The Mikkeller Store
On a chilly Saturday in Vesterbro, I set out to interview some of the ones working for some of these craft breweries. There was one microbrewery bar, Fermentoren, that I’ve passed many times. It’s a cozy little bar partially hidden from the road by the hedges, that were a little over my height. They have a mini outdoor courtyard, which was packed at about 4pm that afternoon. I walked down into the basement, where the bar was. There was a long line at the bar, and one bar tender working was focusing quietly on keeping up.
Maybe it was the little bit of afternoon sunshine, but it really looked like the little place was very popular, and it’s looked that way every time I’ve passed by. I decided it was a bad time to try to get an interview with the bartender. So, I walked on into Kodbyen, I knew Warpigs Brewpub was there. At this bar and barbeque place, in the industrial section of Vesterbro, just about all seats were taken. I decided to try to come back at a different time, where hopefully the staff had a little more time.
Immediately next to Warpigs was The Mikkeller General Store. The Mikkeller brand was definitely on my to do list for places to interview for this feature. Not quite knowing what to expect I stepped in. The large glass window was letting in all the sunshine and this really warmed up the shop, when it was a cold and slightly rainy day otherwise.
The shop was cool with a mix between the industrial interior and the cartoon-ish art on all the beer and merch, including a mug with the ugliest version of the little mermaid. She was a mix of the Mikkeller cartoon guy, that sideways head with a massive nose, and a mermaid tail.
I was able to ask the guy at the sales counter for his opinion on microbreweries, his experience with customers, sales and the higher price for craft beer. And walked away with the most expensive beer I’ve ever bought. Paid 70 dkk for a regular size can of beer and 140 for a bottle. I’ve paid as little at 20 dkk for half a liter of Carlsberg. These two are still sitting in my fridge because somehow, they seem too fancy to drink.
Interview with Jordan@mikkeller.dk sales rep at the Mikkeller General Store, VBR
Yes, Mikkeller is a craft brewery, that is what Mikkeller does. It’s actually classed as a gypsy brewery. So, it started off not having its own physical brewery, it uses other people’s breweries to use that capacity. But we now do also have a brewery. Warpigs is a brew pub that we run with free flights.
Warpigs is brewing exclusively for Warpigs, and they also do some of the brewing for a barrel-aging project and saison and sour ale brewery out in Reffen.
Other than that, a lot is brewed in Belgium at a place called Puff, that I think specializes specifically in doing this contract brewing. So, all the recipes are made by the brewer Mikkel, then made somewhere else. This is a trend that picked up in the 2010’s.
So the price is basically a reflection of the quality and amount of ingredients, so for a typical beer like say Tuborg, they are just using malt, not necessarily high quality and then they are not using that many hops, whereas for most craft beers, if you are making an IPA and you want a lot of flavor and a good profile of bitterness, you need to basically use a lot more hops and they need to be fresher and you are having to import them from the US typically, for the hops that are popular now, so that pushes the price up.
There’s also lots of things to do with like Carlsberg, they have an economy of scale where they can just buy up everything that they want. It makes it easier for them to get a lot of stuff at a lower price per kilo, but also at the same time, a lot of these breweries have carried out practices where they are purposely buying more than they need, to drive up the price for competitors. It’s an issue across the industry. So, your Heineken’s, Carlsberg’s, IBM Buff’s are approaching monopoly levels of control.
The Increase in Microbreweries in spite of the ‘monopolies’
It’s the same thing that’s happened across Europe, it’s happened in the UK, like there’s always been a lot of breweries, but in the last 5 years, it’s exploded. In the US, it was a similar thing. They were about 10 years ahead of everyone. They had a real explosion, where it went from a couple 100 to thousands in like the space of 10 years.
Are people more willing to pay the higher price for the quality/experience?
Yea, I think the thing that you have to get through with a lot of this is just getting someone to try it. A lot of people aren’t bothered if they have never tasted good beer. And they are always so expensive. And if you explain to them why it’s so expensive and the work that goes into it. Then they are more open to it and they taste it and go “oh I do like this”. Especially, people are reluctant for a lot of styles that they haven’t had before. So, most people’s experience of beer is lager and wheat beer, like a German wheat beer. And obviously we are making some Pilsners and Lagers, but we are also making pretty much every other style of beer that we can. So, opening people to that as well, that’s how the journey can go on, new flavors and that sort of thing.
The reason, as well, why it’s often more expensive, or the way that it works out, is that there is a general trend of people eating less in general, so people are turning to drinking less but it being of higher quality. So, I think financially, it doesn’t affect the customer that much. It’s not just about getting drunk, it’s more about actually enjoying what you have.
What you are seeing is more and more people drinking alcohol-free beer, and that’s a thing that Mikkeller does really well, alcohol-free beer. It’s just a nice alternative.
How often are you producing a new beer?
There’s probably a new one coming out every 2 weeks. But also, on top of that, I forgot that we have 2 new breweries that are completely run by Mikkeller, one in New York and one in San Deigo as well. So, we are sometimes getting stuff from them. So, yea, there is a lot of output.
But it’s also this common thing of people, like once they start to drink craft beer, they want to have something different each time. So there is an increasing trend of people not drinking the same beer twice, which is a bit of an issue, because it’s easier and cheaper in a sense to keep making some of the same beers and have consistency, which does happen with a lot of the beers, but also there is so much push for something different each time.
(Boegdals point about new beers and maybe this is the reason that the newer breweries are making so many different beers.)
Mikkeller has rapidly expanded over the last couple years. And people want t-shirts with the company logo and things like that. I think its people investing themselves essentially and maybe identifying with it. It helps that we also run a beer festival, which is next weekend. http://mikkeller.dk/event/mbcc-mikkeller-beer-celebration-copenhagen-2019/
That’s always really fun. We get the best breweries from around the world. A lot of American breweries, that, it’s really hard to find their stuff outside of the US sometimes. So, yea we have got that and that raises the profile and people come to Copenhagen for that. Like hundreds of people will be visiting this week.
What’s a bestseller?
It’s that same thing with bringing out beers so often that you have beer that’s no longer in production. We had one that we made for the Swedish market called Shalek, that one is always super popular. We make a new version of it every 3-6 months. It’s a hazy pale ale. It’s got a lot of fruity, tropical fruits, nuts and things like that.
Beer Geek Breakfast, this was the one that pretty much kicked off the entire Mikkeller brand. Mikkel was brewing in Vesterbro in his kitchen and I think he won a prize; I think that was one of the first ones where he won a prize for the beer. And basically, it’s a stout with cold brew coffee added in and that is probably the most well-known and most popular.
I really like the Vanilla Shake. It’s the Beer Geek Breakfast, then added vanilla. That’s super good.