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Trailblazers and Tribulations

A Maturing Mikkeller Means More Great Beer for All

· Matthew Curtis,Blog,Mikkeller

When Mikkeller was established in 2006, it was done so out of what felt like necessity. A rebellion against the bland, mass-produced lagers of its native Denmark, under the banner of flavour and deliciousness.

Back then, founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø—who was working as a high school physics teacher at the time—struggled to find the kinds of beers he wanted to drink. That would change when he discovered the abbey-style beers of Belgium such as Chimay, and then the intensely-hopped IPAs of the American West Coast. Soon, that inspiration turned to ambition, and then to action. It’s something that feels like a very familiar and relevant tale these days, one that’s written into the origin stories of many great breweries.

In Europe, Mikkeller can be considered as one of the pioneers in this regard. Its bold, forward-thinking beers, in equally as striking packaging laid a template that helped develop the market for many of the small, independent breweries we enjoy beer from today.

It’s been a long 14 years since Mikkeller’s early homebrewing experiments, followed by the cataclysmic success of Beer Geek Breakfast—the stout that made it a global success. Today’s beer landscape now looks totally different to how it did then, with almost twice the number of breweries making an ever more diverse array of beer styles. Mikkeller has undoubtedly been one of the largest influencers on this global sea change within beer culture.

The company looks a lot different now too, for starters it’s much bigger. There are two Mikkeller brewpubs in the USA, one in New York and the other in San Diego. A London equivalent is set to open in spring 2020. It runs some of the most exciting beer festivals in the world such as the Mikkeller Beer Celebration, which takes place in Copenhagen every spring. It has bars all over the world, including in cities like Bangkok, Bucharest and Taipei. And with it’s new sour beer facility, Baghaven, it’s still creating the kind of beers that turn heads in the way that Beer Geek Breakfast did all those years ago.

The success of Baghaven has been of particular note. Maintaining relevance in an ever more crowded market is becoming increasingly challenging, due to the sheer amount of choice out there. This speciality mixed-fermentation and barrel ageing facility has not only retained hype among many of Mikkellers existing fans, but is winning them new ones too. Something that well demonstrates the clout this brand still has in today’s market.

For many companies, with growth comes a change in both attitude and expectations. We can’t all be the underdog forever (no matter how hard we might try to cling to these humble ideals.) With Mikkeller it feels like they’ve taken ownership of this. While still being a trailblazer in some departments, notably the festivals and with its barrel ageing programme at Baghaven—along with involvement in innovative projects such as People Like Us.

But what we’re also seeing is a bit of maturity as it enters its more challenging teenage years. Maintaining relevance is hard work (even for us distributors, there’s a lot of beer out there!) This is especially true for a trailblazer like Mikkeller. And while a lot of this is achieved through doing things that are innovative and exciting, it’s also found in making solid, dependable beers that people want to drink all of the time.

This, coupled with the strong—nay iconic—brand identity composed by in-house artist Keith Shore, feels like it’s set Mikkeller up nicely for today’s beer market. In fact such is the impact of Mikkeller taking Shore as its in-house designer that many other breweries, such as Beavertown, Magic Rock and To Øl have done the same when it came to implementing their own brands. Further proof of the impact this brewery has had on the market.

I feel my own expectations from Mikkeller are well aligned with how it operates today. Ten years ago I was working my way through it’s groundbreaking single hop series of beers, and chasing bottles (remember those) like Green Gold and 1000 IBU. I have immensely warm memories of sharing a 750ml bottle of it’s Nelson Sauvignon with friends at the Craft Beer Co. Islington. At the time it was probably the most expensive beer I had ever tried, and it was so good we ordered a second.

But ordering another bottle of a 9%, Brettanomyces-infused, liberally NZ-hopped mixed fermentation beer is a rare occurrence. With Mikkeller’s core range from Euroboozer, you get the balance of the bold, delicious flavour Mikkeller is known for, in a package that means you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy it. The range features six beers, packaged in 330ml cans, each one dressed up in Keith Shore’s iconic branding, making them immediately recognisable as part of the Mikkeller family.

This core offering currently consists of the following tasty beers:

  • Side Eyes, Pale Ale, 4.6% — This bright and clean pale ale is packed with notes of mandarin, passion fruit and mango.

  • Blow Out, Modern IPA, 6% — Additions of Galaxy, Simcoe and Idaho 7 give this IPA bold flavours of citrus and tropical fruits.

  • American Dream, IPL, 4.6% — A classic from the Mikkeller range, combining citrus and pine notes with a crisp, dry finish.

  • Hallo Ich Bin Raspberry Berliner, Berliner, 3.7% — This lightly tart sour beer is an Mikkeller favourite, with raspberry flavours that fizz like sherbert.

  • Heated Seats, NE Pale Ale, 4.9% — Strawberry ice cream, and plush, juicy fruits are abound in this modern, hazy pale.

  • Evergreen, Hazy Session IPA, 3.5% — A light, eminently crushable pale with flavours of citrus peel.

Keeping up with a brewery like Mikkeller can be challenging (and not just because they organise a global running club—one of the biggest of its kind!) It’s a brand that is always excited to bring new products to market, from what encapsulates one of the largest ranges of alcohol free beers in the industry, to palate-befuddling imperial stouts and barrel aged sours.

For me, this is what makes this flagship range so vital to what Mikkeller does. With these beers being permanently available, everyone has a grounding point for a brewery which has been crucial to the rise of craft beer globally. These are beers that are always on hand. Beers to be enjoyed by those that are new to the brand and those who know it well alike. With Euroboozer extending its direct distribution to the North of England, it means that no-one can be without their Mikkeller fix when they feel the urge come on. Not a bad effort for a former physics teacher from Copenhagen, when you think about it.

Want to know more about Mikkeller in the UK? Thom Hill is their man on the ground.
Drop him a line on email or socials...

Matthew Curtis is a beer writer, photographer and co-founder of Pellicle Magazine. He has been awarded for his work by both the British and North American Guild of Beer Writers.

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