Marco Werman: Cain and Abel, Venus and Serena, sibling rivalry, it's an age-old story. If you're a beer connoisseur, you may have actually imbibed the product of a sibling rivalry. Mikkel Borg-Bjergso and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso are identical twins from Denmark who've both become famous for their creative brews. And they can't stand each other, which might explain why one is in Copenhagen and the other is in Brooklyn. Jonah Weiner's story about them is in this Sunday's New York Times magazine.
Jonah Weiner: I'm not a super over-the-top bear geek, but if you dip a toe into the world of craft beer, you'll hear about these two breweries that these two Danish twins run. One is called Mikkeller and one is called Evil Twin. They make fascinatingly extreme beers, in addition to more drinkable beers. They'll put all sorts of crazy ingredients into their beer.
Werman: Like what? Just how far out do they go?
Weiner: Both of these breweries are "gypsy brewers" or "phantom brewers," which is a term that basically means that they don't have a fixed brewery, they can brew all over the world. One thing that that means, especially in the case of Mikkeller, is this radical freedom to just produce, produce, produce. He made 127 beers last year, so when you ask me to describe a typical one, there almost is no such thing. But for instance, he has a beer that incorporates avocado leaves, 5 different kinds of chili peppers, black beans.
Werman: They're more like beer chefs and tastemakers than they are brewers, it seems, which is interesting that they both went down this track. But why do they hate each other?
Weiner: They have differing perspectives on their relationship, unsurprisingly. Mikkel, who's kind of the more reserved, taciturn of the two, it was very hard for him to talk about it. He describes it as being a fact of being twins. You look into a mirror, you see something that you don't like about yourself in this other person, this very intense, conjoined psychology in relationship. What seems sort of foundational is this incredibly competitive relationship they've had since they were little. They used to compete to see who could empty the dishwasher more quickly when they were little kids; they both became middle-distance runners; they were separated by one-one-hundredth of a second on the biggest race they ever ran.
Werman: Jeppe, the youngest by minutes, of the two brothers claims the rivalry actually began in utero.
Weiner: That's right. If it weren't for a c-section, he said he would've been first but in fact Mikkel cut the line, so yeah, you could trace it that far back.
Werman: How did they both get interested in beer. Did one get interested first?
Weiner: There's this huge craft beer explosion that happened in the States in the 80's and early 90's and it rippled out into Copenhagen. Both brothers caught wind of it but Jeppe started a beer club where he and his friends tracked down the rarest, craziest beers they can find and talk about them. Mikkel joined that club and from there they both tried their hand at home brewing in their kitchens. Mikkel stuck to the brewing and formed Mikkeller with a friend of his, who was also in the beer club, where as Jeppe opened up a bottle shop which became very well known. They stocked Mikkeller and gave Mikkeller and early boost and vouched for them by putting them on their shelves.
Werman: The rivalry between the two brothers I'm sure hasn't been great for family harmony, but has it raised the bar for beer quality?
Weiner: I don't want to be glib about it because there are very real emotions between these two guys and it became palpably clear that there's a deep well of emotions between them. That said, one thing that they both talked about was that having someone that they always wanted to compete did make them be better. It's Jeppe in the story that said he always had someone I wanted to beat. It's not like they're only fixated on each other but certainly knowing that there's this other guy who they feel so intensely toward, who's doing the same thing, does no doubt spur on their own creativity.
Werman: Let me put you on the spot, Jonah. Having tasted beer from both brothers, what was your favorite?
Weiner: I can dodge that simply by saying that both of these guys made upwards of 200 beers in 2013, I tasted only a fraction of them. I'll pick 2 from each, if that's too much of a dodge. There's a Thereâ€™s a yuzu beer that Evil Twin makes called Femme Fatale Yuzu, which incorporates that Japanese fruit in a refreshing, crisp, inventive way. Mikkeller makes a series of beers that are produced by what's called spontaneous fermentation. It's this old Belgian tradition of throwing up the windows of the brewery while you're brewing, allowing for wild yeast to do what they will with the beer. Mikkel does a series of spontaneous beers where at the end he will infuse unlikely things like beet root, rose hips and more traditional things, like wild cherries. Any of those that you can find are definitely worth checking out.
Werman: Thank you so much for the steer. Journalist Jonah Weiner, a contributing writer for The New York Times magazine. His fascinating article about the Danish twin brothers, Mikkel and Jeppe, and their craft brewing rivalry will be out in this Sunday's New York Times magazine. Jonah, thanks a lot.
Weiner: Thanks so much, Marco.