What It Is: Another salvo in the barrage of foreign brands entering China, but highly anticipated by fans of the Beard God's amber nectar. Mikkeller's history reads like an amateur homebrew motivational speech.
Danish school teacher Mikkel Borg Bjergsø started out cloning beers he liked out of a kitchen, entering homebrew competitions and experimenting in the early 2000s, then eventually collaborating with breweries to produce experimental and one-off recipes out of their facilities. It was sold exclusively at small restaurants and at beer festivals and events for a long time. Very low-key. So craft. Much beer geek.
In fact, the beer that finally catapulted Mikkeller to international acclaim was called Beer Geek Breakfast.
Founding partner Kristian Klarup Keller (get it, Mikkel + Keller) left in 2007, just as Mikkeller started to really pick up steam: it opened its first spot in the gentrified Vesterbro district of Copenhagen (where the old Carlsberg Brewery is located) in 2010 with 20 taps and a constant influx of new beers. Mikkeller's produced something like 2,000 different beers of the years. Often experimental, often weird, with quirky label designs and punny names.
Fast forward a couple of years — breweries across Europe and in the US, bars in Seoul, Bangkok, and Taipei, a barrel-aging facility called Baghaven, accolades, international prizes, Financial Times calling him the King of Beer in 2018 and an interesting feud with his twin brother that's laid out in a 2019 book called "Beer Brothers" — and here we are.
Shanghai launch of the Mikkeller Tasting Room (not "Tap Room," there's no brewing on-site), part of an Asia expansion, with another spot just opened in Tokyo. Stuff of dreams! You can do it too, homebrewers!
Anyway. Mikkeller Tasting Room is down the alley behind the 7/11 on Yanping Lu, occupying prime ground-floor real estate in a monolithic white building. Minimalist, modern, and so, so Scandinavian, it's basically a concrete and blonde wood box to hold taps pouring out Mikkeller's stuff. Comfortable, well-made furniture both indoors and out.
They've got a little upstairs spot for merch and bottles in the fridge. There's a custom neon light on the front window of "Shanghai Sally," a mascot specially designed by Mikkeller's designer Keith Shore — he's behind the little cartoons you see on the walls too, looking like like a mix between the Kilroy graffiti and a children's book.
In Denmark, incidentally, all children's books teach the value of social conformity and a quiet life of anonymous mediocrity, but here we are drinking some truly wacky stuff made by a guy in Copenhagen. Weird country.
Twenty taps for an eventual 20 beers! They're importing everything themselves from breweries in Belgium, San Diego, New York City, their barrel-aging facility Baghaven in Denmark and more, selling it in 20cl or 40cl glasses (pitchers and growlers to come later).
They've got a handful of permanent core beers, most with the district name (Jing'an) appended to them, as they traditionally do at all their bars; for example, the Spontan Jing'an, a spontaneously fermented Belgian sour beer made with wild yeast. There's also their stout and the Witbier (not to be confused with the Cucumber Wit in collaboration with APUJAN), the more entry-level German Pils, and, naturally, some punny nonsense. The "Hazesan Allihops" is phonetically identical to "hey everyone!" in Swedish. Scandijokes.
In a departure from other brewpub/taprooms/beer whatever places, there's no food (no kitchen, see) but they'll have the same bar snacks they serve at the original in Denmark by grand opening on June 19; blocks of Danish cheese, pretzel sticks, some cured sausages, presented on a platter for you to figure out yourself, and Piper's Crisps.
First Impressions: Less bro-y than other beer brands, the Scandivibes makes it feel more... I don't know, adult? This feels like the responsible beer bar that something like Stone would grow into. Less demonstrative about how beery its beer is, less overbearing about how craftfully craft it is.
You might recognize the tall, tattooed Dane in charge as Martin (old Inferno, Stone), but there's no death metal on the speakers here (yet?). Restraint! I suspect it's less an intentional stance against what we've come to expect from beer bars, and more just the Danishness of the brand. Confident, in a subdued and mature kind of way. Martin's organizing a running and cycling club, for God's sake. They're planning a cheese and beer pairing for the grand opening! Like it's wine or something!
They won't have all twenty taps ready until the grand opening, but even just the eight or so I've tried demonstrate a wide, wide range. Not that we're short-changed for choice in Shanghai anymore, but I appreciate having the basic German Pils to fall back on for casual consumption after trying the Spontan.
You are paying for it though. Smalls are around 35rmb and the larger ones are 55-65rmb for the permanent beers (bottles upstairs cost 42rmb and up). Comes in at 0.175rmb per ml for the small glass, which is waaay in the upper percentile on the beer index. The more limited edition stuff could come in at anything from 75-105rmb.
Doesn't feel like much of a hit against it, to be honest. Like most Scandistuff, it's expensive, but it's usually good value for money. If I wanted to quaff pints on the cheap, there are about five options literally around the corner. This feels like somewhere I would go with my dog to read a book (probably on hop cultivation), sip something truly interesting on a nice day out, maybe even convince myself I'm a grown-up.