Master Blender & Brewer, Mikkeller Baghaven
West Coaster covers the San Diego brewing scene, which may lead one to wonder why we’re featuring an interview with an employee of globe-spanning, Denmark-based Mikkeller. It’s because Ehren Schmidt recently resigned from Vista’s Toolbox Brewing Company, requiring him not only to relocate to a country where he doesn’t even speak the language, but also bid adieu to a brewery to which he brought a great deal of prestige and, oh yeah, perhaps the finest brewing region on the planet. It’s an opportunity that came up fast, but a decision he put a lot of thought into. We sat down with him shortly before he boarded a plane for Copenhagen to find out how this came about and what awaits him across the Atlantic.
How did the prospect of employment with Mikkeller arise?
[Mikkeller owner] Mikkel [Borg Bjergsø] stopped by the brewery early one morning and I was in the middle of examining a new wild-yeast isolate under the microscope. He got to check it out and asked me a bunch of questions. We sampled through beers in barrels and sort of hit it off from there.
What does your new position entail?
I will be responsible for all of the beer production in a new oak-aging facility in Copenhagen at Mikkeller Baghaven. Baghaven is Danish for “backyard”. Nothing has previously been released from this project. It is still very new.
What at the tops of your priority list coming in?
I’m going to continue to focus on oak-aged wild ales and farmhouse-style beers with an emphasis on local microflora. I’m most excited about the Koelschip trailer—a mobile koelship/beer-transfer tank—and the chance to work and collaborate with some top European Brewers. Also, I plan on collecting wild yeast in Denmark just like I did in California. When I travel, I always try to find a way to collect local organisms (when applicable). I plan on incorporating as much local microflora into the beers as possible.
What are some of your greatest Toolbox accomplishments and what will you miss most about San Diego?
Toolbox was a time of incredible growth in my career. What we accomplished in the two years I was there is amazing. We have made some great beers and I’ve met some wonderful people. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve gotten locally and nationally during my tenure as head brewer there. As for what I’ll miss, the Mexican food, the amazing weather and hills. There aren’t many hills in Denmark.
What are your feelings on the big move?
Moving is always difficult, especially to a new country, and with dogs and a girlfriend. I am incredibly excited and stressed out. Denmark isn’t the easiest country to get a work visa in, but luckily I got one. I’m grateful for everyone who has supported Toolbox and myself through thick and thin. We’ve been through a lot in a short amount of time and without the loyalists I don’t think I would be where I am today. It truly is an amazing feeling. I want thank each and every supporter from the bottom of my heart. There will be more beers!
This is the last of a four-part series of posts noting some of the most promising future brewing projects currently under construction in San Diego County. So far, we’ve tackled the eastern, western and northern communities. Today, we’ll delve into the southerly portions of the county, where a great deal is going on of late.
TapRoom Beer Co., University Heights: Earlier this month, news broke that former AleSmith Brewing and Mikkeller Brewing San Diego brewer Bill Batten had signed on to help the owners of SD TapRoom bring a two-story brewpub concept to life on El Cajon Boulevard. Brewing and restaurant experience plus a shared devotion to local beer make this a project to watch. Batten plans to brew a mix of traditional and avant-garde beers.
Click here to read more about this project
Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Co., Chula Vista: This business started out borrowing beer space from Finest Made Ales before securing a three-story building in the heart of the downtown Village area. A rock-themed tasting room will have stainless steel vessels jutting up from the basement and serve beers that, leading up to this point, have been well received by local craft-beer enthusiasts, all with a view of cross-street neighbors Chula Vista Brewery.
Click here to read more about this project
Coronado Brewing Co., Imperial Beach: CBC opened Imperial Beach’s first brewery-owned venue in 2014, but it’s about to upgrade after securing one of two twin buildings at the upcoming Bikeway Village. In addition to installing a brewpub with a 10-barrel brewhouse, distilling is also in the plans. While the project is under construction, CBC will setup a temporary outdoor tasting room accessible by a rotating fleet of mobile food vendors.
Click here to read more about this project
Winners of the San Diego International Beer Festival’s professional brewing competition were released today. A component of the San Diego County Fair’s annual festivities, the competition included entries from across the globe judged by professional beer judges and Southern California brewing professionals in late-April. A total of 68 medals were awarded to San Diego-based breweries. Of that number, 23 were gold, 21 were silver and 24 were bronze.
San Diego breweries won all three medals in eight categories: American-style Red/Amber Ale, Bitter, Bold Stout, Brett and Other Sour Beer, German-style Ale, German-style Weiss, Imperial Stout and Pilsener. Miramar-based AleSmith Brewing Company once again took home Champion Brewery honors behind three medals—a gold and silver in the same category (one of which was awarded to a Scotch ale) and a gold in the Barley Wine category.
The most local medals went to Pizza Port. That brewpub’s Carlsbad brewpub also won a gold and two silvers. Its Ocean Beach arm won two (one gold, one bronze) and Bressi Ranch production brewery earned a silver. The most medals awarded to a single brewery went to San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company and less-than-a-year-old North Park interest Eppig Brewing. Both of those companies earned a gold, silver and two bronzes. San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey and South Park Brewing Company earned three medals apiece, as well. Also impressive was Rip Current winning two of three medals in the German-style Bock category.
The following is a complete list of the winners from this years SDIBF…
The three-day public beer-fest portion of the SDIBF will take place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, June 16 through Sunday, June 18. Tickets and information can be found online.
SD TapRoom celebrated its tenth anniversary in February. The bar and restaurant was one of the first businesses to champion the charge of craft beer in its home community of Pacific Beach. That area has a big reputation as a party-town fueled by happy hours and discount brews, so trying to adapt mostly young, non-affluent locals and college-age visitors to the glories of a higher-priced but abundantly superior artisan ales was challenging, but fraternal owners Kevin and Kyle Conover stuck with it and gained the respect of the brewing community and the drinkers it caters to in the process. Now, that duo is ready to take things a step further via a new project: TapRoom Beer Company.
Equipped with a seven-barrel brewhouse and 50 taps, this brewpub will be located at 2000 El Cajon Boulevard, on the corner of El Cajon and Florida Street in University Heights. The Conovers have wanted to get into brewing for some time. It took a year to select and secure the spot they have. It was important that they find a location that was right for a brewpub as they were not interested in running a production brewery. The Conovers aim to keep this business true to the spirit of their flagship, citing a focus on community as an attribute that will carry over from PB.
But what about the beer? That will be the charge of local brewing-industry veteran Bill Batten. Batten resigned from his post as head brewer at Miramar’s Mikkeller Brewing San Diego in March. He opened that operation after transitioning over from AleSmith Brewing Company, the interest he worked for from 2002 to 2016. AleSmith owners Peter and Vicky Zien hold a minority ownership stake in Mikkeller SD, so entrusting that business’ brewing operations to Batten was a logical step, making it all the more surprising that he would voluntarily walk away after 15 years of loyalty.
Batten cited creative differences with majority owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø when announcing his departure, but the likelihood of encountering those at TapRoom Beer seems slim. The Conovers say they are looking forward to Batten unleashing his skill and creativity, and are excited to see the direction he takes their brewpub. According to the team, the venue’s beers will run the gamut from a style standpoint. Classic English-style extra special bitters to San Diego-style hop-bombs and a variety of experimental beers will all be explored, but creating a mix of traditional and innovative ales and lagers is the goal.
Key features of the two-story project include a beer-cellar that will be located on a top-level mezzanine that is visible to customers. Half of the total space’s 5,000 total square feet is outdoors, providing opportunities to enjoy San Diego beer in tandem with its amicable trademark weather. Beers will primarily be available on draft, with occasional releases of bottles and/or cans. TapRoom Brewing is slated for a December 2017 or January 2018 opening.
I remember sitting in the FM 94/9 studio during an edition of the station’s Rock and Roll Happy Hour that brought together members of AleSmith Brewing Company and newly established Mikkeller Brewing San Diego. Long-time AleSmith brewer Bill Batten was on the microphone, professing that he would always be AleSmith at his core, while explaining that he was transitioning to a new role as head brewer for Mikkeller. While he may be AleSmith for life, the same cannot be said for Mikkeller. Batten resigned last week, choosing to move on due to what he describes as creative differences with company co-owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø.
Batten joined AleSmith in 2002. During his 13 years with the company, he served in both sales and brewing capacites, ending out as senior brewer. When AleSmith owner Peter Zien moved the company to a larger facility in 2015, he formed a creative partnership with Bjergsø to form Mikkeller San Diego, retaining a minority-stake in the business. Batten stayed at the original brewery, becoming a full-time employee of Mikkeller San Diego, heading production and leading an eventual team of brewers.
It’s Batten’s opinion that both he and Mikkeller San Diego will be better off in the long run following his departure. As for his future, it is wide open. When resigning, he did not have another job lined up. Given his tenure and popularity within the industry, matched with the number of operations in town in search of a veteran brewer, he is sure to command a great deal of interest on the open-market.
As for the future of the position Batten vacated, representatives from Mikkeller San Diego had not yet formulated a long-term solution, but cited faith in their remaining brewing team. Brewers Daniel Cady, Chris Gillogly and Jacobo Mendoza will continue to produce the increasingly diverse line of beers Bjergsø conceives from afar. Currently, the brewery’s majority-owner devises concepts for recipes he shares via regular conference-calls and email communications. Those ideas and initial recipes are then adjusted by on-site staff to work with the Miramar brewery’s equipment.