You may not know Jeppe (pronounced yep-pay), but if you’re at all involved in the craft beer scene, you know his beer. Evil Twin Brewing is infamous for high ABVs and outlandish beer names like “Christmas Eve in a New York City Hotel Room,” “Sour Bikini,” or (more obvious, but still a tangle of words) “Mosaic Single Hop Imperial India Pale American Wheat Lager.” But despite his formidable line-up of showy brews, there are other reasons Jeppe (and breweries like his) are getting so much attention these days.
Craft Beer in the U.S.A. is blowing up—in 2015, craft beer represented 12.2% of all beer volume and 21.2% of all beer dollars spent. It’s an over $20 billion industry with serious growth potential. (From 2014 to 2015 alone, it grew 16%.) Constellation Brands—which currently owns Modelo and Corona—recently acquired Ballast Point, a craft brewery out of California, for $1 billion. But even with all this serious money changing hands, craft beer still struggles to hold a place in the luxury spirits market. Some people balk at the higher price tags, and it’s been hard for craft beer to find an outlet in luxury dining.
Jeppe recently co-authored a new book Food and Beer with Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Burns, which talks all about his love of food and beer. The two also co-own an award-winning bar and restaurant, Torst and Luksus, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Jeppe sat down with IVY Magazine to talk about his relationship with beer, why it’s not more a part of the fine dining world, and ultimately why craft beer is so inspiring for him.
The craft beer market is really blowing up right now, very notably in the United States. Why do you think it’s such a trend over here?
I mean it is a trend everywhere in the world right now. The U.S. is definitely on the forefront of the whole thing. The whole craft beer revolution started in the U.S.A. 20 years ago, and maybe started in Europe 10 years ago. Asia caught up about 5 years ago. So, it’s way bigger in the U.S.A. Why? I don’t know. I mean it’s a big country, and there’s a lot of people who have a lot of money.
For craft beer, the biggest hurdle is that people are used to beer being a cheap product. You can buy a case of Budweiser for what, $10? People aren’t used to paying more for beer. That’s the hurdle—to convince the consumer that there’s a reason why this beer costs $10, not $1. We don’t have that problem for wine. With wine a $10 bottle is actually considered cheap wine, but for beer, that’s not the case.
Do you think the U.S. has traditionally had greater beer selection than other countries? (We drink a lot of imported beer in addition to all our domestic beer.)
No, not really—in Europe the selection is very large. In Denmark, we actually have a lot of different kinds of beer. If you look at it, 20 years ago, nobody was drinking so-called “craft beer.” But definitely now, everyone is looking at the U.S.A. for craft beer.
I don’t know why it happened in the U.S. first—people are maybe just more adventurous in the U.S. If you look at Europe—Germany, UK, Belgium—they’ve had a long tradition of making this very special kind of beer, so it’s takes longer to change people’s mind-set around that. In the U.S.A., people are less accustomed to a specific style, so when someone comes along with something new, I think people are just more open to it. I mean 5 years ago, you couldn’t get a stout or an IPA in Germany. You could get a bunch of Hefeweizen and a bunch of Pilsners, but you couldn’t get stout and IPA. Now, Germany has awesome beers. They’re just not that adventurous—they’ve traditionally been very conservative in their beef preferences.
Tell us about the first beer you ever brewed.
I did my first home-brew about 15 years ago. It was a wheat beer, actually, and it’s funny because I would never do a wheat beer under the Evil Twin label because I don’t really care about wheat beers anymore.
A lot of people, when they get into craft beer, they start with wheat beers because it’s a pretty accessible style. It reminds you of something you’ve had before, and it’s relatively easy to get. I did the same thing when I first got into craft beer 15-20 years ago. We had a lot of wheat beers and Belgian wheat beers, so when I brewed my first beer, it was obvious for me to brew something where I could actually compare it to what I was tasting and see if I could make it at least as good as the beer I was drinking at the time.
The name was called Dopple-wit—it was actually inspired by a Marilyn Manson short film. It’s a little fun side story—I was really into Marilyn Manson when I was young.
And how did it taste?
It was good. [Laughs] I don’t know if I tasted it today if I would still like it, but it was good back then. I was happy with the result. It actually shows that beer is not that difficult to make. It’s a pretty simple process. I’m not saying that everybody can make awesome beers—obviously some are harder to make than others—but it’s relatively easy to make a beer.
It’s like cooking. Everybody can cook to some extend, and some can cook better than others. It’s kind of an eye-opening experience. When we made our first beer back then, it was interesting to try and do it and make something that was drinkable.
What are some characteristics of a good brewer?
The worst beer in the world and the best beer in the world are pretty much made from the same ingredients, which tells you that beer is extremely recipe-based. If you ask, what does it takes to become a good winemaker? It take a lot—the right vineyard, the right vine, the right sunshine ratio, the right rain, the right this and that, while beer is different. If you can follow recipes well, then you can make good beer.
For me, I think the reason why people tell me I make good beer is because I spend all my time and all my money and all my energy on eating and drinking, and not just beer. I’m big-time into food—I travel the world and eat at some of the best restaurants and also try the street food. I’m big-time into coffee and cocktails. And I’m really passionate about wine. For me, it’s important to explore flavors and learn new flavors. I get a lot of inspiration from food and from cocktails. I make beers that taste a lot like coffee without putting any coffee in it. If you eat at McDonald’s every day, there’s no way you can be a good brewer because you don’t know what good flavor is.
Can you think of a specific food or dish that has inspired you to make one of your beers?
I once had a Kenyan coffee from a roaster in Denmark called Coffee Collective, and all the berry notes I got from the coffee immediately made me take all of those flavors and put them into a beer without actually adding any coffee. We added blueberries and other fruits, and it was just such a fun way to take something and break it apart and then try and put it back together in a different format. People drank the beer and said—wow, it tastes like coffee, but there was no coffee in it.
Why hasn’t beer had a lot of traction in the fine dining world?
First of all, it’s tradition—people just think of fine dining as something with wine. To break tradition is always extremely difficult. You have an idea of how the world works, and if it changes, it takes some time to accept it.
The fact that beer is seen as a cheap product is also a hurdle. You can charge $120 for a wine pairing, and the restaurant makes a lot of money. You can’t do that with beer. If you charge $120 for beer, people will think you’re out of your mind. Restaurants make more money on wine—that’s just the way it is.
I hope that one day every restaurant will have a wine pairing and a beer pairing. I don’t want to take wine out of fine dining—I just want to add beer to it.
What’s an easy way for people to learn more about beer—to develop their palate and expand their knowledge?
The only advice I can give—like everything else in the world, you have to try. You have to really jump into it. Go to a beer bar; talk to the bartender, and tell him what your preference is. I don’t think you can learn anything in this world without trying. It was the same for me the first time I had a sour beer 15 years ago—I thought it was terrible. I never had anything like it before. But it was interesting, and I decided I should learn how to appreciate it.
It takes a while to change your palate. People who are used to spicy food love it, and I know it’s the same with beer. There are so many different styles, so many different flavors out there, you can’t just read about beer and learn how to enjoy it. Go buy some beers and enjoy some styles you haven’t tried before.
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