Something wicked this way comes
Wild flavours and wilder ideas, from Denmark’s favourite export
Photos: Caroline Lethbridge
Wednesday 02 September 2020
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Even in a scene where novelty is often prized above all else, it’s hard to imagine a new brewery exploding into our collective beery consciousness with quite the impact of Evil Twin, the flavour-bending brain-child of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø.
Like many virtuoso brewers, Jeppe’s career started out as a hobby, brewing in his garage in Denmark at the end of a day’s teaching. After some time developing his skills, he began to scale up and, eventually, called on some brewing friends to let him use some space on their commercial kit. He sold his beer through neighbourhood shops and bars, and on a stall at the local market, until it became clear to all concerned that he was, finally, a brewer first and a school teacher second.
“My students all knew about the beer business, they thought it was cool,” he says. “My colleagues too, and when the brewery really started rolling they were the first to say ‘okay, you’ve done it, time to move on’.”
Evil Twin started in earnest on 1 April, 2010, and proved so successful that a little over a year later Jeppe began his first exports to the US, a country he had always loved.
“From there it really exploded; I was travelling back and forth month after month, and at the end of the day my wife and I had been talking about moving somewhere anyway, so we decided we should move to the United States. So I said hey, let’s live in New York and see if we can make a success of it there.
“We made the move in 2012, and craft beer in New York was still at an early stage so there weren’t that many breweries. So there was unmet demand, and also I think the fact that I came from Denmark brought a lot of attention, because the food scene there has been very prominent over the past 15 years. So it was really a combination of things that meant from the day I moved here, it was pretty much full speed ahead because we got a lot of press. To be honest, I look back on it today and I think how the hell did that all happen, but I embrace it and am just glad everything worked out.”
Despite having started out in Denmark, Jeppe never plays on his roots and is as proud of his adopted home as any born-and-bred New Yorker. He is certainly very comfortable that Evil Twin is almost universally seen as a New York brewery.
“Obviously people notice I have an accent, but I chose to move here,” he insists. “And part of that was I saw the opportunity that existed in New York, where people are so passionate about food and drink, but there was only a handful of breweries. I wanted to help play a part of growing and changing that scene. I’m proud of who we are and I’m proud of what we do as a New York brewery.
“I consider (and a lot of people feel the same way) New York to be pretty much the capital of the Universe. It’s such an important city in so many ways. I’ve never met a person who’s been here and not been inspired in some way. You know the whole piece about if you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere? Well, that’s true; it can be so difficult, and so challenging. But when you do have success here, there’s no place in the world where it’s as visible. Had we done the same thing in Los Angeles, San Francisco or London, I think people would have paid attention, but definitely not as much. Because those places aren’t New York City.”
It should come as no surprise that Jeppe is a huge foodie, but the extent to which New York’s vibrant culinary scene plays into his brewing is one of the things that really marks Evil Twin out. From avocado IPA to olive and strawberry sours, Jeppe is always prepared to think beyond the typical palette of prescribed beer flavours.
“There are a lot of restaurants and chefs here that inspire me. When people ask what my hobbies are I say flavours, because I just like things that taste good, and that goes for coffee, wine, beer, cocktails, food. This is really what started the whole thing; I just love eating and drinking, so I’m inspired by all of those things. I actually don’t drink beer as much as I used to, because I know a lot about beer but flavour is a much wider world, so I can make new discoveries all the time.”
And it’s not just in the search for new flavour combinations that Jeppe draws his thinking from the kitchen – his whole approach to planning and executing a recipe has over time come to much more closely resemble that of a chef. Where most breweries start life by experimenting wildly, before gradually settling into a much more consistent, deliberate and restrained philosophy, Jeppe has if anything become more of a renegade as his success has grown.
“Back when I started out, it was all about the recipe; you’d have a recipe and build it up with an idea of how it would come out. And the beer would hopefully come out the way you’d intended it. But today when I brew a beer, it’s more about having an idea where we start, but which changes through the process, whether it’s in fermentation or maturation, and especially when we’re using food-type ingredients. I don’t think we know exactly how these ingredients play in different beers because we’ve never done it before. Because nobody has done it before! And even sometimes we’ll change something on the day of canning – we’ll add something just to see what it does. A beer’s not finished until we put it in the can or put it in the keg.
“I know that would horrify a lot of brewers, but I’m not a professional, educated brewer as such. But in a way that’s been very liberating, because I’ve never had it forced on me that only certain flavours are acceptable in beer, like cinnamon, vanilla, coconut. Not a lot of people will have the guts to use vegetables, but it does actually work, and I think that whole kitchen approach to flavour combinations is really missing from the beer world.”
With this Benjamin Button-like trajectory, Evil Twin has remained one of the most exciting craft breweries to watch for the past decade and, we can’t wait to see what else Jeppe has up his seemingly inexhaustible sleeve.
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