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'Gypsy' Mikkeller's voyage of discovery

Added: Wednesday, March 11th 2015

Mikkeller book

Mikkeller’s Book of Beer: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Pernille Pang (Jacqui Small, £20)

This book is a delight and it will give pleasure to people who not only enjoy good beer but are also keen to brew it themselves. It tells the story of Mikkeller, the Danish “gypsy brewery”, that has played a key role in the world-wide beer revolution by breaking down all the barriers to beer appreciation and developing new concepts in how to make it.

It’s simply and clearly written – Pernille Pang is Bjergsoø’s wife and a trained journalist – with superb photography and amusing cartoons and graphics. It details the story of how Bjergsø, a maths and physics teacher in Denmark, formed a partnership with his childhood friend Kristian Klarup Keller – hence Mikkeller – that rebelled against the bland character of most Danish and imported beer and brought flavour back to their favourite drink.

They brewed beer in a kitchen and when their brews met with acclaim they had to seek bigger plant to develop their ideas. They brewed at several Danish micro plants and were eventually offered a deal with a leading independent brewery, Gourmetbryggeriet. The deal meant Mikkeller would become partners in Gourmetbryggeriet but would lose control of their business. Bjergsø was resolutely against the takeover, which led to friction with Keller, who eventually moved into music writing and faded from the brewing scene.

Bjergsø forged ahead as a one-man band. He started to brew regularly with the De Proef brewery in Belgium and has spread his wings, brewing on plants in Britain, Norway and the United States among others. He has also opened bars in Copenhagen, San Francisco and Bangkok.

He began by brewing traditional brown and pale beers but has experimented with such ingredients as coffee, herbs and spices to bring new tastes and challenges to beer drinking. When one of his first beers, a stout, seemed bland and uninteresting, he brewed a pot of coffee and added it to the beer: it went on to pick up awards in beer competitions and at festivals.

The authors move on to a short history of brewing from the Ancient World to the modern day and then outline the beer revolution that is galvanising brewing world-wide. At a time when some  British craft brewers are sniffy about the role played by the Campaign for Real Ale, Bjergsø and Pang firmly root the “consumer revolution” in the formation of CAMRA in the early 1970s, which went on to inspire the first craft brewers in the U.S.

The book offers snappy descriptions of all the main beer styles available and goes on to offer advice on how to sample and enjoy beer and to appreciate the raw materials that go into its production. Bjergsø is a democratic brewer and doesn’t hide behind a veil of secrecy. A substantial chunk of the book is given over to many of his recipes, enabling home brewers to recreate not just pale ales, Pilsners and other traditional styles but his now famous oatmeal stout with coffee along with barley wine, more IPAs they you can waive a mashing fork at, and even a Belgian lambic-style using “wild” Brettanomyces yeast.

And finally there’s a section on matching beer with food. It puts the seal on a book that is all about the pleasures of the type of beer that Bjergsø has saved from the clutches of the factory brewers.

He has had an exciting journey and epiphany. From heavily bearded, long-haired hipster brewer, his latest incarnation shows him with cropped hair, neat beard and even a dickey bow. He now looks like a character from an Ibsen play – but not An Enemy of the People.

*Publication 19 March 2015.

mikkel borg bjergso