Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a 38-year-old former high-school science teacher who runs the Danish brewery Mikkeller, stuck his face into a bag of hops and inhaled deeply. It was a rainy February afternoon, and Mikkel, who makes some of the world’s most inventive beer, was visiting de Proef, a Belgian brewery in the town of Lochristi. The hops had been processed into unctuous pellets that resembled cat food, and they released a ripe botanical stink heavy on lemon grass and cannabis. “That’s nice,” Mikkel said, crumbling a few pellets between his fingers and nodding approvingly at the sticky green smear they deposited on his thumb. They were specimens of a strain called Polaris, developed by growers in Germany, which Mikkel had asked de Proef’s proprietor, Dirk Naudts, to purchase for use in a new Mikkeller beer. “They’re very fatty,” Naudts said.
Unlike most brewers, Mikkel doesn’t own a brewery. A typical Mikkeller beer originates in his brain as a far-fetched question: What quality of fattiness would a beer obtain if you sprinkled popcorn into the mash? What would happen if you dumped in a load of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns during the brewing? How much fresh seaweed would lend a beer the right umami jolt? He then finds his answers by proxy, outsourcing the actual brewing to facilities, like de Proef, owned and operated by other people. Mikkel draws up detailed instructions for these fabricators to follow — specifying malt quantity to the milligram, mash schedule to the minute, bitterness to the I.B.U. — and the first time he tastes his own beer is usually when the brewer sends him a shipment and an invoice. “I don’t enjoy making beer,” he says. “I like making recipes and hanging out.”
Categories: Food & Wine