How it all started
In 2003 he was a math and physics teacher who started experimenting with hops, malt, and yeast at home in his small Copenhagen kitchen – just a stone’s throw away from Carlsberg’s main brewing site. Today, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø exports his craft beer to 50 countries and operates an equal number of bars and restaurants around the globe. His inventive, constant development of Mikkeller has brought him international acclaim as one of the most innovative and cutting-edge brewers and entrepreneurs in the world.
Back before it all began, beer was just something Mikkel drank to get drunk when partying with his friends – and the cheaper, the better. While studying to become a teacher, the young Dane got a job at a local café, where he was introduced to Belgian beers like Chimay and Hoegaarden. He quickly developed a taste for the foreign beer and came up with the idea to found a beer club with some friends. They met regularly, sitting around a table in a small basement tasting and rating different kinds of beers.
A couple of years later, after Mikkel got a job as a physics and math teacher at a school in Copenhagen, he would sometimes stop in at a local pub for a beer after work (known in Danish as a fyraftensbajer) on his way home. It was here that he tasted and fell in love with an India Pale Ale from the Danish brewery Brøckhouse and realized that he could save a lot of money – and perhaps even win a competition at the beer club – if he could brew a beer like that himself.
Soon, Mikkel and his childhood friend Kristian Keller began working on a series of ‘physics experiments’ using malt, hops, and yeast in their home kitchens in Copenhagen. Inspired by the extreme hoppy nature of micro-brewed beer from the United States, the duo bought a couple of American books about brewing and began grinding malt in the basement of their apartment complex.
Their first experiment was a clone of the Brøckhouse IPA, which they served at their beer club gatherings. Eventually, the clone won a blind test in one of the club's tastings. The taste of this victory got the two friends hooked on the idea that others might also enjoy drinking their beer. And so, they began concocting their own recipes. They joined a home brewing contest at the national Danish Beer Festival and came home with several medals.
The kitchen experiments lasted for two and a half yearsand while they continued, Bjergsø and Keller also began brewing beer on a larger scale at the Danish microbrewery Ørbæk. In the beginning of 2005, another member of the beer club – Mikkel's twin brother, Jeppe – opened a beer shop in Copenhagen. There, Jeppe started distributing Mikkeller’s beer to beer geeks and lovers around the world, and tales of Mikkeller’s brews quickly spread throughout the international beer society.
Beer Geek breakthrough
The young brewers' major breakthrough in the international beer world started with the clean and simple idea of adding French press coffee to an oatmeal stout. The result was ‘Beer Geek Breakfast.’ The beer was voted as the number one stout on the international beer forum Ratebeer.com, and was a rousing triumph which kick-started Mikkeller’s international success.
At the Danish Beer Festival in 2006, Bjergsø and Keller had their first official stand, where they offered up eight different beers. That same year, two American distributors travelled all the way to Denmark to court the small brewery, which resulted in Mikkeller signing a distribution deal with American beer distributor Shelton Brothers. To cope with the increasing demand, the two brewers started producing Beer Geek Breakfast at the Danish microbrewery Gourmet Bryggeriet.
In the beginning of 2007, Keller left Mikkeller to pursue a career as the editor of a music magazine, while Bjergsø remained on his own to continue pursuing his dream of taking Mikkeller to another level. Working night and day in his small home office, Mikkel came up with recipes, packaged bottles, and kept the accounts – all while correcting his students' papers and preparing his lessons.
Mikkeller's growth was rapid, and in 2010 Mikkel decided to bid farewell to his students and colleagues at the school and commit himself full-time to the brewery. That same year, he opened his first bar: Mikkeller Bar, on Viktoriagade in Copenhagen's Vesterbro neighborhood. The bar's ambition was to create a small, elegant, and untraditional watering hole for both beer enthusiasts and novices, for men and women alike.