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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mikkel v. Jeppe

In case you missed it, this is an incredibly fascinating story of Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso.  They are twins, gypsy brewers, and founders of (sort-of) Denmark-based Mikkeller and New York-based Evil Twin.  And they hate each other.

There is a ton of fuel here to feed any passionate fire you may have about craft brewing.  Both men say things that do not necessarily make you love them:
Jeppe’s affability notwithstanding, he was full of bravado when it came to discussing business. “I wanted to change the beer scene in New York,” [Jeppe] said. “I wanted to show New York how to do it.”

For Mikkel, brewing has become primarily a discursive activity. “I get inspiration from tasting beers, food, coffees and wine, and from talking to people who have different ways of thinking about flavors and aromas....”  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.”

But then there are passages like this that allow you to glimpse the baby in the bathwater you were just ready to toss:
One of these was 3 Fonteinen, a venerated brewery in Beersel not much larger than an auto-body shop, where we arrived the next day. The head brewer was Armand Debelder, who has known Mikkel and Jeppe for several years and calls them “very special both.” 
The piece, by Jonah Weiner in the New York Times Magazine, is one of the best beer reads in forever.  Don't miss it.

14 comments:

Craig said...

Jeff, C'mon! Who care if these two jackasses can't get along?! I'm baffled by the infatuation that's building over brewers—not beer—brewers.

Jeff Alworth said...

Craig, I think you're missing the point. These are identical twins and rivals pursuing identical professions while embroiled in a strange familial psychodrama. It doesn't matter what widgets they're selling--the story is fascinating. I'd have loved it if they were pickle-makers.

Craig said...

The Everly Brothers didn't speak to each other for 25 years. Is that more important than their music influencing everybody from Dylan and the Beatles to Wilco?

Jeff Alworth said...

I think you're still missing the point. I don't know anything about the Everly Brothers, but yeah, the fact that they didn't speak while participating in the same band is damned interesting. You can be laser focused on their beer, but I'm not obliged to follow. The story that fascinates me is about the brothers, not the beer. (Though it's definitely made more interesting because they're brewers than pickle-makers.)

Christopher Grzan said...

Of course it's not more important, but you're still aware of the fact that they didn't speak to each other for 25 years. Because it's an interesting story that people would like to know.

Craig said...

I heard Bob Mondello, the NPR film critic, once talk about the Oscars. He noted that usually, only "important" movies win Oscars. Movies about war, or AIDS or social injustice. The reality is though, as he noted, no movie is important.

Is the Bjergso brothers story really an interesting story? Or is it "important. To me there's a false sense of importance. Would the Times write a story about two Romanian brothers who hated each other, and yet both ran separate garages—one in Bucharest and one in Queens? Probably not.

Did the Times really find an amazing story or did they pick up on the wild and wholly trend of craft beer? Regardless, we as craft beer drinkers ate it up. How is that not celebritizing the brewer? And, making brewers celebrities, is a slippery slope—leading to self-indulgent beers that are more about the brewers own "artistic" exploration than making good beer.

Christopher Grzan said...

I guess I just don't believe in the "slippery slope" argument. I've seen about 50,000 puff pieces on Ken Grossman and I don't see the guy abandoning the flagship pale ale anytime soon.

And I also have to disagree to a further extent. It's a story about two men who happen to be brewers, so our minds might gravitate to thinking it's about the latter, but really it's about the former; the two men and their relationship. So I just don't see how writing a story about a brewer is automatically celebritizing them.

Jeff Alworth said...

"Would the Times write a story about two Romanian brothers who hated each other, and yet both ran separate garages—one in Bucharest and one in Queens?"

You misunderstand news. Random people aren't newsworthy and for a ton of really obvious reasons. However, two well-known scientists or actors or dog breeders would be newsworthy. Nothing in this article lionizes these men. They seem flawed and tragic. You have a separate, different complaint about beer, but it doesn't apply here.

Alan said...

"You misunderstand news."? That is an astoundingly broad and thick accusation. These guys are dull as dishwater and only make the paper due to the weird cultish side to craft beer marketing practices. Most of the interest in the story extrapolates off into things not in the story, platitudes and accepted statements about craft that could have been scotch taped on to any story. The saddest thing is how this is where the discourse has ended up. Surely there are interesting things about good beer deserving the space in a paper.

Craig said...

I suppose I'm not going to change anyone's mind at this point. I'll leave my point of the debate here: My issue with these two guys and the deifying of brewers in general—and the fanboy mentality that begets that pedestal putting—most definitely applies here. Even if the craft beer "community" has figured that out yet.

timdogg said...

I certainly find the story of the twin brewers far more interesting than an insipid argument over whether or not it is interesting. Thanks for pointing out the article, Jeff.

Jim F said...

Wow, some people are just no fun (talking about commentors here, not the Bjergso brothers). Lighten up Francis. It was a great story -- I sent that link to a half dozen people, and they all loved it too.

Rob said...

All of this talk about what the "discourse" is supposed to be is unbelievably stuffy. If the "discourse" means that we can no longer have stories about human beings, then I'll happily be left out of it.

Brian Yaeger said...

I'm going to put aside whether or not "celebritizing" is a word although I suspect (without bothering to look it up) that it is not, yet the utterers intention is communicated so I'll allow it. Maybe I wholeheartedly disagree because part of my job is to profile brewers as much as if not more than the beers they brew. But maybe that's my job because I believe they're fascinating and deserving of people's readerness (if I may).Fanboys are their own plight. But part of loving beer with all your heart is caring, having an interest, in where it comes from, why it came, and yes, who's behind all that. As for stories in the Paper of Record, while there are plenty of top tier beers designed and brewed by very boring personalities, that's simply not as news/ink-worthy as a pair of tragic characters like these identical twins.

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