Mikkeller Opens an American Bar, Sort Of

Eno Sarris, August 02, 2013

Mikkeller is opening a bar in America. Well, not really.

Chuck Stilphen, most recently of The Trappist in Oakland, is opening a bar named Bar Mikkeller in San Francisco, with licensening and approval from Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the genius behind the Mikkeller label. When it happens, it'll be something new for the states, and yet something comfortable for great beer.

I talked to Stilphen about his vision for the bar, which is having its grand opening next Friday. After a visit to the soft opening, I can add some insight about the location, the beers on tap, and the food in the kitchen. Add in a little exclusive preview of the rare bottles that will be available Friday, and you have some sort of review/interview/preview hybrid. We like to break ground here at BeerGraphs.

New to America, perhaps, is the idea of a brewery-themed bar without a brewery attached. Stilphen pointed out that these exist at airports, but captive audiences aside, are there many brewery bars that aren't brewpubs? Stilphen says there isn't room to brew on site -- Mikkeller is in the financial district downtown (steps away from the tenderloin) -- but they will try to brew some of the Mikkeller house beers in the Bay Area. That means, at the very least, the Mikkeller TenderBrown Ale, Tenderloin Pilsner, Tenderloin Spontanale (lambic) and Tenderloin Wit could all be fresh as down the street soon.

Stilphen's fourth bar will be an "homage to Mikkeller," as he put it, and it took more than four years to put together. He met Mikkel in a bar in Copenhagen, they hit it off, and talk quickly went to the two Mikkeller bars in Copenhagen. In the meantime, Brew Dog has started to talking to Mikkeller about a bar in London and a Stockholm location launched itself into the discussion. And Mikkel himself has opened two Mikkeller bars.

This American version won't all be Mikkeller. 60-80% will be "stuff we like" says Stilphen. The bar doesn't look at the ratings to decide, and certainly untappd is not the first place they look, but they might if they are about to "take a chance on something" without samples. The idea, beyond showcasing Mikkeller's beers, is to feature "small, quality beers who don't dumb down their beer for the mass markets, made by people who care about the product they make -- quality has to come first." Despite "pressure from distributors and importers to sell their beers," Stilphen feels that they are willing to look for brewers that care more about quality than the dollar.

The soft opening had quite a beer list.

  • Drake's 1500 Dry-Hopped Pale Ale
  • Allegash White Witbier
  • AleSmith IPA
  • Evil Twin Falco American IPA
  • Benchwood Resinator American IPA
  • Mikkeller TenderBrown Ale
  • Mikkeller Tenderloin Pilsner
  • Mikkeller Tenderloin Spontanale Lambic
  • Mikkeller Tenderloain Wit
  • Saison Dupont
  • Stillwater Cellar Door
  • De La Senne Taras Boulba Belgian Pale
  • Freigeist Abraxxxas Peated Berliner Weisse
  • Prairie Ales Prairie Standard Wild Ale
  • La Rulles Tripel
  • Mikkeller / Firestone Walker Lil' Mikkel Sour/Wild
  • Iron Springs Casey Jones Imperial IPA
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru Sour/Wild
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack American IPA
  • Mikkeller American Dream Pils
  • Mikkeller Cream Ale
  • Victory Prima Pils
  • Ninkasi Sterlin Pils
  • Craftsman 1903 Lager
  • Mikkeller Mexas Ranger
  • Mikkeller Tripel
  • Mikkeller / Brewdog I Hardcore You Imperial IPA
  • Olivsholt Lava Smoked Imperial Stout
  • Beer Here Merke Pumpernickel Porter
  • Mikkeller It's Alive BA Chardonnay Mango Sour/Wild
  • Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca Sour/Wild
  • St. Bernadus Prior 8 Abbey Dubbel
  • 8 Wired Stout Imperial Stout
  • North Coast Old No. 38 Stout
  • Cocor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge Sour/Wild
  • Mikkeller Milk Sout
  • De La Senne Jame-de-Bois Tripel
  • Logsdon Farmhouse Saison

My night -- Logsdon Saison into Cuvee de Jacobins Rouge into AleSmith into Mikkeller Milk Stout -- was perfect. As a saison and wild ale lover, this list was right up my alley. Others might want more stouts and barrell-aged beers, but that's okay, there are other beers on the way. Stilphen said that the grand opening Thursday night would have some Drie Fonteinen Geuze -- including the ultra-rare retired 1998 50th-anniversary bottle. He also promised some vintage Cantillon.

The brilliance of this bar -- even vis-a-vis The Trappist -- might be in this collection of both European and American beers. Freed of the constraints of the Trappist's Beligan theme, Stilphen might be able to really flex his Euro-American beer-finding muscles. And that'll fit in with Mikkeller's openness to new ideas. Just look at the collaborations Mikkeller has already put forth -- beers with Three Floyds, de Struise, Hill Farmstead, and Anchorage brewers -- and you'll see that they aren't stuck in tradition. Combine America's best with "specials from Mikkeller in Europe," as Stilphen promised, and you might be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

This isn't to say that the location and bar aren't without problems. It's "100 feet from a neighborhood that is quite a bit different" as Stilphen himself admits. But even in the nine months he's spent working on the location, he's noticed a difference. "The time is right for the neighborhood" he asserted, and it's really just "the last street in the tenderloin." Still, I noticed, and others that attended the opening remarked to me that it's in a border town of sorts.

And though the in-house sausages were good, the almonds were a pass and the fries were meh. As beautiful as the hardwood bar, sterling silver hardware and label-less taps were, the food I had was forgettable.

That's okay. By all accounts, this bar -- groundbreaking and yet familiar -- will be all about the beer.