Gypsy Brewers Put Down Roots

News by | May 2016 | Issue #112

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has never needed a home for his Danish brewery Mikkeller. Instead he’s embraced a nomadic approach: setting up shop in different places around the world, working with different collaborators. And that style, often called “gypsy” brewing, has come to define Bjergsø.

In April, though, Bjergsø finally settled down, opening Mikkeller’s own brewery in the former San Diego home of AleSmith Brewing Company. “In some ways, nothing will change,” he says of the new space. “The only difference is, it will be my brewery, so I can do whatever I want to it.”

Mikkeller is one of a few so-called gypsy brewers that recently invested in permanent residences. Grimm Artisanal Ales, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., is negotiating a lease on its own space, says co-owner Joe Grimm. And To Øl in Copenhagen will open BRUS in May, a brewpub built inside an old iron factory in the Nørrebro district. (Notch Brewing Co., another roving brewery, will cut the ribbon on a new facility in Salem, Mass., this summer, though founder Chris Lohring objects to the gypsy title.)

Bjergsø describes the decision to open his own brewery as a natural progression rather than a change in Mikkeller’s brewing culture. A US brewery will allow it to produce fresher, cheaper beers, he explains. “It’s necessary for us to have our own brewery in the states because the competition is so great now,” Bjergsø says. “It’s getting harder and harder for a European brewery to produce beers there and ship them over.”

To Øl spokeswoman Louise Norup Hellener says they’ve learned a lot from the challenges of gypsy brewing, but that the freedom that comes with their own brewery will only help them improve, including expanding into flavored sodas and tonics. “With the establishment of our own brewery, we’ll also be able to give something back to the knowledge bank and mutual exchange, which the craft brewing milieu and gypsy brewing culture offers,” Hellener says. “We’ve been visiting so many great people and will now be able to host other brewers ourselves.”