The air is humid and sweet and the sun beams through the floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the building. Customers chatter, chefs patrol the open kitchen and bartenders inspect glassware. Tucked into the furthest end of the vast premises, stainless steel tanks produce a quarter of a million litres of beer a year – it’s the lifeblood of WarPigs.
Copenhagen’s newest brew-pub is a joint venture between the 3 Floyds Brewing Company from Indiana, USA, and Copenhagen’s own Mikkeller. With seating for 280 inside and out, it’s an ambitious venture and one of the largest establishments in Kødbyen. So far, business has been good.
“It’s going to be a challenge just to keep up with demand here,” says Lan-Xin Foo, winner of Mikkeller’s latest in-house brewing competition and assistant to head brewer Kyle Wolak from 3 Floyds.
“The point of this brew pub is to keep it local, just for the people in Copenhagen. And I think they are ready for more flavours.”
Hot and smoky
Later on this balmy afternoon, the brewers take some measurements and samples from inside a boiling vat of beer before returning outside to finish eating. A few benches away, a couple discreetly changes their toddler’s nappy next to sun-struck diners sipping beers and snacking on barbecue served in greased paper trays.
“Most Danes have no idea what a brisket is,” says Mikkeller founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. “I discovered the Texas-style barbecue in the states and I think it’s a rather interesting cuisine because it is so handheld. It isn’t gourmet but it is really, really delicious and if you do it well it can be extremely good.”
Danish diners also had to adjust to the bread, he explains.
“We have had a lot of complaints about the bread because it is white, so they think it is shitty. But it is actually made by one of the best bakeries in Denmark. People don’t understand, but it’s our responsibility to educate them.”
WarPigs brings an American approach to food to Copenhagen. You queue up at the kitchen for service, choose your meat and select portions by weight, while sides come in polystyrene pots and on paper plates. Overall, WarPigs fits a trend to increase the quality of common “fast-food” without increasing the pretense of the dining experience.
WarPigs contrasts sharply with Bjergsø’s previous food venture, Øl & Brød, a ‘smørrebrød’ restaurant with multi-course set menus that come with spirit and beer matches – Mikkeller beer, naturally.
“WarPigs is a lot of meat, a lot of preparation of raw material – it’s a lot of no-service-and-eat-with-your-hands.”
The beer production is also very hands on, says Foo, and explains that there’s a good reason it’s called “craft beer”.
“We are actually crafting beer by hand. There are some breweries where you can just sit in front of a computer and I don’t think that is much fun. We might be making small batches, but they’re produced by many caring hands.”
Merging of minds
Like all good collaborations, a balance must be struck evenly between the two investing parties. WarPigs shares the aesthetics of other Mikkeller bars, with toned down furniture and ‘hyggelig’ touches. The bathroom doors are heavy steel, but the windows are lined with dozens of miniature cactuses. Industrial rolls of paper towels serve in place of napkins, but there is still a cloakroom.
3 Floyds’ American influences are present elsewhere. Rock and country music is piped in throughout the day and evening, while head chef Andrew Hroza’s hot and smoky barbecue is unashamedly all-American.
“Mikkeller and 3 Floyds are very different brands, but their approach is quite similar as they’re always trying out new ideas and collaborations,” explains Kamilla Hannibal, WarPigs Communications Manager.
“But while Mikkeller is Nordic, with cool and light colours, cartoons and a playful feel, 3 Floyds’ universe is more heavy metal, with skulls and things like that. With WarPigs based in Copenhagen, on Mikkeller’s turf, it was important for us that WarPigs was its own thing – we don’t brew any Mikkeller beer here at all.”
WarPigs also bears the feeling of a family restaurant, and while there are 20 beers on tap – six regulars and 14 changing – it doesn’t have the same geeky feel of other Mikkeller establishments. Beer geeks are still catered for through a membership club that allows consumers to invest in WarPigs in exchange for a range of perks and offers.
“Some people thought it was awful and elitist and some people saw it for what it was – it is for people who want to taste beers early and get other cool stuff,” says Hannibal of their five-tiered membership programme.
Nick Floyd from 3 Floyds came up with the idea and shaped it on his enthusiasm for role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. It offers customers varying degrees of merchandise, limited edition beers and access to special events and tastings.
Entry-level membership is a Trooper at 660 kroner, rising to 65,580 kroner for the second most senior membership, the Colonel. The pricing of membership is perhaps indicative of WarPigs target market, as the odd values in kroner become tidy values of 100 and 10,000 US dollars when converted. The highest rank is the General, of which there is only one. Originally, half a million kroner was expected, but with the rank still unfilled you now only need to make WarPigs your own financial offer and explain what a perfect day as its General would be. In exchange is some extreme VIP treatment.
“We want someone who can invest a little bit but also someone who is really passionate and of course can be an ambassador for the brand,” explains Hannibal.
Hitting the jackpot
WarPigs opened on April 10 with free beer, barbecue and music. It was one of the first warm days of the year, drawing city dwellers to bask in the sun outside.
“I saw a picture of a lot of people sitting outside and some people drinking cans of Carlsberg, but I think that is pretty cool actually,” reflects Bjergsø. “It shows that we also attract people who can’t even afford our beer but still think it is a fun place to be.”
Global interest in the Mikkeller brand is enormous, and they could open 50 bars this year if they agreed to all the collaborations they’ve been offered. Far from pushing for global domination, Bjergsø is taking a more considered route, opening the next enterprise in South Korea. It’s important for him to be able oversee all operations, he says, so fast growth is undesirable.
His strategy seems to be paying off. In the past nine years, he has transitioned from a school teacher to leading one of the hottest independent beer brands. In January, Mikkeller was even ranked the world’s third best brewery by esteemed beer critics’ website Ratebeer.com.
“We want to make people smile and it is fairly easy with beer. It would be harder if we did slippers or something,” jokes Bjergsø.
Foo also feels grateful to belong to the Mikkeller community.
“There isn’t any other position in the world I would want right now – I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.” M