A few months ago, I stumbled across this video, advertising the latest release from craft-wanker favourite, Mikkeller – not a new beer, but a book.
The first chapter, 20 pages long, tells the story of how Mikkeller came about. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is the founder of Mikkeller. Not so much a brewer (“It’s not something that I like, actually…It’s not that I dislike it I just don’t care about it; it’s a manual job like a lot of other manual jobs.” – quoted from “The Architect – A Documentary about Mikkeller”), and more of a ‘beer designer’. What this does to Mikkeller’s ‘craft’ status, one that implies hands-on craftsmanship of a product, will perhaps be addressed in a future article.
Mikkeller started as a long-distance runner, then became a teacher and then, almost reluctantly, became a gypsy brewer – sending recipes to production breweries that he has built a relationship with and asking them to make the beer.
The chapter tells the story of Mikkel’s personal journey into the beer world, rather than the establishment of the company that has become internationally recognised. As a result, it seems a bit egotistic. It can also seem like the very epitome of craft-wankerism, the last paragraph describing the many places Mikkel can get his ideas.
It can happen when I’m drinking yuzu juice whilst I have a salt liquorice in my mouth, or when we mix the remnants of a cherry wine with a stout purely for fun during a break at the office.
See, I don’t know about you, but yuzu juice with salt liquorice makes me sleepy rather than creative. But that’s just me!
Chapter Two is a whopping two pages long, summing up nearly 10,000 years of brewing history in it’s barely 500 words, with the grand title “Grave Goods, Barbarians and Monks”.
Chapter Three gives a decent, brief summary of beer’s renaissance, featuring CAMRA, the Belgian Monks and the American craft innovators who kindled beer and propelled it to greater things in the 20th Century. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it doesn’t claim to be and points to three of the most important areas of beer’s revitalisation.
Chapter Four is a run through of beer styles. Again, not exhaustive, but a decent start if you’re a beginner. Mikkel has notes on each broad style, giving the perspective of a genuine beer nerd. They’re quite nice actually, and provide a bit of insight to his creative thinking.
Chapter Five is the apparently vital ‘How to Taste Beer’ section that features in nearly every book from a brewery, expert or critic. I will admit to being evangelical about beer, spreading the good news about the nebulous flavour combinations, the endless food-matching possibilities and the shameful absence of beer on high-end dinner tables. However, I really think that pages of flavour descriptions, fill-in-yourself tasting sheets, temperature and glassware guides and pictures of someone’s nose in a glass as if people need to be shown exactly how to smell are detrimental to the spread of the message. Newcomers, the willfully ignorant and experienced beer nerds alike will immediately be put of by the lecturing and the idea that there is a wrong way to enjoy beer (which is kind of what features like this imply). I’d be interested to know if anybody else shares this pet peeve. Even more interested if you enjoy every book about beer telling you where to shove your schnozz.
Then, Chapter Six brings us to what beer is; the ingredients, the tools and the process. It’s a decent run through, and goes in to a collection of recipes for the homebrewing readers to clone some of Mikkeller’s (and a handful of other breweries’) beers. The following chapter lists some beer and food pairings, with recipes.
The chapters are interspersed with “Intermezzo” which tell the stories behind some of Mikkeller’s better known brews. They are quite interesting, giving an idea of the thought process, why it was named what it was etc. Cool little tid-bits of trivia, but not much more than that.
All in all, I found the book’s written content lacking. Others have written about the inaccuracies, mistakes and possible poor translations, but assuming they had all been sorted before publication, I’d still be left wanting more. There isn’t much of a purpose to the book; no message jumps out at me. I found it little more than a pretty dull recipe book (that may be of use to homebrewers) with a very long introduction. It feels like an advertisement that I’ve spent £20 on. Aside from recipes, it offers me nothing in the way of valuable written content.
It is, however, very well put together in terms of design – to be expected from a Scandinavian company and with the author admitting to being a fan of Scandinavian design. The art from in-house illustrator Keith Shore is iconic and recognisable. No doubt much of Mikkeller’s success has been down to the unique visual art associated with the brand.
It won’t go down in history as one of those books beer nerds need to read, which is a shame. You would assume Mikkeller would be at the top of the list, as they are on most beer rating sites, and that they would have a lot to say. The video at the top of this article, which first alerted me to the book’s existence promises a mad, heavy-metal style explosion of a book that would provide a bit of Mikkeller style refreshment to the beer-book shelves of beer nerds everywhere. Instead, we got a fatuous book-for-book’s-sake product that seems like little more than another merch item.
I suppose they’re all doing it now. It probably won’t be long until BrewDog do it too.
— BrewDog (@brewdog) November 5, 2015