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  • What's a Gypsy Brewer?


    by Malia Paasch for HR Growler

    Mikkeller, Evil Twin Brewing Company and Stillwater Artisanal Ales: What do these brewers have in common?

    They don’t actually own a brewery.

    These three are among the few who have found a way to make beer without a brick-and-mortar footprint. Known as “gypsy brewers,” they are some of the most innovative producers in the world.

    Mikkeller of Denmark was the first gypsy I ran across. The brewer’s two founders, Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Kristian Klarup Keller, started in college. They continued their “kitchen experiments” for two years, often sharing their homebrews with friends at their beer club.

    During a blind taste test against commercially brewed beers, Mikkeller came out on top. The two men decided to try producing on a larger scale at a local microbrewery. Mikkel’s twin brother, Jeppe, had a bottle shop in Copenhagen and started selling the beer. Now the brand exports to 40 countries and has a dozen Mikkeller Bars all over the world.

    Speaking of those bars: Originally Jeppe and Mikkel had a pact that each would stay in their own worlds, retail and production. But when Mikkel opened his first bar and retail shop down the street from Jeppe’s bottle shop, the brother decided it was his turn to start brewing.

    He created Evil Twin Brewing Company in 2010. Evil Twin is not quite the size of Mikkeller, but his beers are nearly as well known. He exports to 12 countries and has a bar in Brooklyn named Torst.

    Brian Strumke, known to the beer world as Stillwater, is one of our own stateside gypsy brewers. A native of Baltimore, Strumke was a DJ and techno producer who started home brewing around the same time of Jeppe and Mikkel.

    The story goes that Strumke was asked to bring some of his brews to Max’s, a bar in Baltimore. From that, Stillwater Artisanal Ales was born.

    These three produce their beers in large quantities by contracting recipes to breweries with free fermenter space.

    Mikkeller mostly uses De Proef in Belgium. Evil Twin moved most of his production stateside to Westbrook Brewing in South Carolina and Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut. Stillwater uses Pub Dog Brewing in Maryland and travels the world crafting collaboration beers.

    The gypsy brewers are at the forefront of the beer market. Evil Twin moving production stateside has enabled him to sell his beers at a lower price. Stillwater has been collaborating with fledgling breweries in South America. Mikkeller’s latest announcement is that he is opening his first brewery in San Diego with Alesmith, using their brewing facility.

    Is it every gypsy brewer’s dream to have a brewery? This move may signal a change in the gypsy brewing market; only time will tell.