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Two Beers in the City of Spires

Charting To Øl’s Rise to Prominence

· Matthew Curtis,Blog,To Øl

I remember my first beer from To Øl well. It was Sur Amarillo, a sour beer voluminously-hopped with the pithy, navel orange tinged notes of the eponymously named hop variety. It came in a 500ml can, which, somewhat remarkably, (especially when thinking about today’s market and brewers’ propensity for aluminium) was quite unusual at the time. It was wrapped in hypnotic artwork; a silhouette of trees laid out in seductive navy and mauve tones. And it was delicious: a riot of zesty citrus underpinned by a twisting wave of sourness, washing over the palate.

The Danish brewery, founded by Tore Gynther and Tobias Emil Jensen in 2010, has since provided many other beer lovers like me with similar experiences. This might have been with another of its dry-hopped sours, perhaps a resinous old-school DIPA like Final Frontier, or maybe a monstrously large stout such as Sort Mælk. During its tenure of almost ten years To Øl has left few stones unturned, as it attempted to push creativity in brewing to its outer limits.

To Øl founder and CEO Tore Gynther

To Øl founder and CEO Tore Gynther

To Øl, which is Danish for “Two Beers”, is what you might call a “cuckoo” or “nomadic” brewery—although these days I find myself preferring the term “itinerant brewer”—referencing the fact they don’t currently have a physical brewery to call their own. Instead, after recipes are developed they are then brewed at an array of other breweries. This method has helped many a young brewery get on its feet, with fellow Danes Mikkeller arguably pioneering this business ideology, along with Sweden’s Omnipollo, and Brussels Beer Project in Belgium.

The idea for the brewery hatched in 2005 while Gynther and Jensen, who were still studying at the time, decided they had had enough of the mass-produced lagers that dominated the Danish market. It’s a now familiar, often told story: they began homebrewing, eventually releasing their first commercial beer in 2010.

“We've constantly strived to produce something that strikes a balance between experimentation and approachability,” Gynther tells me. “We brew the beers that we ourselves love to drink, and we were humbled early on in our journey to find out just how many other people love these kind of beers too.”

To Øl was quick to find its fanbase, with the approval of ardent beer fans ensuring they charted in RateBeers top 100 list of breweries in 2012. By 2014 they had climbed as high on that list as number 9. Somewhat crucially to this success, the brewery also developed a strong visual identity, thanks to in-house artist Kasper Ledet. With a brand as appealing to the eye as the beer was to the palate, its popularity continued to gather pace.

“As the competition gets more fierce and we are raising the bar on excellence, we can only rely on the feedback we get along the way,” Gynther says. “We now export to 80 countries around the world, so we must be doing something right!”

BRUS, Copenhagen

At the very end of 2016 To Øl opened its first physical space, the excellent BRUS in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district. This was a huge step for the still relatively young brand. Here was a business known for using other peoples breweries to make beer finally planting roots in the ground. And this wasn’t just a chance to create a physical space in which to make beer, but to provide a complete customer experience in the form of a café, taproom, bottle shop and restaurant (seriously, go for the beer, stay for the fermented fries.) It’s also home to Mikropolis, its ready-to-drink cocktail brand.

Shortly after BRUS opened, Jensen made the decision to step away from To Øl to explore other opportunities, leaving Gynther as its sole founder. Thankfully this didn’t dampen Gynther’s spirits as he continued to explore opportunities to expand his brand—one way of doing this was investing in a UK market that has a great fondness for its beers.

“The UK, like Denmark, has always had a proud beer culture,” Gynther tells me. “I see the craft beer culture right now as an extension of what it always has been, the passion and the enthusiasm to demand quality and freshness on the beer taps at all times, in all places.”

As well as maintaining a steady stream of innovative specials, To Øl now offers a “classics range” of four 330ml cans and 30l kegs, along with one 330ml bottle in the low/no alcohol category. This is made up of some of their most popular beers, along with a few innovative newcomers. You may already be familiar with Gose to Hollywood, a playful riff on the traditional German tart wheat beer, which fuses the flavour of fresh Californian oranges with a sharp salinity, at a crushable 3.8% ABV.

Reparationsbajer (“repair beer” in Danish) is a gluten free American Pale Ale, chock full of citrus and tropical fruit flavours thanks to its blend of North American and New Zealand hops, it’s the perfect beer to send your hangover back to yesterday. Session Raid is an IPL—a lager hopped like an IPA—it's got a little bit of orange from Amarillo, a mango kick from Mosaic and a herbaceous snap from the noble Tettnanger variety.

The lineup is completed by Tropical Rumble, a fruity session IPA infused with real mango, peach and passion fruit, along with Mosaic hops for an extra fruity kick; and Under the Radar, a low-alcohol beer with a twist. As well as being just 0.3% ABV, this may be the first low alcohol “Farmhouse” style beer to hit the market. It’s slightly sour, wine-like acidity is thanks to a strain of wild Brettanomyces, a yeast cultivated from fruit growing on a pear tree in Gynther’s parents garden.

With its unique, defined and—most importantly—delicious flavour, I expect it to ride the growing wave of popularity low alcoholic styles are experiencing in the British beer market.

Gynther’s plans for To Øl in both the near and distant future extend beyond simply growing his export market and continuing to create beers that straddle the line between “experimentation and approachability,” as Gynther puts it. As the brewery enters the year that will mark its 10th anniversary it will make its biggest move to date by investing in a production space called “To Øl City,” dedicated towards producing its own beers, along with the ability to fulfil other ambitions. Significantly, once realised it will spell the end of this brewery’s itinerant phase.

“It's been a pipe-dream to one day bring all brewing home to our native danish land, and to own a place where that we have complete autonomy to produce what we want, how we want,” He tells me. “To Øl City not only gives us the opportunity to make this dream a reality, but it also gives us enough space to facilitate other projects, such as distilling, barrel ageing and cocktail production.”

To Øl City, Svinninge

Although he remained tight-lipped about the finer details, it’s clear that To Øl’s 10th year looks like it will be their most significant to date. Another point Gynther made was that this space won’t merely be for the production of his brewery’s own beers, but for young, itinerant brewers looking to find their place in the world like he was doing a decade ago. It’s a sign that this is a business that’s respectful of its humble origins, as well as being incredibly ambitious and optimistic about what lies ahead.

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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