Interview with the Evil Twin himself, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsøby timmons / Jun 19, 2012
On the night of June 18th, 2012, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the man behind Evil Twin Brewing, for a lengthy interview.
Evil Twin is of particular significance for us in Charleston because the gypsy outfit has been brewing at Westbrook since last October - a fact you should know unless you've been living under a beerless rock. It's the first time an American brewery has played host to a European gypsy brewer. This has led to some really amazing stuff showing up on draft banks and bottle shops all over town. I wanted to dig a little deeper into how that relationship started, and pick Jeppe's brain on a few things I haven't heard him touch on in other interviews.
We've got the 23-minute audio interview streaming here, and a full transcription below where I've liberally edited out all the "so" and "um" and "you know" parts that come with conversation, and provided some informative links. Read that if you want the meat, but listen if you want the inflection. Or you want to marvel at how Southern I sound when talking to someone from Europe. Or if you want to hear Rich from CBX say "squib" a few times.
Edit: Also, big thanks to the CBX crew for playing host to both us and the Evil Twin family for this interview, and Westbrook for being the reason they were here in the first place. Literally could not have happened without the both of you!
Timmons: So what can you tell me, if anything, about what you've been doing at Westbrook over the last couple of days?
Jeppe: We have been brewing actually just one beer (two batches). We're going to do two more tomorrow and Wednesday. The beer we brewed yesterday and today is a new beer...it's not a new beer, I brewed it in Denmark, but it's a new beer being brewed at Westbrook. It's an IPA, which is 100% Brett fermented. Kind of a classic IPA, but the yeast is pretty "unlcassic," or whatever you call it. The first time we did it it got really funky, and I like Brett beer. I hadn't done a 100% Brett-fermented IPA before, so that's the one that we're doing. Lots of Citra hops, that we think works with the Brett.
T: One thing I haven't seen covered everywhere is how your relationship with Westbrook started, with you brewing there. What spawned that?
J: It's actually a good story. I was doing a beer dinner arranged by the Charleston Beer Exchange guys in August last year. We [Evil Twin Brewing, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and their importer, 12 Percent Imports] did a promotion tour all over the U.S. - California, Chicago, New York, South Carolina. When Rich and Scott picked us up at the airport, driving back to Charleston they told us about this new brewery that just opened up in Mount Pleasant that I'd never heard about of before. They were like, "Yeah it's a pretty cool brewery, big brewery, and a young guy making some good stuff. Maybe you want to go and see it and say 'hi' to the guy?" We were like, "Yea of course, that would be cool."
We were running a bit late with everything, so we went out there, and I think we had less than 15 minutes. I saw the place, and I liked it a lot - nice and clean, lots of space. I met Ed, and he seemed like a nice guy. And I just asked him...you know I'd been looking for extra capacity beacuse I'm always way behind my schedule, I always need more capacity...so I just asked Ed if he had any extra capacity, maybe I could do some stuff there? And he said "Yeah, that sounds good." So we just kept contact going.
In October of last year, I went back to Charleston, back to Wesbtrook to brew the first two beers. I brought my partner...he's not my partner in Evil Twin, but I have a brewer in Denmark that I brew a lot of beers at called Fanø, and the brewer there is an American guy called Ryan, and he does a lot of my stuff. So, kind of to give him a trip to the U.S., I brought him with me. We did Biscotti and Freudian Slip, and it worked, came out good. That's kind of how it started, and how we're continuing, and we want to do a lot more stuff.
J: Yeah, we're gonna start doing cans also. I have a beer called Hipster Ale, we're going to do that in cans. We just got in the first sheet in for the production of the cans. It's gonna be exciting.
T: This is kind of an off-topic question, but the different Hipster Ales from the different hipster regions of the world, is that the same recipe? Or do you tweak it for the different locations?
J: Different hops. Same malt, different hops. It started out in Copenhagen. I have a beer store in Copenhagen, and we moved last year to a bigger location, like more of a main street location kind of thing with lots of foot traffic. I wanted to make something for people that are not into beer. Before then our store was mostly for beer nerds and people traveling from all over the world just to come to our store, pretty much. Moving to this big location, I wanted to make a beer that we can sell cheaper, and for people that you don't consider as beer nerds, but people that just like to try something new. So I brewed Istedgade Hipster Ale, which became pretty popular pretty fast. We sold a lot of it, so my Swedish importer called and asked if we could brew a Hipster Ale for Stockholm, then my Italian importer wanted one, [and my] Spanish importer.
The Spanish Hipster is kind of a funny story, because he's not too good at English. He sent me an e-mail...no, I sent him an e-mail asking if he wanted a Hipster Ale for Barcelona, and he didn't undersatnd my e-mail that much. So before I knew of it, he had set up a brewing date at a brewery in Spain, and now he's sending me plane tickets and everything. So I ended up brewing the beer in Spain, which was a lot of fun and it came out pretty good. Now Hipster Ale is in...I think I've done it for 9 different cities, but the one we're doing at Westbrook now in cans is just an overall, it's just going to be called Hipster Ale, beacuse it's a big amount. We are doing at least...I think it's 90,000 [cans, presumably]? So we want to do it for bigger distribution, you know, before it was just for Istedgade or whatever.
T: It seems like almost anybody would be thrilled to have you brew [in] their [facility]. We've got 2,000 breweries in this country now. What do you look for? It sounds like the Westbrook thing happened out of chance, but are there certain things you look for in a brewery you're going to work in, or things that would knock a brewery out of the running?
J: Definitely. First of all, it's not that you cannot make good beers at a crappy brewery, but I just have a feeling that if the brewery can't make good beers themselves, they probably won't be able to make it for other people. If they get a good recipe it would probably come out pretty good, but if you don't understand how a good beer should be and... I mean, if I make a recipe for Westbrook and he doesn't have that certain kind of hops that I want, or whatever, he might have to tweak that or change it a little bit, and I want him to understand what's going on. I know Ed does that. That's the main thing.
Other than that, I don't know? There's no reason for me to find small breweries now beacuse I need big production, and a 60bbl batch at Westbrook is not even enough right now, but it's still better than nothing. We are looking for other places now, after me moving to Brooklyn we are looking for bigger production also. We're talking to a brewery in Connecticut that's opening up. It's actually a new place doing their own stuff at a small scale, and they want to do lots of contracts, which is perfect for me. I want to do bigger production for some of my beers, and I still wanna do all the fun new stuff at Westbrook... That brewery in Connecticut is being opened by a world-renowned brewer.
The relationship is important too. being able to communicate with the guy. You know, I have to like him too. It's not easy working with people you don't like. I haven't experienced it yet, but that's probably because I only go after breweries with people I actually... I mean the places I brew at in Europe are all people I consider my friends. Like BrewDog, I've known these guys for many years, De Molen [has a brewer named] Menno [who] is a very good friend of mine. [In] Denmark, Amager and Fanø, very good friends of mine too, both of them. I'm using a brewery in Norway called Lervig which is totally unknown, but is an old friend of mine [named] Mike Murphy who used to brew in Denmark, then moved to Norway. I knew what he was capable of, and the brewery was totally unknown, but I knew if he took care of it, it will be good. That's the main priority.
T: Talking about those breweries in Europe...do the breweries you work with all brew your beer occasionally when your not there? Or [do] some only brew when you're on location?
J: No. I've been to all the breweries. At least the first time I brew the beer, because it's important to understand the equipment and all. But me being over here, and being so busy, basically it's impossible for me to be there. Some of the breweries, like Norway, only brew one beer that they know, so it's the same. In Denmark, Amager is actually only brewing a beer I already brewed before. I brew two different beers at that place, and I've brewed both of them with them, so they also know that. Fanø - I know Ryan, and we talk every day, we're good friends, so he does a lot of stuff. We make recipes together sometimes. De Molen - you know, I trust them so much, and the same with BrewDog. I want to go sometimes, I went to De Molen last year, have been there a couple of times to brew, but now it's...I know how the system works, so I pretty much just send them a recipe, and tell them to "do this."
T: Westbrook - Do you have a particular favorite Westbrook beer? It sounds like your certainly enjoy what he does, or you wouldn't be working there, so is there something that stood out, maybe something you had early on?
J: Of his own?
J: Overall, I like everything he does. Basically the first time, those 15 minutes, what struck me was that he makes really clean beers. Everything tastes [like] what it's supposed to be, and I like that. If you get an IPA, it tastes of hops, and that's it. If you get a wheat beer, it's sweet...yeast...and all that. He just got a new Amarillo Pale Ale that I like a lot. I mean, favorite one? I like that Amarillo, I think that's really good. Of course, I actually think what he does for me is really good. I just had Hop Flood for the first time, the one he brewed a month ago. I think it came out pretty perfect, as I wanted it to, so I've been drinking a lot of that. You know, I don't drink my own beers on draft too often, so it's kind of fun to be able to do it. Drinking it at the brewery, fresh? It's awesome.
T: Not so bad!
J: I like his Gose, the salty sour German style. It came out really good. I like that a lot. I think it's impressive to be able to do something [like that] in bigger scale.
T: I've been in the Westbrook barrel room, and visitors that go there, or people that follow you on Twitter, know you have at least something in barrels in his barrel room. Can you talk about that?
J: Yea! It's not a lot, I only have two barrels right now. Actually we're going to do more now, he had some extra barrels. Right now, me doing barrel-aging is kind of...I only do it if I choose to, because every time I make a batch it's way less than we need, so it's kind of difficult to put it into barrels because it's going to be even less. The first two beers we brewed...I also did it just because it's fun to have the first [beer] you did at the brewery being barrel-aged and sitting there for a while, then being released and you can say, "This is the first beer we did together." We have Biscotti Break from the first batch sitting in a wine barrel, and we have Freudian Slip in a wine barrel. The beer we're doing tomorrow is a big, strong porter, and we're going to do that...I think we're going to do four barrels - two bourbon, and two apple brandy, I think.
T: Nice. [Trying to hide shudders of delight]
J: I asked Ed if he had any barrels, because we hadn't planned it, so I was like, "If you have some, we'll use them, if you don't, we don't." But he had two bourbon barrels and two apple brandy, so I was like "That's cool." In Denmark, on the other hand... I have a lot of barrels sitting in Denmark at Fanø, but I brew a lot of stuff at Fanø , and it's small batches, so it doesn't really matter that it gives me 200 liters less, because it's only very small anyway. I have a lot of exciting stuff sitting in barrels there.
T: Awesome. [Crying a little, on the inside]
J: I think we have 35 different barrels there, so that's pretty cool.
T: Wow! [Getting the vapors]
T: So that will end up in bottles eventually?
J: Yea. I mean, I like barrel aging. It's very up - very hip, and very popular right now. I don't have an urge to barrel age everything. I kind of feel like there's no reason to put something in a barrel if it doesn't give something to the beer. I know that a lot of breweries right now do the same beer in ten different barrels, which can be fun and all. But to me, if the barrel doesn't give something extra to the beer, I don't see any reason to do it. So, if I make an imperial stout, and I don't have access to... For example, I like to put imperial stout in wine barrels, like port wine barrels. If I don't have access to that, I'm not going to just put it in a barrel just to put it in a barrel. A lot of other breweries do that now, because barrel aging is what everybody's asked for. But it has to have a meaning, I have to have a reason, I think.
T: You moving to Brooklyn recently - is there stuff locally on the horizon for you there? Stuff coming up in the Brooklyn area that spurred you to move?
J: My reasons - or our reasons, I moved with my family - many reasons. Mainly, I'm working very closely with my importer...
[Door opens, and Rich Carley walks in with plate of grilled squid, also known as "squib."]
T: Nicely done.
Rich: Squib for you boys.
Rich: Little bit of squib.
J: Thanks a lot.
[Rich exits, stage left.]
J: I'm going to work closely with my importer, 12 Percent. We've become really good friends, and he's doing a really good job for me and we've been selling more and more in the U.S. My wife and I have been talking about moving to New York for a long time to try something else. The opportunity was there, and you know, you have to have a business going, you have to be making money to live in New York. So that was the main reason. Also, we're into finding bigger production, and we knew something was coming up that we wanted to work on, and it would be easier for me to be over here.
And, we are also opening a beer bar in Brooklyn, a big place. Actually, we've been looking for a place for more than a year. [We've] been negotiating on a spot the last six months, and we just made a deal last week actually, so that's pretty exciting. We are opening a pretty big place - 2,000 square feet for Brooklyn standards is pretty big. It's going to be [the Evil Twin family], Brian Ewing my partner['s family], and a guy out from California [could not catch his name] that's a good friend of mine. We want to make the best beer bar in the U.S., and I think we can do it. With all of our contacts combined - I know everybody in Europe, Brian knows everybody over here - I think we have a good reason to be able to think that.
So that's a new project. I'm not going to be bartending or anything, it's just something I'm doing to build the business. It's not going to be an Evil Twin bar, it's going to be built from the Scandanavian design and way of thinking, because I'm from Denmark and there's no reason not to use that when you open a bar because it's pretty popular in the U.S. (in New York especially). We will, of course, have a lot of Evil Twin beers, but we're not going to call it Evil Twin, and it's not going to be just Evil Twin. We want to be able to serve all the good beers from all of our friends all over the world.
So that's the new project! We're waiting on the lease now, if we can get it done we'll probably be able to open in four months or something. So that's exciting!
T: That really is! Would you ever consider owning and operating your own brewery, or is that just out of the [question]?
J: Right now it is totally out of the question, because I like what I'm doing, and it works really good. I see a lot of breweries opening up now that kind of need people like me, so I don't see any reason. It gives me a big freedom to be able to do what I do. In the future? Yea, probably. I mean, I want to expand the business, and I want to be able to invest the money that I make to build new stuff. I'm not going to build ten different bars, so maybe in...in the future, if we see that as the best opportunity or have a good reason...I don't know. It's not totally out of the question, but it's not going to happen right now.
T: You were talking about barrel aging before. When you see, whether it's a fad or a trend, something extremely popular in craft beer, like White IPA seems to be filling that hole now, or the session beer thing. Does your brain immediately go to "I'm going to ignore that and do my own thing," or do you want to make an excellent version of it to shut everybody up? If that was me, I could see both sides of that.
J: Evil Twin is only about two years old. I've been trying to do it my own way, not go with the trend, for many reasons. I like to build my own thing, and I like to not just have people say "You do it like everybody else." For example, collaborations. I've only done one collaboration, which wasn't even a collaboration, it's called Russian Roulette, I don't know if you heard about it. This guy in Sweden who is a new brewer, who is pretty unknown, he contacted me and told me he liked my beers, sent me some of his beers,like that. I thought it would be fun to do something with a guy...you know, I know all the guys in the U.S., I know all the brewers, so I could have done collaborations for a long time. But I just like the feeling of being able to build it myself instead of just jumping on the famous guy's wagon kind of thing.
Barrel-aging - it's not that I don't want to do it because everybody else does it. But, as I said before, it has to have a reason, it has to have a purpose, otherwise I'm not gonna just do it because it's popular. I can sell my beers whether I barrel age them or not, so it doesn't mean that much.
The session beer thing - I like session beers, and I like to drink them a lot, so I make them. I'm doing a 2.7% IPA, that has become pretty popular. I like drinking them myself, so that's a reason for me to make it, it's not because people are telling me to. Which is also, talking about it before - not owning your own brewery you don't have to do stuff to be able to sell a lot or make a lot of money to pay your investment back. I can make whatever I want, and if it doesn't work, I'm not going to make it again. Makes it pretty simple.
T: Talking about the 2.7%, that's the Bikini Beer?
T: Sour Bikini we've heard about recently, and Without You I'm Nothing. The sour thing - does that fall under barrel aging for you, where it's got to be something you're doing purposefully for that? It seems to be sort of a trend, not probably a fad since it's really gaining in popularity.
J: I haven't done a lot of sour beers, mainly because I don't think I'm too good at it, actually. Not saying I cannot do sour beers, but I think other people can do it better. I'm a big lambic fan, I've made my own beer with Cantillon... I want to do what I think I can do good, and right now I don't think sour beers is what I do best. I've done sour beers also as a homebrewer, but it's not something I have an epic urge to try just because it's popular. A lot of other people are doing them really good, so let them do it. Not saying I won't do it, but I'm not going to do it just to do it. Without You I'm Nothing was more like an experiment than trying to make a sour beer. It was more like I wanted to see how far we could take it, and it came out pretty ridiculous. I don't know if you had it? It was pretty sour...
T: Yeah, it was great!
J: ...and pretty vinegary and stuff, so I don't know if I'm going to make it again. It was fun, but we'll see. Sour Bikini wasn't actually... It was made at a place called Cabinet Artisanal Ales [house brewery for Philly beer destination The Farmer's Cabinet] in Virginia. A good friend of mine, the brewer, Terry Hawbaker, is very good at making sour beers and has a very good technique that you can sour beers in, like, two weeks. So he came up with the idea, he asked me, "Do you want to make Bikini, and we can release some of it as Bikini and we can sour some of it up?" And I was like, "Yeah, let's do it!" He showed me how to do it, and I didn't know that method before, and it was fun. It came out really, really, really good. That could be a beer I might do again just because it's very unique, it's very sour in a way that I haven't had sour beers before. But, if I did it again, I'd probably do it with Terry because he was the guy that showed me how to do it, and kind of the guy that developed that beer, so I'm not going to try and take it away from him. I want to give him credit for doing that also. People think it's my beer, but it's as much his as it is mine.
T: The last thing I've got is...can you tell the world who The Sauce Boss is...
J: I can!
T: ...and why he's the Boss of the Sauces?
J: Yea, why is he that? I mean, Sauce Boss is a dude called Brandon [laughter] who works at CBX. Why is he the Sauce Boss?
T: I actually don't know that.
J: They told me...I don't know! You have to talk to him and ask him, he's coming tonight so ask him!
T: Thanks man.
J: Hey, no problem!
T: I really appreciate your time.
J: Good questions.