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Inside Evil Twin’s First Brick-and-Mortar Brewery in Queens

October 18, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, October 18, 2019

When I first wander into Evil Twin’s glass-encased taproom in Ridgewood, Queens, no one appears to be home. Enough foliage to keep an army of Instagram influencers busy dangles over picnic benches. Above the 20 taps, ticker tape reads out the names of the beers on draft: “NEW YORK IS A GREAT PLACE TO VISIT, BUT I WOULD NEVER WANT TO LIVE THERE,” “THESE DRINKS ARE SO EXPENSIVE. DO I HAVE TO TIP?” and “THAT YOGA STUDIO USED TO BE A REALLY COOL DIVE BAR.”

“I’ve always had a thing for long names,” Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the Danish mastermind behind the place, tells me later. “People never remember them, which forces them to think and talk. Also, I don’t take myself too seriously. The beer world can get very serious sometimes.”

After a rare day off with his three kids, Jarnit-Bjergsø has been running around all morning. He ushers me next door into the guts of the operation, where the smell of roasted malt hangs heavily in the air. There’s a pile of wild-fermented barrels from a recent collab with Jester King carefully segregated in one area, along with a fully loaded barrel room stocked with rum casks, bourbon barrels, red wine barrels, and, curiously, an original wooden sign from Twin Peaks

Courtesy of Evil Twin Brewing

It’s an impressive operation, even more so because Jarnit-Bjergsø opted to build it without the help of outside investors. After running one of the most influential nomadic breweries in the world, he wanted to ensure that every detail of Evil Twin's first brick-and-mortar home was precisely the way he wanted it to be. When he first came by the space by way of a prominent Danish photographer, it was a dilapidated ballroom with a disco ball still suspended from the ceiling. 

“We built the greenhouse and the foundation and everything. My wife and I own the company and we’ve been paying for the whole thing. It was three and a half years in the making and a lot of money,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “If I didn’t have a brand that was already world-famous, I could never have done this. It means I don’t have to prove myself.”

Although he remained confident throughout the process, Jarnit-Bjergsø admits that he’s relieved to see just how many customers have poured in through the doors over the last two weeks. Unsurprisingly, many are longtime fans of Evil Twin. Since 2010, the gypsy brewery has collaborated with a whos-who list of both the craft beer and food worlds. Jarnit-Bjergsø has created custom beers for a string of restaurants including Alinea, Mission Chinese Food, and Blanca. Back when Noma’s beer list was vast and unfocused, Jarnit-Bjergsø told them so—then proceeded to curate a better one and produce exclusive beers with ingredients like oxalis and juniper berries to complement the Nordic tasting menus. 

I don’t take myself too seriously. The beer world can get very serious sometimes.”

In the process, Jarnit-Bjergsø has built up something of a reputation as a provocateur, brewing beers with frozen pizza and literal filthy money for the sheer subversive pleasure of it. He makes no pretense that his more outlandish creations were especially good, but they struck just the right absurdist chord for some. Big Ass Money Stout was popular enough that Evil Twin and its Norwegian co-conspirator, Grandiosa, revived it multiple times. 

Stunt beers are easier to pull off in small batches as a phantom brewery, which has always been an essential part of Evil Twin’s mystique. Like the founder of Mikkeller, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, his identical twin brother with whom he has historically had a contentious relationship, Jarnit-Bjergsø built his empire without a permanent brewery.

“While I’m proud of how far I was able to take Evil Twin through gypsy brewing, it’s definitely not the easiest thing to do. I’m very particular about what I do and with gypsy brewing, I couldn't be fully involved with the production. I couldn't go to South Carolina daily to taste the beer,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “Almost from the very beginning, I wanted to open a brewery where I could go all-out, where I could do exactly what I want to do without compromises.” 

Courtesy of Evil Twin Brewing

“No compromises” is a recurring theme here. Behind all the gonzo fried chicken beer collaborations lies a hardcore perfectionist. While the stakes centered on his first brewery would already be sky-high, one can only speculate that it must have added extra incentive that his brother just happened to open a sprawling Mikkeller brewery and taproom just a few miles away in Queens in March. No one knows the full extent of their Dostoevsky-worthy fraternal feud, or even whether or not it’s an ingenious publicity ploy. Either way, the twins aren’t talking.

What we do know for sure is that unlike his brother, who has Mikkeller outposts from Copenhagen to Bangkok, Jarnit-Bjergsø has been invested in New York since he moved here in 2012. At the time, there were only a couple of craft breweries and hardly any sophisticated taprooms in town. He opened Tørst in Greenpoint in 2013, both to fill the void and to show off what Evil Twin could produce.

Courtesy of Evil Twin BrewingThe original building site where the greenhouse now stands.

“We wanted to open a bar and see if we could set new standards for beer bars in New York City,” he says. “When I moved here, it was with the intent of becoming part of what I thought could be a beer scene. Now, it is becoming that and I’m proud of being one of the people that helped that move along.”

I ask him why move to New York at all. He leans back in his chair and grins.

“I mean, I’m sure you already know the answer: New York is New York,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “It is so difficult to break through here. I knew that if I took on this challenge and succeeded, it would have a much bigger impact than if it was somewhere else.”

Needless to say, things have changed around these parts. According to the New York State Brewers Association, more than two dozen breweries account for more than 4,000 jobs around the boroughs.

I don’t know a single bad brewery in New York City, because if you’re making bad beer here, you won’t survive. So you have to offer something unique.”

“Five years ago, if you opened a new brewery, people would be like, ‘Holy shit, let’s go!’ Today, there are so many that if you aren’t offering something special, they’ll just go to Grimm or Other Half or Interboro,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “I don’t know a single bad brewery in New York City, because if you’re making bad beer here, you won’t survive. So you have to offer something unique. It’s like how restaurants need to offer an experience that goes beyond just feeding people.” 

Jarnit-Bjergsø already has a few ideas about how to lure potential customers to his greenhouse down the L train. Food trucks will be able to set up shop just outside and live bands may come through on weekends. An all-day coffee shop is set to open, as is a 24-seat cocktail bar in the back that he refuses to call a speakeasy. At the end of it all, though, it comes down to the beers, all of which are exclusive to New York. 

“Evil Twin is worldwide. When we opened this brewery, we wanted it to be a local neighborhood joint,” he says. To him, that means serving on the community board, teaming up with local establishments like Nowadays, and giving beers those impossible-to-remember, but decidedly New York-insider names. “We wanted to incorporate all the joy and struggles of New York City into what we do.”

Courtesy of Evil Twin Brewing

In the interest of creating a space for everyone, he’s tried to curate a draft list that won’t alienate people. That means that four pilsners or lagers, along with a pale ale or two, are on all the time. 

“The beer nerds are going to come no matter what, but they’re also only going to come when there’s new stuff on,” he says. “We’ve tried to build it up to be more accessible to people who just want to go out and have a good time. I don’t care if people have come here to drink Evil Twin as long as they come here to drink the beer that’s being made here.”

That doesn’t mean he intends to dumb down the beers—far from it. Just because this new incarnation of Evil Twin is more physically grounded doesn’t mean it will be conventional. After all of his time in the craft beer world, Jarnit-Bjergsø has a particular aversion to following its trends.

Evil Twin is worldwide. When we opened this brewery, we wanted it to be a local neighborhood joint.”

“I really think the craft beer world needs to stop doing the same thing. It’s been a little one-dimensional recently. Juicy IPAs, pastry stouts, fruited sours, that’s pretty much it,” he says. “Right now, it’s mostly centered around sweet. It’s like, why are we only serving desserts and not appetizers? I think if you could get the savory aspect into the beer scene, it would open up a whole new world.”

Although you won’t find any fried chicken beer here, there is a vivid orange 8% ABV sour amber stout made with cacao nibs, vanilla, milk sugar, and glazed carrots currently on tap. 

“Our carrot beer is pretty fucking crazy. Some people hate it and some people absolutely love it,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. "When I brew with carrots, beets, licorice or other ingredients that are rarely used in the beer world, it also has to do with my obsession with the restaurant scene. The day brewers start thinking more like chefs, the day we realize there’s no limit to what we can do, that’s when we win.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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