Evil Twin's Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø on the Side Project That Became an Empire
New York City is having an Evil Twin moment. For proof, check the drinks menu at the trendier of your favorite establishments, where you'll almost certainly find one or two beers from this craft brewer listed. For further proof, head out to Greenpoint and hit Tørst (if you've managed to avoid it thus far) where Evil Twin pours from a number of wood-handled taps into goblets served across a marble bar. You might wonder then why no one has considered making such a classy shrine to ales and lagers before, and you'll probably pat yourself on the back for being part of the craft beer revolution.
All the beer geek love that's been bestowed upon this brand may make it seem like Evil Twin has been quietly building buzz and amassing supporters forever. But two years ago, owner and brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø was a full-time school teacher with what was mostly just a fairly serious beer hobby. We caught up with him to chat about how he managed to parlay that into an empire.
Village Voice: How did this all begin?
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø: I lived in Denmark, and Denmark being the small country that it is, I couldn't get anything but Carlsberg, and that's what everyone drank. I got into food, and I started getting into beer. So I started a beer club with about 15 friends back in the mid-90s. We'd meet every month and drink unsual beers, and we started brewing. I figured out pretty fast how to do it and make stuff that is more interesting.
I became a school teacher, and I would travel to Belgium to buy beer, and then I opened a beer store in Copenhagen in 2005. It was a side project; I was still was a school teacher. In 2008, I started an importing company mostly because there were beers that I wanted to drink that I couldn't get, so I figured I should import them myself.
So I had this Import company and shop, and in 2010, I registered Evil Twin as a company. I was homebrewing a lot, and I thought I would try to make some beers and start to sell them to people. I didn't expect it to be big; I just thought I would just do some little things and have fun. That year, I just did small batches, and I would send them out, and they got some ratings, and people really liked what I did.
In October of 2010, met Brian Ewing, who owns 12 Percent Imports, in Denmark at a bar through a mutual friend - he knew me from other projects like my bottle shop, He said, "I have an import company in New York. Would you ever want to send beers to the U.S.? I wouldn't mind taking them."
So I said, "Yeah, that could be fun."
We kept in touch, and in 2011, I went to Scotland to brew. I made 10,000 liters each of two different beers, which was more than my total production up until that point, and I sent them over to Brian. He called and said, "I sold them all in one day." I said, "Really?"
That was only two years ago.
When did you decide to come to the States?
I moved over here in March of 2012. I have a wife, and we lived in Copenhagen. I was working 18 hours a day, so I quit my school-teaching job. Things were going good, but I was mostly sitting by my computer. Then I started traveling to the U.S. to do promo events, and we decided to move over here. We always talked about trying it out and living in New York. We applied for a visa, which took about 7 months to get, and we moved two days later. After we arrived, we didn't have any furniture, so we were always just sitting on the floor. It was a big life change, especially with two kids, but we haven't regretted it at all.
How has Evil Twin evolved since then?
It's changing by the day. It's difficult to keep track, actually, because it's happening so fast. I have so many people who want to do stuff, who are contacting me, and we sell more and more. We're always behind the demand. Sometimes I don't know what's going on. Two years ago, I was pretty much a school teacher in Denmark having fun. It's a little scary that it's happening so fast. It's probably not going to last forever, but I'm having fun.
And I get to travel so I can't complain - there's always a reason to go somewhere. Hong Kong, Thailand, I got an email this morning that said now there's Evil Twin in China. We allways joked that when China started drinking craft beer, we'd be safe because there are two billion people there. Now we're there.
Has living here influenced your beer-making process?
When I moved over here, I did 90 percent of my brewing in Europe across six different countries. That was hard -- I was working with small brewers and always having to get to know different systems. It's very expensive to brew like that in Europe. I was brewing one batch and having to make labels and then shipping it over to U.S. We were still behind the demand.
Last year, I got in contact with a brewery that was going to be built in Connecticut. Someone asked if I would be interested in being involved with it. I talked to the guys, and I liked what I heard, and I got prices, and they were good. They opened in September of last year, and in January, I started brewing up there. I can do by far the biggest batches we've done. We're going to have beers coming on draft now and at a good price. I knew this would be the future of Evil Twin, and I'm expecting to brew maybe four times as much as I did last year. That's still pretty small, though, if you compare it to guys like Stone or Sierra Nevada. It will still be something that people really want to buy. It's definitely going in the right direction.
Do you have any favorites?
I have a lot. I always have my own taste in mind, and I brew what I want to drink. Right now, I'm really into the Falco, which I released about a month ago. I needed a crisp, easily drinkable but still flavorful IPA, and when I started brewing it, I knew it was going to be good. I really like it a lot. It's so crisp and so clean with good bitterness. I don't know if I'd call it my favorite, but I find myself drinking it all the time.
How does Tørst fit into the grand scheme of things?
Since I don't have my own brewery, I've always had this idea of opening a beer bar. I had it in my mind back when I opened the bottle shop in 2005, I just didn't have time. After we moved, I thought it would be cool to have a place where we could bring friends or have meetings and hang out.
I met [chef-owner] Daniel Burns when I was working with Noma in Copenhagen, and I told them I was moving to New York. The last email they sent me said, "Oh, if you ever meet Daniel Burns, say hello." Sometime in the next two weeks, I met Daniel at a beer tasting. We became friends, and we started to make plans. He said, "Want to open a beer bar and a beer restaurant?" I said, "Yep, I'm all in."
I'm not the owner of Tørst -- I can't be. I'm just consulting and doing the beer list. And I wanted to make a bar that I wanted to go to, that I would enjoy hanging out at, and a place where I could showcase Evil Twin and some of the special stuff that I made.
And what about Luksus, the restaurant?
We wanted to open in two phases because we knew that Tørst was going to get a lot of attention, so we wanted to dial that in. Daniel is doing some really special stuff at Luksus, and the menu will change about once a month. He's not going to cook for the beer, and not put beer in the food -- he's going to cook what he wants, and we're going to pair the beers to the food after. We plan to bring some other guys, too, to eat the new menu and talk about what beers work best. No one has done a beer list on this scale, so it's fun to bring other people in and get them involved in what we're doing.
Sounds like things are going well.
I can't complain. We want to be the best -- I had the best beer store in the world and the best import company in Europe. I want to do things perfectly, and I can't not do things 100 percent. It's working out pretty good, I think. I'm pretty happy.