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Microbreweries gain ground

Denmark’s appetite for special beers produced at microbreweries has surged in recent years. The race is on to develop unique beers, and consumers are willing to pay 5-10 times more for special beers

By Anne Klejsgaard Hansen

Photo: Mikkel Borg Bjergsø
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the man behind the mikkeler brewery, aims to produce the world’s best beer.
Photo: Pelle Rink

The Danes have always liked meeting up for a beer with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. But in the last 10 years, traditional bottled beers have been supplemented with special beers from microbreweries bubbling up around the land.

There are 120 breweries today in Denmark, and many consumers are willing to pay a significant premium to try out a new beer. “We have seen a beer revolution in Denmark in recent years. On a per capita basis, we have more breweries today than any other European country, and Danish beer brewers are among the most innovative in the world,” says Niels Hald, head of the Danish Brewery Association.

The microbreweries comprise scientific brewers who focus on the fermentation processes in the beer, brewers who experiment with ingredients and forms of production in a boundless universe, and local brewers with a connection to a certain geographical area. The many new breweries have given consumers access to more than 650 new beers in recent years.

Traditions strengthen new breweries

In terms of volume, special beers from microbreweries represent only 4 percent of total beer production but account for 15-18 percent of revenues in the retail sector, and sales continue to grow. Micro-breweries are thus giving the traditional breweries, headed by Carlsberg, real competition. But according to Niels Hald, competition is a strength – both for micro-breweries and traditional breweries.

“Denmark’s proud beer traditions with its large, historic breweries is the foundation for the beer culture we have today. The big breweries have created the basis for the many new microbreweries,” explains Niels Hald.

He also points out that the innovative microbreweries are challenging the traditional breweries and so are helping to boost their product development.

“Take Carlsberg for example. With its establishment of the Jacobsen brewery which only produces special beers, it has helped pave the way for the microbreweries, and in our association we are seeing a great deal of knowledge sharing between both the large and small breweries,” he says.

Many of the special Danish beers are sold primarily on the domestic market, but several Danish brewers generate much of their revenue outside the country’s borders.

Quality is all important

One of the microbrewers who is known to beer enthusiasts around the world is Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who has headed the Mikkeller brewery since 2005. With a background as a teacher in physics, chemistry and maths, the scientific approach plays a significant role for the uncompromising brewer.

“The ambition is to create the world’s best beer. That is always the starting point when we are developing a new beer, and it is crucial that you are in possession of the necessary knowledge of fermentation processes, enzymes and ingredients, otherwise the result will not be satisfactory,” he says.

Mikkel Borg Bjergsø calls himself a nomad brewer because he is a leaseholder with breweries in Denmark, Europe and the US, and despite the fact that the company has grown significantly in recent years, he has no ambitions to establish his own brewery.

“I am a leaseholder with the world’s best breweries. I thereby ensure the technical level and maintain my mobility,” he says.

Mikkeller’s revenue is forecast at approx. EUR 3.3 million in 2011. Last year alone, the brewery presented 76 new beers. Since Mikkeller’s start, it has been impossible for the brewery to keep up with the demand since the beers both in Denmark and abroad are highly sought-after among beer connoisseurs.

Only 10 percent of Mikkeller’s beers are sold in Denmark. The rest is sold in countries as far-flung as USA, Chile and Mexico.

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This page forms part of the publication 'Focus Denmark, October 2011' as chapter 3 of 16

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