Mikkeller's Thoughtless Approach to Converting New Drinkers the World Over

Austin Ray
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Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the Danish beer maker behind the transient Mikkeller brand, is quick to write off any notion that he, or his team, puts too much thought into anything. “We just do it when the opportunity’s there,” he says.

In this line, “there” is in reference to Boston, where the company hosted the Copenhagen Beer & Music Festival for the second year in row this past weekend. But really, one could expect a similar response regarding just about any of the company’s myriad projects. Whether he’s asked about WarPigs, developed in Denmark by Mikkeller and 3 Floyds and recently brought to the U.S., or the brewery and restaurant Mikkeller is opening this November inside Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, he offers a similar philosophy:

“We just do it when the opportunity’s there.”

Such nonchalance, though, betrays the fact that he also seems to think quite deeply about his own brand, craft beer’s place in the world, and his own brand’s place within craft beer’s place in the world. In fact, despite his insistence that “we don’t think too much about stuff,” there’s an apparent commonality underscoring most of Mikkeller’s recent work.

“Just expose non-craft-beer drinkers to craft beer,” he says. “That’s pretty much what we’re working on at the moment.”

That, too, is a fairly nondescript statement of purpose. But he says each project, no matter how different in scope, plays a unique role in service of that end game.

Take the Copenhagen Beer & Music Festival. Music was indisputably a side character this past weekend, with lesser-known artists occupying a stage outside the fest. But Borg Bjergsø sees in the music festival itself a largely untapped opportunity to convert new drinkers. This past spring, for instance, the company had a sizable beer garden on the grounds of Boston Calling, the city’s signature music fest, adding a new dimension to an event that had until then been limited on craft. Last November, too, Mikkeller partnered with members of indie heavyweights The National to put on a beer and music festival in Copenhagen. And he says the company only plans to expand the pairing of beer at music festivals going forward.

“A good international music festival like the one we did in Copenhagen, where you can only get craft beer—it’s a new audience,” he tells GBH. “One thing is exposing our beer to beer geeks, which is fine. But the fun thing is exposing our beer to non-beer geeks, to people who would normally drink a Budweiser.”

As GBH reported this past July, the company thinks pretty similarly of the brewery it’s building inside Citi Field. At the time, we reported: “[Mikkeller] says the location inside a major league baseball stadium will enable the company to not only establish a beachhead on the east coast, but also grant it a gateway to meet a new type of customer in a more unique setting.” Touching on that further, Borg Bjergsø adds now the stadium brewery, slated to open this fall, will allow it to “show a different audience what craft beer is all about.”

But the company isn’t merely hoping to establish new symbiotic relationships with adjacent places where beer has always been appropriate. It’s also trying to find still un-mined markets all over the world.

Though one could hardly call the U.S. underdeveloped, Mikkeller recently brought the WarPigs concept stateside, and Borg Bjergsø is confident the WarPigs team “has something you’ve not seen in the states, not anywhere in the world.” Regardless, the strategy behind WarPigs (“For now, we’re just introducing the beers… Eventually we want to do some brewpubs.”) mirrors that of its strategies elsewhere in the world, namely Asia.

The company currently operates five beer bars on the continent, with plans to add more. Not only that, Borg Bjergsø says Mikkeller is working toward building brewing operations there in order to produce “great hoppy beers” locally and “send them around Asia.”

“The U.S. is one thing,” he says. “It’s very, very good. It’s great. But it’s oversaturated. There are so many fucking breweries, there’s so much shit going on. Compare that to the rest of the world, there’s nothing going on. I think we can make that happen. We can make it happen in the rest of the world. That’s why I love working in Asia.”

He continues: “Suddenly, they’re in the Mets’ stadium, or they’re in a bar in Thailand, and they’re normally drinking a [macro] Pilsner and suddenly they’re drinking [craft]. That’s what we want: to get craft beer spread worldwide.”

But, remember: Mikkeller doesn’t “think too much” about any of this stuff. It just does this stuff “when the opportunity’s there.”

—Dave Eisenberg