Category Archives: Craft Beer

The Brotherhood of Beer

As a beer drinker I have always been impressed by the friendliness of everyone associated with the craft brewing industry. I have interviewed, formally and informally, a number of brewers over the years and have found them to be always willing to share their views on the industry in general and their brewery in particular. My own theory on this, is that the industry has a history of collaboration and sharing, that has its genesis in home brewing clubs. Even before home brewing was legal in the United States, home brewers were gathering to discuss their hobby, share ideas, and taste each other’s latest creation. The sharing milieux of home brewing clubs laid, and continues to lay, the foundation for the ethos of openness, collaboration, and sharing that characterizes much of the industry today. A camaraderie exists in the world of craft brewing that, while not unique, is not found in many industries. Indeed, this is a topic that I touched on, in a previous blog entry.

The campus of Czestochowa University of Technology

I experienced this camaraderie during a recent trip to Poland. I was in Poland to give a couple of talks. The first of those talks was about craft breweries and the post-industrial city and looked at the part played by craft breweries in the revitalization of distressed neighborhoods in American cities. The presentation was made at a small conference organized by the Institute of Spatial Management and Housing in Warsaw. After two days in Warsaw, I headed off to Czestochowa. I had been invited to Czestochowa by the Faculty of Management at the Czestochowa University of Technology (CUT). I had taught a CUT as a Visiting Professor during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The Faculty of Management were celebrating their twentieth anniversary and invited me back to participate in the festivities. The city of Czestochowa is famous because it is home to Jasna Gora Monastery. The monastery contains an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child known as the Black Madonna (also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa).  The monastery attracts over five million pilgrims per year. I wrote about Czestochowa’s Black Madonna in a previous blog entry. Before talking more about my most recent visit to Poland, however, let me give a little background on the status of the Polish beer industry.

Craft beer, such as this Baltic Porter that I enjoyed, is becoming increasingly popular in Poland

Behind Germany and the United Kingdom, Poland is the third largest producer of beer in Europe. The Poles are also significant consumers of beer, with 2015 per capita consumption standing at 24.3 gallons (92 liters). Among European countries, only the Czechs, Germans, and Austrian consume more beer per capita. Indeed, despite its reputation as a vodka producing and drinking country, beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Poland. Seventy-three percent of Poles say they drink beer more than once or regularly throughout  the year, compared with only forty-three percent for vodka. As in other countries, most of the beer that Poles drink is produced by multinational corporations. Three of those – Kompania Piwowarska SA, Heineken-controlled Grupa Zywiec SA, and Carlsberg – control eighty-eight percent of  the Polish market. Craft beer is growing in popularity in Poland and there are approximately 160 craft breweries in the country. The growing popularity of craft beer in Poland is driven, as it is in the United States, by the younger demographic. According to Tomasz Blawat,  President of the Management Board of Carlsberg Polska:

“Among consumer trends currently observed, the innovation trend is absolutely crucial for the beer market. Loyal, older consumers are loyal to standard lager and are probably going to stay there since this is a safe choice. However, new consumers from younger generations have completely different expectations. They seek new beer styles and new  flavors. It is very important for them to have an innovative product that corresponds with their individuality and allows self-expression.”

Zbyszko Kabziński, PR and media relations specialist for the Czestochowa Circle

I met some of the younger generation of Polish beer drinkers during my visit to Czestochowa. My friend and colleague Piotr Pachura, when he knew I was coming to Czestochowa, contacted the Czestochowa Local Circle of the Beer Brotherhood (CLCBB) and arranged for me to meet some of its members. CLCBB is an organization whose members are craft beer aficionados. Some are home brewers, but others are simply craft beer drinkers. Including Czestochowa, there are a total of four local circles in Poland – the others are in KrakowŁódź, and Zgierz. All four local circles belong to the national organization,  Bractwo Piwne (Beer Brotherhood). Bractwo Piwne are affiliated with the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU),  which has representation in seventeen European countries. Established in 1990, the EBCU has a number of objectives, one of which is “to preserve and maintain the diversity of the traditional European beer cultures, with particular regard to local, regional and national brewing and beer styles.”

An end of evening photograph with some members of the Czestochowa Local Circle of the Beer Brotherhood
Bottles of homebrew appeared and were shared throughout the evening
The Beer glass presented to me by the Czestochowa Local Circle of the Beer Brotherhood

The Czestochowa group meet every second Wednesday at Piwiarnia, a local craft beer bar. Piotr and I arrived a little after 6pm. A few members of the brotherhood were already there and others arrived shortly afterwards. We migrated out of the main bar and into a separate room that the brotherhood use for their bimonthly meetings. The evening that we got together was not one of their regularly scheduled meetings. However, about a dozen members showed up to spend the evening with me. And what a great evening it was; great company, great beer, and great conversation. The conversation was very much a back-and-forth one, with me asking questions about the craft beer scene in Poland and my hosts doing likewise with respect to the United States. There are a lot of similarities between the craft beer movements in the respective countries. In both cases, for example , growth of the craft segment of the brewing industry is being driven by young people, demanding more variety in terms of the beers that they drink. At various points during the evening, bottles of homebrew appeated and the contents shared with everyone. It was a wonderful evening, the memories of which I will cherish for a long time to come. At the end of it, my new friends presented me with a very generous gift, comprising one of the Czestochowa Circle’s beer glasses, a beer stein, and a Czestochowa coffee mug.

I like Poland. I have a deep affection for the country and its people.  This was my fifth visit there since 2010.  I suspect that it will not be my last. Just a few days ago, I received an invitation to spend six weeks next summer as a Visiting Professor at the Kielce University of Technology in Kielce, Poland. There are still a lot of details to work out before this opportunity becomes reality. Those, hopefully, will be ironed out over the next few weeks. In the meantime, to my Polish beer drinking friends I say na zdrowie.

Craft Beer in Italy

I was in Italy a few weeks ago. As with many of my trips these days, I went there to talk about beer. My first talk was to doctoral students in the Urban Studies and Regional Science program at the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila. The seminar I taught provided a broad overview of the growth of craft beer in the United States, followed by an assessment of the industry’s potential to contribute to a city’s economic development efforts at the neighborhood scale. L’Aquila is a city of ~70,000 inhabitants, east of Rome. To reach L’Aquila, I caught a bus from Rome’s Fiumicinio Airport. The journey takes about about an hour and forty-five minutes. L’Aquila is an interesting city. In 2009, it was struck by an earthquake that killed 308 people. Eight years later, evidence of the devastating earthquake can still be seen. Construction crews, scaffolding, and cranes are a common sight. The city center, where the earthquake did the greatest damage, has something of a surreal feeling to it – buildings everywhere in the process of being repaired in the hope that they can recapture their former glory. I was in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2014. In 2011, that city had also experienced a major earthquauke. The Christchurch earthquake took eighty-five lives. Comparing the two, the damage in L’Aquila seemed considerably more extensive.

Scaffolding is a common sight in L’Aquila as the city repairs buildings damaged in the 2009 earthquake

I spent two nights in L’Aquila before bussing it back to Rome and catching a flight to Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.  Cagliari is about twice the size of L’Aquila. It has ~150,000 inhabitants. When taking into account it adjacent municipalities, however, the population of Cagliar’s larger metropolitan area exceeds 430,000. Cagliari has a completely different feel than L’Aquila. It has more energy and vibrancy, and of course has not been the victim of any earthquakes in recent times. I was in Cagliari to attend the annual conference of the Italian Regional Science Association, and to present a paper on the potential of craft breweries to boost tourism in geographically and economically peripheral areas. After three nights in Cagliari, it was back to Rome, where I had day of sightseeing. After Rome, it was off to Warsaw to kick-off the start of a week-long visit to Poland.

This was my third visit to Italy. Previously, I had spent time in Palermo and Naples. Italy, of course, has an international reputation as both a producer and consumer of wine. Wine accounts for approximately two-thirds of the alcohol consumed in Italy; beer accounts for just under one-quarter. This appears to be slowly changing, however, as evidence points to wine being the drink of the older generation, with increasing numbers of young people seeming to prefer beer. The volume of beer consumed in Italy increased from 17.7 million hectoliters to 18.7 million hectoliters between 2008 and 2014. Compared with other Europeans the Italians are not particularly big beer drinkers. Their annual per capita consumption is thirty-one liters, placing them 29th in Europe.

Beer consumption has increased in Italy in recent years (Source: Statista)

In recent years, Italy has developed a vibrant craft beer scene. And its reputation for producing some excellent brews has grown.  As of 2015, Italy had 540 microbreweries. In Europe,  only the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland had more. The Italian craft beer market started to emerge in a significant way in the mid-1990s. Its growth resulted in more beer choices for the Italian beer consumer. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, in Italy “there were eight times more new beer products on retailers’ shelves in 2012 than in 2007”.

The emergence of a vibrant craft brewing sector in Italy does not surprise me. The country was, after all,  the birthplace of the slow food movement in the mid-1980s. Now an international movement with members in one hundred and sixty countries Slow Food’s goal is “to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat”.  According to Agostino Ariol, one of the pioneers in the Italian craft brewing movement, “Italians are extremely curious about food and beverages. They like tasting new things. The Slow Food movement pushed people in the direction of awareness about what they drink and eat. They now want a closer relationship with the people who produce the goods. They want stories and emotions. Craft beer is all this.”

I enjoyed a Peroni (served in a Heineken glass) while in L’Aquila

As in the United States, despite the growth in the number of craft breweries, beer produced by the large macro-brewers still dominates the Italian beer market. Heineken is the market leader with a 36.2% market share, followed by Peroni (15.5%),  AB InBev (14.8%), and Carlsberg (9.7%). Peroni is perhaps the name that I most strongly associate with Italian beer. Founded in Vigevano in Lombardy, Italy, in 1846, the brand was purchased by the Japanese brewer Asahi in 2016. It was purchased from AB InBev, who agreed to sell it to Asahi in order to avoid any anti-trust issues surrounding its proposed purchase of SAB Miller.

Ichnusa, brewed in Sardinia in a brewery owned by Heineken
La Bionda, a lager brewed by Birrificio 4 Mori.

I sampled a few Italian craft beers during my visit. In L’Aquila, over dinner, I had a 750ml bottle of weizen (5.2% ABV)  brewed by ANBRA (Anonima Brasseria Aquilana), a small brewery located in the city. When I got to Cagliari, I tried a number of locally-produced beers. After checking into my hotel I headed for the hotel bar. Once there, I asked the bartender for a local beer. He produced a bottle of Ichnusa. Ichnusa is brewed in Assemini, about seven miles (twelve kilometers) northwest of Cagliari. The original brewery was opened in 1912, relocating to Assemini in 1963. In 1968, the brewery was acquired by Heineken, and it is the Dutch brewing giant own Inchusa today. Despite being owned by a large multinational company Ichnusa claim on their website that “we have been faithful to our traditions.”  The unfiltered Ichnusa that I tried was a 4.7% ABV lager. As I was finishing my second Ichnusa, a new bartender relieved the one on duty. He saw that I was drinking Ichnusa and asked me if I wanted to try another Sardinian beer. I said yes, of course. So he presented me with La Bionda, a 4.7% ABV lager, from Birrificio 4 Mori.  (Birrificio is the Italian word for Brewery). The brewery is located in Guspini, a town of approximately twelve thousand inhabitants, thirty-nine miles (sixty-two kilometers) northwest of Cagliari. According to the brewery’s website the beers  produced at Birrificio 4 Mori are brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the 1516 Bavarian purity law. Sitting at the bar the next evening, I tried another of Birrificio 4 Mori’s offerings – La Rossa, a 5.5% ABV Amber Lager.

Ciära, a Blonde Ale, brewed by Birrificio Ex Fabrica

I visited a few sidewalk cafes while in Cagliari, where I sampled a couple of other Italian craft beers. These included Duenna, a Farmhouse Ale (6.5% ABV) brewed by Birrificio Barley which is located in Maracalagonis, seven miles (twelve kilometers) northeast of Cagliari. One of the interesting facts about Birrificio Barley is that it’s beers are exported to the United States. Another beer that I tried was  Ciära, a Blonde Ale (5% ABV), brewed by Birrificio Ex Fabrica. Birrificio Ex Fabrica can be found in the neo-medieval hamlet of Grazzano Visconti in the country’s Emilia-Romagna region. Like Birrificio 4 Mori, Birrificio Ex Fabrica brews in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot.

All in all my trip to Italy very enjoyable.  Each time I visit Italy the craft beer scene has improved over my previous visit. There are more breweries and craft beer is more readily available in a wider variety of bars, restaurants, and cafes. It is an indication of not just a maturing industry, but also of consumers who are becoming more discerning and more sophisticated in their tastes. All of this bodes well to the future of craft beer in Italy. I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Why Vermont?

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Will Gordon, a writer for Men’s Journal. He had a very simple question – why did the state of Vermont have the largest number of craft breweries per capita? According to data provided by the Brewers Association The Green Mountain State has 10.8 breweries per 100,000 residents – more than any other state in the country. Will was writing an article about Vermont’s craft brewing industry, and wanted an answer to this question. In his e-mail, Will asked if I had time to chat with him on this topic. I responded that I would, and we agreed to chat the next day. This gave me less than twenty-four hours to come up with an answer to Will’s question. I had some hypotheses, of course, but some research would be required to verify (or refute) those.

My first thought was that perhaps Vermont has a large millennial population. There is a considerable body of research suggesting that the popularity of craft  beer is driven primarily by the millennial demographic.  While there is no universal agreement on what constitutes a millennial, the Pew Research Center defines this cohort as comprising individuals born after 1980. According to the website overflow.solutions, 25.9% of Vermont’s population are millennials. This places Vermont forty-fifth out of fifty states – not a particularly high rank;  suggesting that Vermont’s love of craft beer may not be driven by this particular cohort.

After refuting the millennial hypothesis, I decided to look at per capita beer consumption in Vermont. How did the state measure up on that particular measure? According to an article in the 24/7Wall Street, Vermonters (aged twenty-one and over) drink an average of 35.7 gallons of beer per capita. This places them fifth in the country. When it comes craft beer, Vermont ranks even higher. The 19.5 gallons per capita that its drinking age population consumes makes Vermont number one in the country. So Vermonters drink more craft beer per capita than the residents of any other state – this may go a long way to explaining why is has so many craft breweries.

My next line of thinking led me to examine the concept of neolocalism – the preference of some Americans to consume food (and perhaps beer) that is produced locally. Some scholars, such as the geographer Wes Flack, have suggested that part of the reason for the popularity of craft beer is this demand for locally-grown and locally-manufactured products. We see evidence of this demand in the increasing number of wineries and farmers markets across the country. The number of wineries in the United States increased from 1,755 in 1996 to 11,496 in 2016. Between 1994 and 2014, the number of farmers markets increased from 1,755 to 8,268.

But what about Vermonters? How does their demand for locally-produced products compare with other states? One way to measure such demand is to look at things such as the number of farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in a state. With its ninety-six farmers markets and 149 CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) Vermont, on a per capita basis, ranks number one in the country. On a per capita basis, it also has more hospitals that are pledged to purchasing local food than any other state. Indeed, on seven variables that measure a state’s commitment to purchasing and eating locally-produced food, Vermont ranks first on six of them. So it seems that the neolocalism movement is alive and well in Vermont. Vermonters, more than the residents of any other state, love to purchase locally-grown food. If they feel that way about purchasing local food, I would argue that there is a pretty good chance that they may feel the same way about purchasing locally brewed beer. This commitment to purchasing local products, along with Vermonters love of beer (and craft beer in particular), is the key driver behind the state having the highest number of craft breweries per capita.

There is one more piece of the puzzle, however, and that relates to the quality of the beer being produced by Vermont’s breweries. In general, craft beer drinkers tend to have high standards when it comes to beer quality. Breweries producing a sub-standard product are unlikely to survive in the market place. When it comes to having access to high quality beer, Vermonters have nothing to worry about. According to the beer rating site, RateBeer.com, ten of the one hundred top-rated beers in the world in 2016 were brewed by two Vermont breweries – The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead Brewery. Only Massachusetts and the country of Belgium, each with fourteen brews, have more beers in the top one hundred. Moreover, in the same year, Hill Farmstead Brewery was rated as one of the top ten of breweries worldwide. Since 1983, nine different Vermont breweries have won medals at the annual Great American Beer Festival. All of this suggests that Vermont breweries are producing beer that is of very high quality, both in the eyes of the craft beer drinker and expert judges. Vermonters, it would appear, have access to some world-class, locally-brewed, beer. Vermont breweries also have a reputation for innovation and creativity. They are, for example, credited with developing a new style of beer – the New England IPA.

The iconic Heady Topper

A couple of Vermont breweries, and the beers they brew have something akin to a cult following in the world of craft beer. For example, Heady Topper is a Double IPA (8% ABV) brewed by The Alchemist at their brewery in Waterbury, VT. Distribution of Heady Topper is limited to a twenty-five mile radius of the brewery. The Alchemist have a second brewery, eleven miles up the road in Stowe, VT. As the Waterbury brewery is not open to the public, Heady Topper is available for purchase at the brewery in Stowe. Visit the brewery in Stowe, however, and you will (along with everyone else) be limited to purchasing no more than two four-packs of Heady Topper per day. There are a small number of retail outlets in the immediate area, where Heady Topper can be purchased. But such is the limited supply of this much sought-after brew, most outlets only have it available for sale on one day of the week. So, for example, if you go to Alpine Mart in Stowe make sure it is a Monday, as that is the only day they have Heady Topper in stock. If they happen to be sold out when you get there, you can always wait until Tuesday and go to Bessary’s Quality Market in Burlington, VT to get some. Even those stores that receive shipments of Heady Topper often sell out within an hour. This means that to get your hands on some Heady Topper, you can expect to stand in line for an hour or so before the store has opened. And when you do so, there’s a decent chance that the person standing next to you has driven a couple of hours for the privilege of doing so. Heady Topper is not one of those seasonal or limited-release beers; it is brewed year-round, but there is simply not enough produced to keep up with demand. As for me, I have tasted Heady Topper once in my life; this past February in Santa Fe, NM of all places. I was in Santa Fe for a conference and my colleague Rachel Franklin, who teaches at Brown University in Providence,  RI was nice enough to put a can in her suitcase for me.

And so, I raise my glass to all those Vermonters who eat locally-grown food and drink locally-brewed beer. Their support of and commitment to their local food system is to be admired and commended. And to them I say Cheers.

Additional Reading:

Flack, Wes. 1997. American Microbreweries and Neolocalism: “Ale-ing” for a Sense of Place. Journal of Cultural Geography, Volume 16, Issue 2, Pages 37-53.

 

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

This is my third entry about my recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. You can read my other two entries here and here. I was there to attend, Beeronomics 2017, the biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society.

Carlsberg is Denmark’s largest brewer. Tuborg was once an independent brewery but is now owned by Carlsberg

Let’s begin with some facts about the Danish brewing industry and beer market. When it comes to beer Denmark is, in many ways, a very unremarkable country. The Danes themselves are not particularly big beer drinkers. Their average annual consumption of sixty litres per capita places them nineteenth in the European Union; well behind Europe’s leading beer drinkers, the Czech Republic whose residents in 2015 consumed an average of 143 litres per capita. Indeed, Danish  beer consumption per capita  decreased by thirteen percent between 2010 and 2015. With a fifty-three percent market share Carlsberg is the most important brewer in Denmark. Second place is held by Royal Unibrew who have a twenty-five percent market share. The most popular style of beer is Pilsner, which accounts for eighty percent of the Danish beer market. Craft beer accounts for approximately five percent of the volume of beer sold in Denmark; this is up from ~two percent in 2005. Of the 150 breweries in Denmark, one hunded are microbreweries. Interest in and demand for craft beer started much later in Denmark than in the United States, with some commentators signaling 2002 as a watershed year for the Danish craft beer industry. Between 2002 and 2008 the number of breweries in Denmark increased from nineteen to one hundred.

Nørrebro Bryghus is housed in an 1856 building
Rosemary, my friendly and efficient bartender, at Nørrebro Bryghus

I was able to visit two of Denmark’s microbreweries while in Copenhagen – Nørrebro Bryghus and Warpigs. Nørrebro Bryghus is named after the Copenhagen neighborhood (Nørrebro) where it is located.  It seems an appropriate neighborhood for a craft brewery; it was recently ranked as the twelfth most hipster neighborhood in Europe.  Nørrebro Bryghus was opened in 2003 by former Carlsberg brewmaster Anders Kissmeyer. Like many European craft brewers, Kissmeyer was inspired by the craft brewing movement in the United States. Specifically, he found inspiration from brewmaster Garrett Oliver, whom he met on a visit to Brooklyn Brewery. Nørrebro Bryghus made international headlines earlier this year when they made a beer using malted barley that had been fertilized by the 50,000 litres of urine that had been generated from 2015 Roskilde Music Festival. The brew, appropriately enough, was called Pisner and Nørrebro Bryghus became known as the brewery that puts the “P” in Pilsner. The Nørrebro Bryghus brewpub that I visited is located in an 1857 building. There is a second production brewery about twenty minutes away. The beers brewed in the Nørrebro Bryghus are listed on green chalkboards in the taproom while those brewed at the other location are on black chalkboards. I tried a number of Nørrebro’a beers on my two visits to the brewpub – Beer With No Name (a 7.7% ABV Stout), Zee Germans Had It Figured Out (a 6.6% ABV Märzen), Bombay Pale Ale (a 6.5% India Pale Ale), Ravnsborg Rød (a 6.5% ABV Irish Red Ale), Twenty 2 Lager a 5% ABV Pale Lager), La Secret De La Lcorne (a 5.9% ABV Farmhouse Saison Ale), and Nørrebro Pilsner (4.6% ABV). Nørrebro Bryghus is a great place to spend a couple of hours while in Copenhagen; the staff are friendly and attentive, the beer selection is good, and the general ambience very pleasant.

The bar at the Nørrebro Brewpub

The second brewey I visited was Warpigs. Warpigs is a collaboration between the Danish brewer Mikkeller and 3 Floyds Brewing Company from Munster, IN. Its beers, brewed on site, are billed as “American-Danish style brews”  I am not quite sure what that means, or what constitutes an American-Danish style brew, but I suppose when you are Three Floyds and Mikkeller you can use that type of language. Anyway, at any given time there are generally twenty-two Warpigs’ brews on tap. As well as brewing beer, Warpigs has a kitchen. It specializes in “authentic Texas barbecue”. The brewery, which opened in 2015, is located in Copenhagen’s old meat packing district. In Danish the district is called Kødbyen, which translates as Meat City.  At one point, during the last century it was said to have had the highest density of butchers in Europe.  Gradually, however, one-by-one, butchers left. It was in danger of becoming an abandoned ghost town of sorts. Then, in 2005, the local council had the idea to redevelop the district à la Manhattan’s meat packing district.  The result has made Kødbyen one of the trendiest entertainment districts in Copenhagen. It is home to art galleries, boutiques, co-working spaces, cafes, bars, restaurants, and night clubs. There are still a handful of butchering operations in the neighborhood, so that  “in the morning, you see butchers in white coats with blood on their hands walking around the streets of the meatpacking district.” Adaptive reuse of old building by craft brewers is one of my research interests within the craft beer industry. So I was particularly looking forward to visiting Warpigs. When you walk into Warpigs, a former butchery,  you get a feel for the building’s previous use. To a large extent, that is because there are a lot of restrictions placed on the changes that occupants are permitted to make to the interior of any building. When I walked into Warpigs, I immediately noticed the white tile walls and the hooks in the ceiling from which carcasses used to hang.  Warpigs is located in what is known as the White Meat District (there are also Brown and Grey Meat Districts). The White Meat District comprises twelve acres of buildings dating from the 1930s. It has been described as “a pinnacle of functionalist architecture“. According to Wikipedia, “functionalism is the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of that building”. I am no student of architecture, but that definition certainly resonates with me when I think of Warpigs and other buildings I saw in Kødbyen.

Warpigs is located in Copenhagen’s historic meat packing district
Inside Warpigs. Few structural changes were allowed inside the old butchery

Warpigs, as noted, is a joint venture between Mikkeller and 3 Floyds.  Mikkeller is an iconic name within the world of craft beer. Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a former high school science teacher, founded Mikkeller in 2006. The company made its name as a gypsy brewer.  A gypsy brewer is a brewer that does not own a brewery, but rather creates recipes and contracts with existing breweries to brew them. Mikkeller is arguably the most famous gypsy brewer in the world. I say arguably because Bjergso’s twin brother, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, is also an internationally famous gypsy brewer. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Jeppe’s company is called Evil Twin Brewing. Evil Twin was established in 2010. The name is a nod to the acrimonious relationship that exists between the two brothers. In March 2014 Jonah Wiener of the New York Times penned a fascinating piece on the evolution of this relationship. It makes compelling reading (you can read it here). Long story short – Mikkel started Mikkeller in 2006; a year prior to that Jeppe had opened a beer store in Copenhagen called Olbutikken. The relationship between Mikkeller and Olbutikken was symbiotic. Olbutikken showcased Mikkeller beers and Mikkeller beers drew customers to Olbutikken. In 2010 Mikkel opened a Mikkeller bar in close proximity to Olbutikken. Jeppe viewed the bar as competing with his store, and from that point forward the relationship started to go south.

Jacob Gram Alsing, Operational Manager at Mikkeller shared his perspectives on the brewer at their barrel-ageing facility
Peter, Pale and Mary – an American Pale Ale – one of the Mikkeller brews I sampled at Mikkeller Baghaven

I visited Mikkeller along with other delegates from the Beeronomics conference. The Mikkeller facility that we visited was Mikkeller Baghaven. This venue serves multiple functions. First, it is Mikeller’s barrel-aging facility.  Mikkeller sends beers that are brewed at various locations around the world to Baghaven to be barrel-aged. Second, it is a venue that can be rented for a variety of events such as weddings and parties. Third, it is a taproom where you can enjoy some great Mikkeller beers.  When we arrived at Mikkeler we were greeted by Jacob Gram Alsing, Operations Manager at Mikkeller. Jacob spent about thirty minutes with us, telling us about Mikkeller and answering questions. One of the most fascinating facts, that Alsing provided us with, is that Mikkel has a recipe book that contains somewhere in the region of a thousand different recipes for beer. I find that to be quite mind boggling. Mikkeller beer itself is brewed in four different countries – Belgium, Norway, Italy, and the United States. Technically, Mikkeller is no longer a pure Gypsy brewer. In addition to the brewpub that Mikkeller owns in Copenhagen with 3 Floyds, the brewer recently opened a brewery in San Diego, CA . The San Diego brewey is another joint venture – this time, with AleSmith Brewing Company. The San Diego Brewery allows Mikkeller, among other things, to get their more perishable brews such as IPAs to their customers in a condition of peak freshness.  And Mikkeller recently announced that they would be opening a brewery in a non-ticketed section of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Indeed, there appears to be a trend of gypsy brewers investing in brick and mortar breweries. There are a number of reasons for this, including a brewer being able to interact with his/her customers and this getting direct feedback on the beers they produce.

From a beer drinker’s perspective Copenhagen turned out to be a more interesting city than I had anticipated. But, I suspect, thanks to the growth of the craft beer movement, that every city is more interesting than it was say twenty or even ten years ago. And for that, as someone who travels quite a bit I suppose I owe craft brewers a huge debt of gratitude. Craft breweries add local color and flavor to a city, while their beers reflect the creativity and craftsmanship of a local brewer. So to craft brewers everywhere I say Skål.

 

Il Locale

I was in Copenhagen, Denmark a few weeks ago. I was there attending the fifth biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society. It was my first visit to Copenhagen; my first visit to Denmark, in fact. So I was keen to explore the Danish beer scene. I was there for six days and did indeed get to visit a couple of Danish craft breweries while there, as well as sample a good number of Danish craft beers. What I did not anticipate, however, was drinking a goodly amount of Italian craft beer. But there it was; right across the street from my hotel – Il Local – an Italian craft beer bar. It didn’t look much from the outside. I had arrived from Detroit, via Amsterdam, that morning. I was tired and so it would have been very easy to have a couple of more beers in my very comfortable seat in the lobby bar of the Avenue Hotel and then retire for the evening. But I didn’t. I got up, settled my bar bill, and headed across the street. And boy, I was glad I did.

Il Locale was right across the street from my hotel
Il Locale was getting ready to celebrate its one year anniversary

I have been in literally thousands of bars over the years – many of them forgettable, and a few of them memorable. On the spectrum of forgettable to memorable Il Locale definitely leans toward the latter. The bar opened in 2016. In fact, the weekend after I was there it was going to be celebrating its one-year anniversary.

Il Locale is a venture of Hibu Craft Brewery. Hibu was established in Milan in 2007, but relocated to Burago di Molgora (twenty kilometers northeast of Milan) in 2015. The man behind Hibu is Raimondo Cetani who quit his job in IT to take his passion of home brewing to the next level. With the assistance and support of his business partners, Tommaso Norsa and Lorenzo Rocca, he did just that. The name, Hibu, has an interesting etymology. It represents the combination of the word homebrewer and the acronym IBU. IBU (International Bitterness Unit) is a technical term that indicates the degree of a beer’s bitterness.

Fabio, one of the wonderful bartenders who works at Il Locale

In addition to its intimate and in places cozy ambience, one of the delights of Il Locale is its Italian staff members. They are friendly and knowledgeable about the beer they sell. They are eager to engage in conversation and answer any question you may have about the bar or any of its beers. You quickly feel at home and and are soon starting to plot your next visit. Planning your next visit is made a little easier when the bartender hands you a coupon for a complimentary beer. This is exactly what my friendly bartender, Fabio, did as I was about to call it a night that first evening. It was a buy your first, get your second beer free coupon – redeemable on my next visit.

There were quite a few conference attendees staying at the Avenue Hotel and inevitably some of us found ourselves in Il Locale in the evening. There was a huge map of Italy hanging at one end of the bar and it was used as a teaching prop on more than one occasion as the bartender showed us where this or that craft brewery was located. During one of our early conversations with the bartenders we mentioned that we were academics who studied the beer industry and were in Copenhagen for the  Beeronomics Conference. They seemed genuinely interested in this; so much so that they wondered if it would be possible to attend the conference and take in a few of the presentations. We suggested that they turn up at the conference the next day and one of us would have a word with the conference organizers to see if they could get complimentary admission. So the next morning a couple of Il Locale’s staff members showed up at the conference and were soon sitting among us listening intently to what was being said by that morning’s presenters.

Il Locale’s bar area – note the map of Italy
If sitting at the bar is not your scene there is thus cozy lounge area
Koln, a 5.1% ABV Kolsch by Hibu Brewery

Il Locale does not just carry Hibu beers. It also has beer from other Italian breweries, including Dada, Black Barrels, and Croce de Malto. There is also a small but delicious food menu. The Italian chef had spent some time in Australia before coming to Copenhagen. The pasta with the crumbled spicy Italian pork from  Ariccia was particularly tasty. Il Locale has been added to my list of “must visits”. These are bars that I will go out of my way to visit should I return to a particular city. Il Locale is now one of those bars. Others on the list include Brouwerij de Prael in Amsterdam, Loos American Bar in Vienna,  and Tokyo’s Bar Monde.

 

Prof Beer

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from John Paul Breslin. John Paul is a reporter with the Sunday Post, a Scottish newspaper. John Paul had come across my beer blog, saw that I was originally from Scotland, and was interested in writing an article about my research Continue reading Prof Beer

Two Days in Hong Kong

I just returned from a ten day trip to Asia, which included two days  in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my trip was to attend the twenty-fifth biennial Pacific Conference of the Regional Science Association International that was held in Tainan, Taiwan. When my Continue reading Two Days in Hong Kong

Milk, Bread, and Beer

My wife and I met some friends for dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a Mexican restaurant, Cocina de Carlos, that neither my wife or I had tried before. It was an excellent choice – the food was freshly-made, helpings were generous,  and the service was both Continue reading Milk, Bread, and Beer

Last Call?

Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer Company in 1984, is an iconic figure within the world of craft beer.  Forbes Magazine refers to Koch as a “founding father of the American craft brewery movement”. There can be little argument that the entire craft beer Continue reading Last Call?