Recent years have seen a boom in craft beer innovation and in January 2019, Denmark has 229 breweries of which only eight are conventional breweries. One of the drivers behind Danish craft beer is Mikkeller, which exports to 40 different countries and has bars across Europe, Asia and the U.S.

Author: Pernille Bogø Jørgensen
Photos: Pernille Bogø Jørgensen, Mikkeller, Carlsberg

In spite of the global reach, the concept of small-scale production is important to Mikkeller. Its Operations Manager, Jacob Gram Alsing, says that the trend to downsize equipment actually enables a bigger versatility and many breweries are moving away from large-scale production. “The fact that breweries know that they have to stand out on their beers not just in quality but also in variety, forces brewers around the world to invest in innovation, both from a competence perspective but also from a technical perspective.”

Danish brewery Carlsberg, with nearly 200 years’ experience in brewing, has set the tradition of innovation and continual improvement with an extensive commitment to research, on which it spends €13-27m annually. The goal is to be “the global brewer with the lowest consumption of water and energy per litre of beer produced.” Most notable among Carlsberg’s innovations are the pH scale and the technique to purify yeast, both with massive implications to brewing as well as the natural sciences. Another area for development is low/no-alcohol beer, a market that according to CGA data has increased by 150% in the last four years, and Carlsberg has set its targets to double sales of such products by 2022.

Also ahead of the game, Mikkeller has produced Drink’In The Sun (0.3%), an American style wheat beer, to great reviews since 2014. The brewery is collaborating with Christian Hansen, a Danish bioscience company working with natural flavours and colourings, to develop its own yeast, Mikkellensis. The range of alcohol-free beers, brewed with regular Belgian collaborator De Proefbrouwerij, is marketed under the name Flemish Primitive and promises “a great non-alcoholic beer with lots of taste.”

Gram Alsing attributes the strive for innovation and social responsibility to Danish company culture. As well as a commitment to using local ingredients, Mikkeller promotes a world-wide running club with a dedicated beer, Racing Beer (0.3%), marketed as an isotonic/rehydrating drink to replace lost fluid, salts and minerals. Following collaborations with partners in the music industry including American rock band The National (Reality Based Pils 5.2%) and the UK’s 80s pop icon Rick Astley (Astley’s Northern Hop 4.7%); what next for Mikkeller?

In the future, Gram Alsing hopes that craft beer will continue to grow and remain an option next to the conventional beers in more contexts; “at festivals in Europe, the selection of beer is typically much narrower compared to American festivals.” Food is another potential partnering, with Copenhagen restaurants under the New Nordic Food Kitchen banner sharing the same ethos of local produce and sustainability. Mikkeller’s latest food collaboration is a Chinese restaurant in the hip area Vesterbro, due to open this spring.