Beer - the beverage that is often referred to as “liquid gold”. Beer brewing emerged more than 5,000 years ago in the territory of Babylonia located between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. While it was in the ancient world used for ceremonial purposes it has today made its way into the culinary world. This the story of how Mikkeller Beer became one of the most distinguished breweries in the world.
Nowadays, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is known for some of the greatest beers in the world. But in order to understand his immense success, it's important to take a look at his entrepreneurial journey and the events that transpired.
As a child, Mikkel lived just north of Copenhagen along with his twin brother Jeppe, his father a prison warden and his mother a clerk in the prison service. Throughout his childhood, he and his brother adopted a competitive mentality that became a natural part of their rivalry. At the time Mikkel wasn’t aware of the importance that this attitude would affect his choices. From a young age, Mikkel was passionate about running. In fact, during his high school years, Mikkel would wake up early every day and endure a 10 km run before going to school. Mikkel was exercising 12 times a week with every session lasting from 3 - 4 hours.
All the hard work Mikkel put into self-development earned him two scholarships in the United States. A new chapter of his life had begun and he started exploring the American dream. Mikkel wanted to become the best, but there was always someone who could run faster. It didn’t match well with his ambitions and at one point he saw no need to continue. He therefore, decided to give up his running career. In spite of this, his American adventure wasn’t a waste of time because it introduced him to the world of craft beers. From that point on, Mikkel lived the American life and developed his interest in beer during his time in the US.
From running to teaching
Upon returning to Copenhagen Mikkel joined Frederiksberg Seminary - an institution that educates elementary school and high school, teachers. Mikkel’s reasons for joining were not due to his love of teaching but because it seemed to be one of the easiest programs to complete. In spite of this, Mikkel got an opportunity to join the Det Frie Gymnasium - a high school where he took a teaching job. He really enjoyed the fact that both teachers and students were able to influence their everyday lives through the freedom that this specific school provided.
Moreover, Mikkel's interest in physics and chemistry contributed to a solid understanding of the process of art of crafting beer.
First hop flowers
In 2003 alongside his teacher studies, his passion and interest for brewing beer began to flourish. In the beginning it was about understanding the processes of brewing beer and securing the specific taste that Mikkel loved. Having access to good, cheap, homemade high quality beer certainly wasn’t something that was overlooked either. Mikkel had been experimenting with home brewing for two years until he achieved the delicious and intended taste. At the time, he was surprised at how many producers weren’t passionate enough about brewing beer and how few were actually drinkable.
In 2005, two years after Mikkel had started his beer-adventure, he along with his old running partner Kristian Keller, came up with the name Mikkeller and started a larger scale production of beer. The following year they decided to rent the smallest stand at a beer festival in Copenhagen. They were approached by six American importers. Nobody knew and could imagine that Mikkel and Kristian were brewing their beers at home in their own kitchens!
Because of their attendance at the beer festival beer shops started to show interest and the highly recognized website ratebeer.com voted Mikkeller's beer as the world’s best stout in January 2006. Currently, Mikkeller still has their beers in the top 50. The high ranking and great reviews were essential to their early success.
Everything was going really well and production started to increase but disagreements started occurring between the two partners who were still working their full-time jobs along side. In 2007 the increasing differences in point of views resulted in a dissolvement of their partnership and Mikkel continued working by himself. Mikkel soon decided to quit his job as a high school teacher in order to focus full time on brewing beer. In 2010 Mikkeller progressed and opened its first bar on Viktoriagade in Copenhagen.
“The ambition was to show the world that you can brew the best beer. The product is everything”.
These words might sound like a cliché from any other company but it’s not that simple. The secret to brewing an outstanding beer is in constant tasting and adjusting. You need to have a well developed palate to be able distinguish good from bad ones which involves experiencing and tasting many different beers. Mikkel went through more than 50,000 different beers in order to find the right flavor profiles. This was all part of the important strategic role in developing new tastes. Some of his beers are market-oriented but Mikkeller still remains true to the brand DNA and their products carry flavors that fit the concept.
Building a successful world known brand demands a lot of skills, hard work and the right timing. Unfortunately Mikkel didn’t have a business background which meant he knew nothing about starting a company and this turned out to be one of his biggest challenges from the very beginning.
Mikkel eventually learned the ins and outs of running a business but chose to focus mainly on the brewing and developing of tastes. He was, and still is, adamant about keeping things authentic and genuine and not forcing others to love his beers.
Mikkel did not know exactly what he wanted when he began his brewing journey. There were no long-term plans or goals to achieve besides brewing praiseworthy craft beers. It was his passion, curiosity and love for craftsmanship that opened a whole new world, all factors that make the process easier and enjoyable.
Beer in the light of the future
Since 2010 when Mikkel dived deep into the brewing industry and his first bar opened, things have changed a lot. Nowadays the Mikkeller craft beer is spread over 50 different countries all over the world and Mikkel keeps expanding his empire. The latest location was the 50th and opened in Helsinki in June 2019.
The journey doesn't end here though. Mikkeller are taking steps towards developing unknown and advanced flavors and expanding worldwide. It’s important to Mikkel that the company expands in a speed where they can keep up and not compromise on quality and unique experience. They have set Asia in their sights partly due to its potential and the economic prosperity it has been experiencing. The plan is to dive deeper into this untapped market and develop a different beer culture, where they also have a taste for alcohol-free beer.
The future looks bright for Mikkeller. It’s inspirational that passion and curiosity for something you can get you so far. Your ideas can grab people’s attention, suddenly open their eyes and build substantial engagements. Getting to the top of the game isn’t easy - a competitive mentality and fearless hunger is required. As the great Benjamin Franklin once said: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
WE AIM TO…
… brew beer that challenges the concept of good beer and moves people. We do this by using the best ingredients and working with the most talented and creative minds around the world.
… make quality beers a serious alternative to wine and champagne when enjoying gourmet food.
WE FAIL TO…
… calm down. We are always thinking in new ways and ideas, always working on the next project. Sometimes it’s hard for people to keep up…
… make beer that is watery and tasteless. In our world beer challenges people’s taste buds – whether it’s in a bitter, spicy, sour or fruity manner.
WE LOVE TO…
… explore the existing beer genres by using the best raw materials available. The refined product is the aim – not to keep down costs. This leads to very special brews by Mikkeller: Stouts with Vietnamese Kopi Luwak coffee, chipotle chili, lychee fruits – just to name a few.
… cooperate with other breweries around the world who inspire us and teach us new ways of doing things …
WE HATE TO…
…work with people that don’t give a damn. There are so many wonderful, passionate and honest people in the beer world why spend time on the rest? …