Just a handful of stops from Manhattan on the world-famous L line and one finds themselves in Ridgewood, Queens — a neighborhood known for its elevated trains, eclectic dining, and influx of Brooklyn creatives priced out of neighboring Bushwick. As Ridgewood adapts to its growing population of artists and hipsters, it’s also absorbing an international cultural input from Denmark. In fact, right next to the Halsey St subway stop, one might be fortunate enough to run into a Danish brewery located at 1616 George Street. This is Evil Twin.
Evil Twin Brewing emerged 10 years ago in Copenhagen from the passion of then-schoolteacher Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and his wife, Maria. Jeppe, Maria, and their children began their US journey in 2012 as they made the big move across the Atlantic to New York City. The Bjergsø’s entered the beer scene in New York in 2013 with their Nordic inspired bar and restaurant, Tørst, in Brooklyn which immediately received positive attention from critics and locals alike. At the time, Evil Twin brewed their beers offsite at different breweries. But Jeppe had a desire to get Evil Twin its own place.
Crucially, Jeppe wanted a large-scale brewery out of town — that is, right until a friend offered him a cozy, authentic space in Ridgewood. After an extended period of construction, Evil Twin opened less than a year ago, featuring a new taproom and a large outdoor serving area. The taproom is an aesthetically furnished greenhouse inspired by one of Jeppe and Maria’s trips to Austin, Texas while the outdoor area is unusually spacious by New York standards. The large outdoor yard later turned out to be very essential for one specific reason — it became Evil Twin’s lifeline during the COVID-19 outbreak. The yard has been their only way of serving on location since the pandemic. Jeppe is the first to admit that living under the COVID-19 lockdown was a frightening experience. But it was also a fruitful one for the New York transplant who took advantage of the break in business to explore new flavors and refocus Evil Twin’s mission.
As New York slowly returns to normalcy following its COVID-19 lockdown, Denmark in New York caught up in socially distant fashion with Jeppe Bjergsø for his take on sustainable brewing, the Big Apple’s COVID-19 rebound, and being a Dane in New York.
Denmark In New York: First, we are sitting here in Ridgewood, NY. As a Denmark native, what brought you and your family across the Atlantic to pursue a life in New York? Tell us a little about the reasons behind that decision from a personal and business perspective.
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: It was definitely a business decision. I was a schoolteacher at the time. We started exporting a lot of beers to the US. We were sitting in Denmark, looking at the sales over here and thought we had to do something about it. This is where the potential is. It’s a big market. A lot of money. A lot of craft beer drinkers. We were able to sell everything we made over here easily. However, we also wanted to try something new, something different. And getting the opportunity to live in New York — who doesn’t want to try that? I lived in the US in the 90s on a Track & Field/XC scholarship in Arkansas, so I knew a little about American society. We could always just go back to Denmark if things didn’t work out.
Is New York a hotspot for beer?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: Actually, it was not but I felt like it could become one and I wanted to be a part of it. New York is a hotspot for everything else in this world — food, music etc. New York is considered the capital of the universe. I saw the New York craft beer scene, perhaps, lagging a bit behind, so I wanted to help it grow. People said that we were “saving the beer scene” in New York when we opened Tørst in 2013.
Denmark is a leading player on sustainability and climate action. How does Evil Twin leverage sustainability in the production of its beer?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: First, being in New York makes everything more difficult. For example, if you have a brewery outside of the city you can have a farmer pick up your used grains and then feed them to his cows. We cannot do that because no farmer will go to Queens and pick it up. It is too expensive and too much hassle. However, we do say yes every time we have the opportunity to be involved in projects with a good cause. We have been involved in Rethink which is serving food to poor people. We made a beer in collaboration with them. Instead of throwing the used grains away, as you usually would do, we have tried using them again in other brews. We do what we can but there are limits when you are located in New York.
COVID-19 has hit New York City hard. Over 20,000 deaths. Thousands of businesses shuttered. How has Evil Twin weathered this challenge?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: Back in March I freaked out. We had just opened our new taproom and bar. We spent a lot of money and a lot of time building it. We spent 4 years and $4 million building it and then 6 months later it is shut down. That’s obviously a big blow. But it’s my company and I had to figure it out. There’s no one else do it for me. I started rethinking to adapt to the new circumstances. We focused more on selling beer in cans since we couldn’t sell draft. Now, we actually do better than we ever have. We started experimenting more. People are sitting at home and I almost feel like, when we launch a new beer, people have something to be excited about. For example, a new water from Evil Twin that tastes like gummy bears.
We had to rethink our approach. We have always experimented a lot but we are experimenting even more now. I don’t know any brewery that does more crazy stuff than we do but we are not just being crazy for being crazy’s sake. I do it because I feel that people want it. Something to be excited about.
And perhaps New York is the right scene to do it?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: Definitely. People here are used to be exposed to a lot of things. All kinds of different foods, art etc. People need something to be excited about. We live in New York, it’s expensive. We need things that justify being here. We need things that makes you wake up and think Yes, I live in New York and these are the things that make me pay double as much rent as every other American.
Tell us a little bit about your brewing process? What influences the flavors and aromas of your beers and how much of Denmark can one taste in an Evil Twin brew?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: I am inspired by a lot of things. The obvious thing to say would be other beers. I have been doing this for so long — professionally brewing for 10 years. It might not sound like a long time but in the beer world it is. I also get inspiration from a lot of other things — food, cocktails, coffee and even wine. I am into eating and drinking — from three-Michelin-star restaurants to street food in Thailand. I’m into all that stuff. That’s what I spend my time doing. I do it because I love it but I also do it because I seek inspiration. Maybe if I taste a cocktail, they use an ingredient I have never heard of before. Maybe we can use that in some way, I usually think. For me it’s about exploring what’s out there in terms of flavor. The overall keyword here is flavor.
It’s all about creating flavors that taste good and are interesting enough for people to want. We make flavors — it’s the only and most important thing. If it doesn’t taste good, nobody is going to buy it. You can have all sorts of ideas but it has to taste good in the end. That’s something I always have in mind. I never get inspiration from art, science or anything like that. It’s all about the flavors.
Here’s an example: I was doing an online panel the other day with some other brewers and somebody told me about a cotton candy grape. It’s a grape with a very short harvest that tastes like cotton candy. Never heard about it but I immediately thought “That sounds interesting!” Now I found out where we can get it in a larger scale and make a beer with it. If we could make a beer that tastes like cotton candy grape, that would be a pretty cool flavor. It’s an example of an ingredient I heard of randomly that now is going to end up in a beer. I am always out there, listening to what’s going on, tasting stuff.
I made a beer last year called spicy margarita avocado. A beer with avocado. We are the only brewery in the world to ever do that, I think. I was in Austin at a Mexican restaurant that served me a very good avocado margarita. So I immediately thought of a way to turn that flavor into a beer.
Frederik Tronier Kapper is the Strategic Communications and Press trainee at Denmark In New York.