By Steve Hindy
Special to Eagle
Evil Twin Brewery, one of the most successfully itinerant “gypsy” breweries in the world, is finally putting down roots in Ridgewood.
Jeppe Jarnit Bergso is the 43-year-old former Danish schoolteacher who started his virtual brewery in 2010, contracting with breweries in Connecticut, South Carolina and Massachusetts to produce his quirky, inventive concoctions with some of the most perverse and scatological names in the craft brewing world.
A gypsy brewer is a licensed brewer who contracts with a brewery it does not own to produce a beer, but Bergso is content to shed the gypsy title as Evil Twin becomes a household name with its own street address.
“You can see how happy I am to be working in my own brewery at last. I love it. I want to end my days here. This is my dream, man. I love growing a company and where Evil Twin is, and everybody knows us. But I like this stuff. I really love being involved in the day-to-day. I’m here. I’m tasting. I’m changing, I’m discussing. I’m adding—all that stuff,” Bergso said.
Jeppe’s first beer, Soft Dookie, a name inspired by changing diapers for his baby son, was a vanilla imperial stout; his second, Cat Piss, was an IPA made with Nelson Sauvin hops grown in New Zealand. The hops smell like cat piss, he said.
For the last eight years, you were more likely to see Jeppe in an airport in Hong Kong, Sydney, Paris or Rome than in his adopted hometown of Brooklyn. He and his wife Maria ran Evil Twin from their apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant and started a family that now includes Elliot, 12, and Melvin, 9. They are expecting a daughter in August.
He will continue to market his contract brews all over the world. But he’s eager to hone his craft in the new 15-barrel brewery at 1616 George Street in Ridgewood, a short walk from the Halsey Street exit on the L Train. He is indeed a happy man. He thinks having his own brewery will make his creations better.
The ideas are flowing at Evil Twin
“We’re doing a white chocolate blood orange sour, and it is such a weird combination. I had this in mind for a while, and it fuckin’ works. The white chocolate brings out this kind of savory kind of flavor to it. I really think that savory is going to be the next step … You know Hudson Valley Brewery? They do that. They make the fruity sours, strawberry and all that, but they always add something savory, like tea or something. I think it’s cool, you know, where you actually start treating brewing more like cooking. We can do way more. I made a strawberry olive vanilla weissbeer. Instead of adding salt, I used olive brine…Wow, beer has changed a lot over the last nine years. We still have the same mindset, and we can add chocolate and coconut and cacao and we can add fruit and all that stuff but why can’t we add curry or why can’t we add something else?”
He calls that white chocolate blood orange sour, which is sold in cans, “Trouble Just Arrived.” It is a collaboration with the Equilibrium Brewery of Middletown, New York. Jeppe said the guys from Equilibrium are party animals. When they came to his brewery, he exclaimed, “Trouble Just Arrived!”
Collaboration is in Jeppe’s DNA. Jeppe has made a name for himself by spinning out hundreds of different beers instead of trying to build a single big brand like other craft breweries. He does have some year-round beers, like “Even More Jesus,” a 12-percent alcohol imperial stout.
That brand name developed during an email exchange with his distributor, Brian Ewing, owner of 12 Percent Imports.
He said he and Brian were looking at emailed price quotes from contract breweries and the prices were quite high. Brian emailed Jeppe the quotes and Jeppe emailed back, “Jesus.” Brian revealed more estimates that were even higher, and Jeppe emailed back, “Even more Jesus.”
“Brian said I had to use that name in my next beer,” said Jeppe.
Maria is very happy to have Jeppe at home more often. She manages the administrative side of the business and supervises the staff of nine. She said they signed a lease on the property, a former catering hall called The New York Banquet Hall, three years ago. They financed the new brewery with a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.
Maria said she had to jump through hoops to get the SBA money, but it enabled her and Jeppe to keep 100 percent ownership of Evil Twin, unlike many craft brewers who give up equity to bring in investors.
The property is rented from Torkil Gudnason, a Danish fashion photographer who came to New York in 1978 and built a successful business. Gudnason has a studio in part of the building.
Jeppe and Maria are building a glass-covered beer hall in the lot adjacent to the brewery. It is expected to be completed and open in July. It is a revival of the beer gardens that were popular family attractions when the Brooklyn-Queens border was home to dozens of German lager breweries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Evil Twin has a small tasting room in Ridgewood, and a barrel-aging room that features a big wooden sign that reads, “The Great Northern.” Jeppe said he bought the sign, which once appeared in “Twin Peaks,” on eBay.
The tasting room and store are open Tuesday-Friday, 5-9 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, noon-6pm.
Jeppe and his twin brother, Mikkel, famous as the gypsy brewer Mikkeller, have carried on a family feud for years. It began with a dispute over ownership of an apartment in Copenhagen.
Most stories about Mikkel and Jeppe focus on the feud, and some believe it is a publicist’s yarn to get more press for both of them. But I know both brothers: they don’t like each other and their brewing rivalry has aggravated the breach.
Mikkel opened a brewery at CitiField last year. He runs about 20 Mikkeller bars around the world.
Before the feud, they were fast friends. They were competitive long distance runners in school and both remain fit at 6-feet-2-inches. They brewed together at home, winning a Danish home brewing prize in 2002 for a beer called “Evil Twins Stout.”
Jeppe registered the name “Evil Twin” in 2005.
Steve Hindy co-founded Brooklyn Brewery in 1988. He previously served as Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press where he covered wars and assassinations in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Sudan.