SAN DIEGO—Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is arguably the world’s most famous gypsy brewer; a gallivanting fermentation specialist exploring a myriad of styles, he’s known for pushing the envelope to the point that some of his beers challenge conventional beer guidelines.
Throughout his nine-year career, the Danish brewer used the systems of brewing comrades around the world. This will always be a part of who he is and what he does, but beginning this summer, he will have a permanent place to hang his mash paddle—the current home of San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing Co. On Tuesday, Bjergsø and AleSmith owner and brewmaster Peter Zien announced that they are finalizing an agreement for a creative partnership that will see the duo occupy AleSmith’s roughly 20,000-square-foot facility, which is separated into five suites comprising the brewery, tasting room, packaging, warehouse, barrel storage and administrative space. The deal is made possible by AleSmith’s impending move to a new, 105,500-square-foot brewery and tasting room in San Diego’s Miramar area, which is two blocks west of the current facility and expected to be completed by June 2015.
“Brewing in one of the best breweries in the world really makes sense,” says Bjergsø. “I mean, if they can brew beers like they do there, it really can’t go wrong, right?”
To further ensure Mikkeller is able to best utilize AleSmith’s equipment, the partnership involves Zien not only maintaining a stake in the business, but also devoting a significant amount of his time to assisting in the management of he and Bjergsø’s new interest and brewing operations. But Zien won’t be the only artisan of note to brew at Bjergsø’s new digs.
Being a gypsy brewer, Bjergsø has made a regular practice of teaming with other renowned brewers on collaboratively produced beers. This will be a key component of the new operation, which will see him inviting a steady flow of brewers to work with him at his new facility. “I plan on having many brewers from around the world come through and collaborate, and am hoping to set up a ‘collaboration of the month.’”
Bjergsø and Zien have maintained a solid personal relationship for more than a decade. The duo has kept in touch remotely, sharing techniques for brewing with each other and forming a lasting friendship. Last month, the brewers collaborated on a coffee-infused imperial stout called Beer Geek Speedway, which combined Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel brewed at the AleSmith facility. Though it was billed as a standard collaborative brew, it was actually a test to see how well one of Bjergsø’s most popular beer recipes would do on the system Bjergsø hoped to secure.
“Each year, Mikkel emails to invite me to come out to the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, and sadly, every year, I write back to say no,” said Zien. “This year, when I went to reply—and this year, for the first time, I finally got to say yes—I mentioned AleSmith was up for sale to see if he might be interested. That’s how this all started.”
“People have always asked me when I’m going to open my own brewery, and my answer has always been ‘never,’” says Bjergsø. “It’s the easiest answer, but it’s been on my mind for several years. Just nothing concrete. When Peter proposed for me to brew at AleSmith in this capacity, it became real for me. I like being a ‘gypsy brewer,’ but know that having a stake in a U.S. brewery will change our position here.”
When asked if he plans to produce core beers or any set lineup, Bjergsø says he will continue to brew as he currently does, attacking a wide-range of beer styles including experimental beers and one-offs, taking chances and brewing as the mood strikes him. That said, he is excited about the possibility of packaging his beers in four- or six-packs at a competitive price. But production at that scale will have to wait. Bjergsø’s current focus is dialing in the brewhouse for his purposes and slowly ramping up production once he is satisfied with the quality of the beers being produced.
Back home in Denmark, Bjergsø is also constructing a brewpub, but he and his business partners are excited to juggle these projects and excited for future endeavors. Both projects spell the next step in growing the Mikkeller empire, which includes various bars throughout the world, including spots in Bangkok, Stockholm and San Francisco. Bjergsø also foresees opening other locations throughout California. Once the partnership is formed, he plans on revamping AleSmith’s tasting room to simultaneously infuse some of the modern, wood-heavy feel of other Mikkeller Bars while also paying homage to what’s been built by Zien and predecessor Skip Virgillio (the founder and original brewmaster, who sold AleSmith to Zien in 2002).
“I am very excited to announce this new partnership to the brewing world,” says Zien. “Mikkel and I expect to create unique and flavorful beers of the highest quality, as we are both known for brewing with AleSmith and Mikkeller.” If all goes as planned, Bjergsø and Zien expect to be brewing Mikkeller Beers in the United States by June.
Brandon Hernández is an award-winning San Diego-based beer and food journalist who regularly contributes to national and regional publications. He is a columnist for Celebrator Beer News, Pacific San Diego, Ranch & Coast, SIP California, The San Diego Reader and West Coaster, author of the Complete Guide to San Diego Breweries, founder of the “Beer to the Rescue” campaign benefitting the Lupus Foundation of Southern California, Senior Communications Specialist for Stone Brewing Co., and a former consultant to Food Network and Zagat. Follow him on Twitter via @sdbeernews and @offdutyfoodie.