Brewbot Interviews: Tobias Emil Jensen of To Øl

Tobias Emil Jensen is the co-owner of To Øl, one of Denmark’s most innovative, forward-looking new breweries. It’s a gypsy brewery, meaning they formulate their own recipes but they’re made at someone else’s brewery. He tells us about By Udder Means, their delicious milk stout.

By Udder Means

The aim with By Udder Means was to create a stout that was elegant and velvety, that was straight and delicious, with a thick mouthfeel but not too strong. There’s a lot of different types of malt in there but the most important thing is the lactose, which we add during fermentation rather than during the boil. It gives a burnt caramel flavour, which is really important in this beer.

For a stout like this, I think the hops should work as a spice; you don’t want it to be too hop-forward, it’s more about using hops that complement those burnt caramel flavours. We think the four we’ve used — Magnum, Hallertauer, Cascade and Nelson Sauvin — are perfect for that. They work really well.

By Udder Means is a good example of our approach; we make classical styles but we give them our own little twist. We make a pale ale or a pilsner but in our own way, with more taste. If we do a Belgian-style beer, we like to turn down the yeast flavour and use more hops. We don’t try to create a beer to suit a trend or market; it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. The only ones we can satisfy is me and Tore [Gynther].

Gypsy Brewing

We enjoy that freedom — and it’s for the same reason that we don’t own a brewery. We’re Gypsy brewers, because we don’t want to get bogged down by investors and bank loans. if you’re committed to building your own brewery, you have bills every month — which can push you towards volume and quantity over quality. We’re not forced to brew every week, we can brew when we have inspiration or creativity. It’s freedom; we can go to different places and achieve what we want without having needlessly to put it in a tight time frame.

It’s allowed us to grow gradually. We were very small in the beginning; we had the money to pay for one batch of beer. We saved the money we made and brewed a new beer in a slightly bigger batch. We never sought out investors, we have grown organically from the beginning. That’s part of the success, it’s natural; don’t push it, don’t overexpose yourself from the beginning.

There are disadvantages. If a customer rings me and says ‘I’m really interested in this beer, can you brew some more?’ it’s not like we can say, ‘sure, we’ll just switch around our schedule and brew tomorrow.’ You’re not so flexible on a short-term scale; you can’t change production or scale up production. We are limited … we’re planning six months ahead. We’ve already planned Christmas now. When we first brew a beer, we don’t know how long the beer needs to mature and we don’t push it out before it’s done. We can’t always deliver on time and in the quantities that people need. We are trying to make everyone happy but it’s not always possible!

Learning from the Master

Our friendship with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø [of Mikkeller], who was our teacher, was crucial in us becoming the brewers we are. He was a major, major influence on us. I don’t think we would have been homebrewers, and then brewers like we are today, if it hadn’t been for Mikkel. l took a degree as a master-brewer and I would probably have taken a different path, I would probably have ended up at some not interesting brewery in Denmark. He definitely, definitely started it for us.

Me, Tore, Mikkel; we have a mutual taste in beer. Some of the [To Øl and Mikkeller] recipes turn out quite similar even though we don’t look at each other’s recipes. We just have the same approach to a beer recipe. We have set a Danish standard; if you take beers from Aamager, Evil Twin, Mikkeller and us, I think they generally share a common trait, which is hard to pinpoint. Generally, I think it’s lighter-coloured beers, quite tart, aromatic and clean. That’s what has put Danish beer on the map.

Homebrew to Microbrew

The Brewbot system is really interesting. What homebrewers need is a start; there are so many configurations as to what to buy, do you want a separate lauter tun, do you want to integrate it into the kettle, etc. I think most people are starting with an interest in the recipe and not with the kit; as a master brewer, I have a much bigger interest in what kind of pump, what kind of lauter tun, but I know that that’s not something that interests homebrewers from the start. They want to know what kind of malt, what kind of fruit, what kind of herbs can I add.

We are setting our sights on a more scientific approach. Everyone can brew a nice homebrew, everyone can use nice hops. What is vital for us is that we understand what is happening. The beer styles are not really changing, but we have a much bigger understanding of what is happening inside the beers during brewing and maturation.

The Future

I want beer to get the same recognition that wine does. Even though it can be viewed as a commodity product, I want people to understand that recipes change, materials change, and for them to appreciate that it’s not a standard product, that each bottle is unique and interesting.

Are you a brewer?

We’re building a network of brewers and our Meet the Brewer interview series is one initiative to highlight the people that make the beer we love.

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By Udder Means is just one of the beers you can brew with Brewbot, find out more at:

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