Contributed By: Brian Latimer, Beer Buyer for Hart’s Local Grocers
The phenomenon of the Nomadic Brewery seems to have begun its move toward contemporary prominence roughly a decade ago, and, in 2016, is arguably becoming to the subculture of American craft beer what Third Wave has become to coffee. In contrast to the genial and spare spaces where one enjoys a hot cup of single-origin roast ordered in ounces and chosen by location, we have the hardwood-countered bottle shop, or cement-floored warehouse, (or sometimes your local grocer) and strangely decorated containers purchased with occasional vendor-determined maximums – up to the case, where available. From another angle, the nomadic brewer serves as a cultural counterpoint to the standalone brewpub, where beers are conceived, tweaked, and consumed on premises, often void of alternative availability.
For the uninitiated, the term Nomadic Brewery refers to an outfit in which the brewmaster(s) do not utilize a brick and mortar facility of their own, but instead rent out space – tanks, hoppers, barrels, on and on – in established breweries around the world for the sake of releasing their beers either because they lack, or don’t wish to concern themselves with the overhead of maintaining or staffing a brewery in full.* In other words: the nomadic brewer is implicitly in form and function a contract brewer. To extend our beer-coffee comparison, consider Rochester’s own Ugly Duck Coffee.
Here are a few breweries, fitting the above description, that are helping to elevate craft beer into a hemisphere that forms a weird Venn-Diagram between spirits spoken about in hushed tones for their craftsmanship, or elusivity, and collectors-only trading cards. Whether circumstantially limited, widely distributed, single batch, seasonally rotating, or experimental:
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, and Kristian Klarup Keller of Copenhagen Denmark teamed up to form Mikkeller in 2005. Arguably their first success was a stout titled Beer Geek Breakfast, the recognition of which paved the way for their prolific work ethic. (As of this writing BeerAdvocate.com lists over three hundred unique releases from the brewery.) A statement on the brewery’s website offers that they aim to “brew beer that challenge the concept of good beer and move people.” Throw enough knives at a wall and some of them are bound to stick, I guess. Mikkeller self-refers as a Danish Brewery, and late last year they partnered with Californian brewery Alesmith to help expand US distribution. Their beers are currently brewed in over 40 countries worldwide.
The germinating ideas which would eventually become To Øl were similarly conceived in Copenhagen by Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther, with the help of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. According to the brewery’s website:
Back in 2005 [the founders] were young lads studying at Det Fri Gymnasium – a direct democracy based high school in Copenhagen (detfri.dk) – talking to their teacher Mikkel Borg Bjergsø (Mikkeller) about the weird fact that most Danish breweries were continuously bawling about their scrap beers having been brewed for more than 100 years, rather than focusing on the actual taste and content of their brews: As if a stale lager ever has become less nauseous by the fact that it has been brewed for over 100 years?!
The irreverence is palpable in it’s many forms: from the wordplay-dominant schema used to title each release – e.g. Gose to Hollywood, a gose style ale brewed with oranges, or Nelson Survin, a sour mashed double IPA brewed exclusively with Nelson Sauvin hops – and an art-forward aesthetic which arrives compliments of Kasper Ledete, to the experimental nature of the beer itself.
As to avoid the faulted rhetoric in considering one half of an equation exclusively it seems prudent to mention that Mikkel has a twin brother. The aptly named Evil Twin Brewing is, debatably, headquartered in either Brooklyn or Copenhagen – the geographic dissonance a product of where you place your trust: their website URL (eviltwin.dk) or the location that Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø has adopted as his home, and the location of his beer-only, fine dining restaurant Tørst. Semantics aside, the modus-operandi has remained the same from Evil Twin’s origin, “to disturb, disorder and enlighten you with unforgettable beer after beer.”
Stockholm, Sweden is the home base of Omnipollo Brewing, the collaborative byproduct of Henok Fentie’s brewing finesse and Karl Grandin’s excess illustrative outpouring. While their catalog has yet to achieve the extent of Mikkeller or Evil Twin’s, their website currently lists 49 individual releases, so it’s safe to say that they’re well on their way to meeting the criteria setup by their European peers.
Stillwater Artisanal Ales, known most notably for their Cellar Door saison, appear to brew in series’. The so called Readymades, Contemporary works, and the eponymous Artisan Ales, have been brewed under the watchful eye of brewmaster Brian Strumpke since 2010. Strumpke cites an interest in brewing that evolved from a career in making electronic music. “I was so burned out, not on the creative process of music, but the medium that I was locked into, so when I got out, I wanted out and wanted to do something with my hands to make something old and follow human tradition, something that’s been going on for thousands of years.”
Lastly, and perhaps most elusively, there is Grimm. A 2015 blind tasting of American Double IPA’s awarded two of its top ten spots, out of 115 sampled brews, to Lambo Door, and Tesseract, two of the (for now) limited-availability beers from Joe and Laura Grimm: the Fermentologist/Brewmaster couple behind Grimm Artisanal ales. The couple has only – officially – been in business since 2013, but they got their start studying fermentation and passing around their monthly batch of homebrews to interested friends roughly ten years ago – circa 2005. Grimm Ales is headquartered in Brooklyn.
(Interestingly, if you google a definition of “Nomadic Brewery,” the Grimm Ales website is one of the first results, trumping a link to a separate outfit bearing the name Nomadic Brewing Co.)