For such a well-respected brewery, Mikkeller’s beers are all too often bewildering in their inconsistency. Beer Geek Brunch Weasal (right), a big oatmeal imperial stout, adroitly balances hints of coffee bean, roasted malt and subtle back-of-the-palate bitterness to delightful effect. Every sip is an enduring pleasure as the beer warms in the glass, revealing ever more complex flavors and nuances. The 10.9% abv is barely noticeable in this well-constructed gem of a beer.
On the other hand, another imperial stout, Black 2011 (below), starts off boozy (18% abv) and goes downhill from there, until by the time you reach the bottom of the glass, all that’s left is a hot alcoholic mess.
Inconsistency is to be expected from this daring Danish gypsy brewing company, which makes beer all over the world, but it does present a dilemma for beer drinkers. How do you know if the Mikkeller beer you’re pondering on the tap list or eyeballing on the beer store shelf will be worth its relatively high price, or even drinkable?
The new Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco helps make those decisions a lot easier. The spacious bar/restaurant at 34 Mason St. presents a stark juxtaposition with its seedy Tenderloin/Market Street surroundings. Once past the velvet rope outside, Mikkeller SF is sleek and modern without feeling cold or aloof. A lot of the credit goes to the servers, who are knowledgeable and helpful without being stuffy, condescending or pretentious. They will help craft beer newcomers satisfy their curiosity with an appropriate beer and at the same time steer more experienced drinkers to something unusual that will pique their palate. If the beertenders detect hesitation, they are quick to suggest a sample sip to make sure that customers enjoy their beer.
Along with eight beers from Mikkeller, the 42 constantly rotating taps recently featured such local brews as newly opened Faction’s Fall IPA, Drakes’ Expedition and Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils. However, the emphasis is clearly on Belgian-style craft beer from the likes of Nogne O of Norway; De La Senne and De Ranke of Belgium; and New World brewers like Allagash and Dieu du Ciel. Beer-friendly food, including a variety of house-made sausages, is available to complement the beer.
Mikkeller’s beers are pretty much the opposite of popular American-style lagers, which are irrefutably consistent yet uniformly bland and tedious. Mikkeller’s beers might be maddeningly erratic, but when they hit the mark, you are reminded of why you love craft beer all over again. Great craft beer comes not from rigid consistency but from the freedom to experiment and take chances, even if it doesn’t work out every time.