Evil Twin: A Gypsy Brewer Puts Down Brooklyn Roots

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These days Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø — the outgoing Danish expatriate behind Evil Twin brewery and the mastermind of the Greenpoint beer bar Tørst — seems to exist in a state of perpetual motion. He spends a minimum of 100 days per year on the road visiting bars and breweries around the world, expanding his Evil Twin empire along the way.

Indeed when the award-winning brewer strides into Tørst 15 minutes late for a meeting with a reporter — “I brought a little something!” he grins, clutching a bottle of lip-puckering Sour Bikini, a recent Evil Twin release — he doesn’t even stop.
“Just give me two minutes!” he says, darting into the kitchen to discuss business with the chef of Luksus, the bar’s backroom, beer-only fine-dining restaurant.
His peripatetic nature is appropriate: Though he has lived in Williamsburg since 2012 — opening Tørst last summer with chef Daniel Burns, formerly of the Fat Duck and Noma — Jarnit-Bjergsø is a so-called gypsy brewer, meaning he sets up temporary shop in facilities that belong to other brewers whom he respects and likes. Those include Cervesa del Montseny in Spain, Amager Bryghus in Denmark, Two Roads Brewing Company in Connecticut and Westbrook Brewing Company in South Carolina — the latter two being where he currently brews most of his permanent lines.
Last year, he used the above and more to brew more than 7,000 barrels of beers with names such as Hello My Name Is Sonja or Spicy Nachos; this year, he aims to produce 12,000 barrels. Since 2012, he has also brewed two of the Copenhagen-based Noma’s signature beers — Noma Oxalis and Noma Juniper, as well as beers for New York restaurants like the NoMad (yellow cans of Nomader Weisse) and Pok Pok (a bottled black lager called The Darkness).
In between, he curates the superlative beer list at Tørst — Evil Twin offerings usually fill five of Tørst’s 21 spartan, temperature-controlled taps — as well as both the pairings and dish-specific brews for Luksus.
Jarnit-Bjergsø, 39, has nurtured a lifelong love of beer — he had his first drink at the age of two, he says, and home brewed with his twin brother Mikkel Borg-Bjergsø — but he didn’t become serious about it until 2005. That’s when, while working as a teacher for students with disabilities in Copenhagen, he opened a beer shop and founded a distribution company because he wasn’t satisfied with the selection of craft beers available in his Carlsberg-dominated city.
Five years later, Jarnit-Bjergsø decided to give brewing a serious go — following the lead of his brother, who had launched the well-known Copenhagen gypsy brewery Mikkeller in 2006 — and registered the company as Evil Twin, a hat-tip to a beer that he and Borg-Bjergsø created around 12 years ago. Plus, it “just sounds cool,” he says. (The twins have been on notoriously difficult terms in the past, although these days Jarnit-Bjergsø says he has nothing but admiration for his brother.)
Evil Twin made around 5,000 liters that first year, all of which sold out almost immediately to bars and restaurants in Denmark.
Since the beginning, the brewery’s biggest following has always been here in New York, where Jarnit-Bjergsø’s eclectic concoctions quickly found their way not just to beer stores but establishments like Eleven Madison Park. Watching a critical mass build from across the Atlantic early on, Jarnit-Bjergsø eventually realized that Brooklyn was where he belonged.
“I was sitting in Denmark, doing my thing, and just thought, ‘Why not live where it’s actually happening, where Evil Twin is selling?’” His wife, Maria, enthusiastically agreed, so in 2012 they moved along with their two sons to an apartment on Williamsburg’s Kent Avenue. “I just like Brooklyn a lot,” he says: “It reminds me of Denmark.”
So far, Evil Twin’s popularity has only grown since Jarnit-Bjergsø’s move to the States, and last year he scored 10th place on the hugely popular American consumer site RateBeer.com’s “best brewers in the world” list. His shaggy hair and beard also make him an easily recognizable beverage celebrity for city beer connoisseurs. (In fact when I asked him if we could meet at his bar, he was hesitant. “Could we do it somewhere else?” he asked. “I often get disturbed when at Tørst.”)
Although Jarnit-Bjergsø studied physics in school — obviously a highly structured discipline — part of his appeal is that he adopts a starkly different approach to beer making. That is an irreverent one, focused less on following traditional methods or “getting organic fruit from this little farm in the middle of nowhere,” he says, than final flavor. “It’s all about the end result,” he says.
That Sour Bikini, for example, is a sour ale — an old but up-and-coming style of beer that is typically low in alcohol, made with wild yeasts and delivers a refreshing tartness. This one came about from a hybrid of two preexisting Evil Twin beers — an American IPA called Bikini Beer and a Berliner Weisse — and is reminiscent of tangy grapefruit.
“I don’t want to say I have a certain style,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says of his sour, “but this shows my approach to brewing.”
“I made a beer with doughnuts, for example,” he continues, “and I’m not a big fan of doughnuts, but I just wanted to actually make a beer with doughnuts to see what would happen.” The result was the Imperial Doughnut Break, now served at Tørst, which contains 1,000 glazed doughnuts per 60 barrels, and tastes, says Jarnit-Bjergsø, “just like a liquid doughnut.”
Offbeat creativity doesn’t preclude a competitive streak, however, which is another reason Jarnit-Bjergsø spends so much time on the road. When The Daily Meal recently named Evil Twin the 31st-best craft brewery in the United States, his first reaction was, he says, “‘How the hell do I beat those other people?’”
In fact whether selling high-end furniture (he and his brother sourced and sold rare mid-century works to Japanese and Americans) or training with the Danish track team (he took part in the Junior World Championship Cross Country race in 1994, quitting the sport only after surgeries took him out of commission), Jarnit-Bjergsø says he has always tried to top both others and himself.
“Sometimes my obsessive personality is annoying, because I can never relax about things,” he says. “But it’s just how I am: I want to make the best beer in the world.”
He helped create Tørst and Luksus to prove much the same point: It’s perhaps the only truly fine-dining restaurant in the world that serves only beer, a beverage he hopes to elevate to the same status as wine.
It seems to be working. Indeed, on a late afternoon weekday, Tørst’s gleaming marble-top bar is already filled with several Jarnit-Bjergsø lookalikes — fully bearded, slightly scruffy hipster-types — swirling five-ounce beer pours in the bar’s Art Deco wine glasses, taking deep whiffs and reverential sips as though they were sampling a 2005 Château Cheval Blanc.
Which is exactly what Jarnit-Bjergsø wants, if not a lot more.
“To me, New York is the capitol of the world, and for food, art and music it is probably the best city there is. But I always felt the beer scene lagged behind, so when I decided to move here, I thought, ‘Why not do what I can to make the beer scene the best as well?’” he says.
“Now that this is where I live,” he adds with characteristic drive, “why not change it a little bit?”
Read about Tørst’s “flux capacitor”—modifying the mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, it allows bartenders to serve each beer at its precise ideal carbonation level—here. See photos of the brewing process here.
Photo credit: Vicky Wasik
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