At Tørst, The Scandinavian Beer Scene Grows In Brooklyn
A beer bar from cult brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø
Last Tuesday evening I stopped into Tørst for a beer chilled precisely to 42 degrees, perfectly carbonated with a blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide and poured from a glassed-in series of gauges, knobs and tubes that would sweep a science fair. Perched on a mid-century Scandinavian bar stool I tried to reconcile the bar’s fancy hardware and stark Nordic design with drinking beer. The lines were clean; the wooden walls, reclaimed without decoration. A chump for neon, I missed the beer signs. An older man at the end of the long, white marble bar looked uneasy sipping a Swedish IPA from an undersized wine glass.
Tørst — Danish for “thirst” — gives Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the cultish brewer behind Evil Twin Brewing, a home. Along with his brother Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeller Brewing, the Dane turned Brooklynite helped kindle the “gypsy” approach to beer-making, or brewing at borrowed facilities rather than opening a brewery. Uncommitted to a single set of boilers and barrels, it can be a prolific practice; scroll and scroll some more through Beer Advocate’s 75 Evil Twin entries. Jarnit-Bjergsø moves in and moves on quick, and many if not most of his beers are never brewed again. But the ones that are, and any one-offs yet to come, will likely show up at Tørst alongside other beers so rare and worldly they prompted Julian Casablancas, frontman for The Strokes, to tweet this photo of himself chatting with Jarnit-Bjergsø. “Tørst in Greenpoint...if you want crazy and amazing beers,” he wrote. And he’s right.
“I’ve heard of, like, two of these,” said a tattooed kid who joined me at the bar, ordering a second 12% ABV ale aged in sherry casks, from Belgium’s Hof Ten Dormaal brewery. “It’s OK,” he slurred, “I got the small one.” Like Brooklyn standouts Spuyten Duyvil and Beer Table before it, Tørst takes a refined approach to Brooklyn beer drinking; the 21 drafts come in either 8- ($5-$7) or 14-ounce ($6-$11) wine glasses that dangle above the bar. And though he stocks around 200 bottles at any given time, much like his predecessors, Jarnit-Bjergsø focuses on curation, not quantity. Breweries like Belgium’s Gueuzerie Tilquin and Bierbrouwerij Emelisse, from the Netherlands, make appearances — beers that are rare, but around. However Jarnit-Bjergsø also networks with a variety of small brewpubs and breweries, such as Beechwood BBQ from Los Angeles, whose product is available nowhere else in New York.
So if any beer collection deserves that thing with the gauges, it’s Tørst’s. That thing — it’s called the “flux capacitor” and glows DeLorean taillight red behind the bar — was built and installed by Beechwood BBQ owner and brewer Gabe Gordon, and has fast become a de facto CPU for New York beer geekery. Aside from allowing for style-specific carbonation and temperature calibration on the bar’s 21 draft lines — pilsners pour at 38 degrees (Fahrenheit), IPAs at 42, barleywines at 52 — “It just looks really cool,” bartender Mike Amidei says.
Except for the older guy with the Swedish IPA, Jarnit-Bjergsø’s reinvention of the beer bar already has enaged thirsty New Yorkers and tourists. On a recent visit, the room was nearly full by 7:30: businessmen sat alongside stylish alterna-couples; beardy North Brooklyners passed and sampled; and two 30-somethings with handlebar mustaches talked at length about their beer, and also about their mustaches. A nice couple from San Francisco — she's a cook; he's in the coffee business — had more or less planned an entire trip around tippling at Tørst, Spuyten Duyvil and the other New York beer destinations scrawled on their crumpled up napkin.
I stopped by again later that same week and found Jarnit-Bjergsø chatting with Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster — and dapper beer scholar — Garrett Oliver. As I later found out, the newbie brewer occasionally looks to Oliver for advice on handling the non-fermentable aspects of being a successful brewer, namely the flood of attention and press Jarnit-Bjergsø now enjoys, or rather, doesn’t: “People say some weird shit about me,” he says cryptically. After Oliver headed out, samples in hand, Jarnit-Bjergsø walked me through his menu in the bar’s dining room, where come May chef Daniel Burns, formerly of Copenhagen’s Michelin-starred Noma, will man a 26-seat restaurant serving food meant to complement the beers. “It’s not that we stock beers just because they’re rare or because no one else has them,” he insists. “We just go out and find the beers we like the most.” It just so happens that, in many cases, no one else has them.
After sampling some of Jarnit-Bjergsø’s favorite pours I found my favorite mid-century Scandinavian bar stool and took it all in over a spicy, dark saison. Despite the pomp and high design, Tørst was surprisingly inviting. Bar chatter did eventually stray from hops. A slack-tied Don Draper–type drank strong beers by himself. And three band mates tried to find the “ø” on their iPhones. Tørst was like a neighborhood bar — but one with really outstanding beer.
6 beers to try at Tørst:
Tørst Front Room/ Tørst Back Room (Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn, NY/Hinnerup, Denmark)
In brewing his house beers, Jarnit-Bjergsø has crafted two big, bold barleywines. Both are rich, sweet and malty like the English originals but with extra heft and flavor thanks to stints in port and Madeira wine barrels.
Bikini Beer (Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn, NY/Hinnerup, Denmark)
For something lighter — at 2.7 ABV, way lighter in fact — this modest IPA, which arrives in cans any day now, has a surprising amount of flavor. It’s dry and citrusy with plenty of hop character. Jarnit-Bjergsø says, “This will be a great beer to drink out of a can on the beach. I mean, I guess you can’t drink beer out of a can on the beach in the US.” Mike Amidei jumps in: “I’m sure it’s happened once or twice.” “I think I’m going to drink a lot of this this summer,” says Jarnit-Bjergsø.
Oude Quetsche Tilquin à L'Ancienne (Gueuzerie Tilquin, Rebecq-Rognon, Belgium)
The first lambic blendery to open in recent years, this brewery takes the traditional Belgian gueze — an ale made by blending young and old lambics — and tosses plums into the brew pot. Amidei says, “Plum isn’t an in-your-face fruit, so it just lends a subtle sweetness and a light fruit flavor. But the beer stays nice and tart. It’s a beautiful beer.”
A Saison Darkly (Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Baltimore, MD)
Occasional Evil Twin collaborator, and one of the country’s buzziest brewing savants, Stillwater has crafted a richer, toastier take on a traditional Belgian saison.
Nebuchadnezzar (Omnipollo, Stockholm, Sweden)
This young brewery is a standout on the young Scandinavian craft beer scene. Their double IPA has huge hop aroma and balanced citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
Tipopils (Birrificio Italiano, Lurago Marinone, Italy)
This pilsner takes crisp, bitter hints from the classic Czech and German varieties, but with a rounder fruitiness. Despite thinking that some Italian craft beers get too creative and miss the mark, “…some of the best beers I’ve had recently have been from Italy,” he says.
Even More Jesus aged in port barrels (Evil Twin, Brooklyn, NY/Hinnerup, Denmark)
This monster imperial stout packs a daunting 12% ABV and a hearty, mouth coating viscosity rich with port flavor. It’s more of a meal than a beer.