolteacher until three years ago, and I left teaching. Beer is not a calling. It’s just something that happened. I started homebrewing and from there – I didn’t start Mikkeller to make a living, just to do good beer and show what I was doing in the kitchen. Something happened.
What were you teaching in school?
Physics and chemistry, teaching high schoolers, 15 or 16 years old.
Do you have a very first beer memory, good or bad?
The first foreign beer I drank, the first non Danish beer, is actually Miller High Life. I drank a lot of that in the late ’90s. It showed up in Denmark and I drank a lot of it. It was good. At the beginning, a foreign beer was exotic, no matter what it was, and Miller High Life obviously, today, is a really shitty beer. At that time it was exotic to drink that, so I drank a lot of it.
What was the very first beer that you remember brewing, and how did it turn out?
The first beer I brewed from kits, like you buy these kind of beer kits. It turned out really shitty. The first 10 times, I poured it.
The first 10 you poured out?
Something like that. There were all these kits you buy with malt extract, which is pre-hopped, and then this little pack of dry yeast on top. Obviously it’s awful beer.
And you were doing this with Keller at this point?
Yep, an old friend.
How has the company changed since you’ve gone solo?
The reason why we split up in 2007, he was pretty satisfied with just brewing five different beers, and I wanted to kind of wanted to explore beer a little bit more. I’m really curious about what you can do with beer. That’s why I do so many different beers. When he left, it kind of set me free to do what I wanted, and it kind of exploded from there.
Is there anybody who’s been a mentor?