Everyone has a book in their collection that they bought purely based on the fact it looks awesome. That one hardback that sits front facing on your shelf because quite frankly it just looks so damn cool it’s a shame to keep hidden away sandwiched between your dog-eared, Year 10 copy of The Catcher in the Rye and a Roy Keane autobiography.
I have two of these books. Or should I say did have two. The Wes Anderson Collection book sits pride of place next to our TV in the lounge, in an attempt to make my flatmate and I feel slightly less ashamed during our Orange is the New Black Netflix binges. I’m also strangely proud of my copy of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle which has a skinned cow’s head on the cover, don’t ask why.
My acquisition of Mikkeller’s Book of Beer has meant I now have a new contender to use as a conversation piece at the dinner parties that I don’t host.
This isn’t hyperbole, the book is something to behold. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the quality and obscurity of some of the Mikkeller bottle artwork by illustrator Keith Shore, but it wouldn’t look out of place adorning a sideboard in a Scandinavian furniture showroom.
Is it a case of style over substance though?
Co-written by brewery co-founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and journalist Pernille Pang (she’s also Mikkel’s wife), the first chapter predictably starts by detailing all the history behind protagonist’s upbringing, competition with his brother (Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, founder of Evil Twin Brewing), and his life prior to his Mikkeller successes. From brewing in his one bed Copenhagen apartment, to becoming one of the most innovative craft beer producers in the world.
Everyone loves a good back-story, and although the rest of the book does contain a whole boat load of other sections of varying quality, I could quite happily have read another 100 pages of Mikkel speaking in greater detail of Mikkeller’s origins and how it has grown so exponentially.
The first 30-odd pages grip you. But some of the other sections scream of being included almost because it’s simply just expected of a book about beer – brewing your own, an encyclopedia of beer styles, guides on how to taste beer and match with food. Luckily, it’s portrayed with so many beautiful illustrations and photography that it still feels new and does well to hold your interest, even if the content isn’t pushing the beer literature envelope.
The inclusion of the 25 Mikkeller beer recipes is a nice touch. With the ‘Mikkeller and Friends’ section including recipes from other breweries such as The Kernel’s Imperial Brown Ale and the Wookey Jack black IPA from Firestone Walker, before going onto name drop some of the restaurants the brewery have worked in conjunction with.
The world’s best restaurant, Noma, is mentioned first, of course. It flashes quickly through the history of the collaboration beers made by Mikkeller for the two-Michelin star restaurant but then, rather strangely, goes into three pages of intricate detail on how to make their grilled flatbread and Gotland truffle dish, as if I’ve got truffles are sitting there in my kitchen cupboards next to my super noodles and fig roles.
This continues into the other parts of this particular chapter of the book – I have no idea what red shiso leaves are but I shan’t be using them in my cherry and miso compote – with the complexity of the food recipes juxtaposing the back-to-basics approach of the brewing process detailed in the early chapters.
I imagine this is Mikkeller highlighting just how his beers have become intertwined with Danish gastronomy. Regardless, they don’t really fall in line with the tone of the rest of the book.
Despite some of this confusion for the reader it is presented in the obligatory Mikkeller fashion – clean, whimsical and eye-catching – and always shines focus back onto the Mikkeller creations. The ‘Behind the Beer’ interludes break up the chapters nicely and serve to give background to some of the signature creations as well as the more extreme ones, with the infamously bitter 1000 IBU, and the heavily heralded Beer Geek Brunch getting mentions.
If you’re going to use this solely as a homebrewing guide, don’t. Similarly, If you’re looking for a book to supply you with never-ending knowledge on every beer style under the moon, then there’s better examples out there. But as a whistle-stop tour of all things craft beer, as long as you can look past the some of the suspect Danish translations, you’ve got yourself a sterling addition to your beer book artillery.
Luckily, with the artwork on the front cover looking just so bloody impressive, it just so happens that it also doubles up as a means of tricking your friends and family into thinking that you’re far more cultured than you actually are.