Mikkeller Baghaven: looking for the Danish happiness or “Hygge”
The Danish concept “Hygge” has much more to do with the atmosphere, the emotion of the moment and the experience, than with the material things that surround us. Meik Wiking, CEO at The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, defines this word (of Norwegian origin meaning “well-being”) in his book: 'Hygge. The happiness of small things' (Penguin Books, 2016), as the art of creating intimacy, of creating spaces to find peace.
In the beginning of December last year I had the opportunity to spend some fantastic days in Copenhagen. It was my second time in the capital of Denmark, the first time in December. The perfect timing to explore in situ the experience that for many people serves as an antidote to combat the cold and dark winter nights. And I have to admit that one of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Mikkeller Baghaven.
Urban decadence on Refshaleøen island
To get to Mikkeller Baghaven one has to venture out to the island of Refshaleøen. Both the place and the location can not be more iconic: an old refurbished ship building close to the sea front in an industrial area that oozes urban decadence, located in the furthermost part of the Copenhagen harbor.
Despite this, the area transmits an air of modernity, which is surely due to the rise of new restaurants, cultural activities, design bars and spaces occupied by entrepreneurs and creatives who have decided to set their work offices there.
A taproom in a unique scenario
After a bus trip of approximately 20 minutes from the city centre and a short walk across industrial facilities, we finally arrived at the tasting room. The emotion that I felt as soon as I saw the letters perched over the building that I had seen so many times before in social media, was quite similar to the day I stepped inside the premises of Jester King Brewery ranch in Austin (Texas). They might have very few similarities, from the landscape to the different cultures they transmit, but for me both places share the same magic, the same atmosphere where complex - and experimental - mixed and spontaneous fermentation beers are brewed inspired by Belgian traditions.
The space offers a very cozy atmosphere, ideal to shelter from the cold and getting warm, accompanied by good conversation and delicious beers, and to have the opportunity of seeing the nightfall (at 4 o'clock in the afternoon!) by candlelight, overlooking the sea and the city. It was a memorable and almost mystical moment.
Wild yeast and bacteria
Mikkeller Baghaven gives shelter to 12 beautiful oak foeders, with capacities ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 liters, as well as another 50 225 liter wine barrels previously used for California Chardonnay. Now they serve as a home for beers that end up transforming into tremendously complex elixirs thanks to the work of wild yeasts and bacteria.
In addition to barrel aging, in Baghaven they also have an in-house microbiology lab that allows them to maintain their own yeast and bacteria cultures, as well as isolate new strains captured in the area's air or in the fruit skins. A marvel whose culprit is none other than Master Blender & Brewer Ehren Schmidt, who left his previous job at Toolbox Brewing Company in San Diego (California) and joined Mikkeller’s team in mid-2017.
Subtle and elegant Wild Ales
As for the beers on their blackboard or the list of bottles that you can buy to have there or take home with you, I can only say that everything I tried was pure subtlety and elegance. In particular I want to highlight the Havnesæson Blåbær, a delicious 7.5% ABV Saison aged in oak wine barrels with local organic blueberries. One the best brews I have ever tasted.
In summary, an absolutely unmissable experience that I highly recommend to any beer enthusiast and Wild Ale lover. Because in order to live well and to find the beauty of small things, it is also important to learn to drink well, enjoying the unique moments that beer offers us, and that is something that the Hygge masters know how to achieve.