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Three Beers, Three Questions with Sayre Piotrkowski at Mikkeller Bar SF

Caleb Pershan | August 11, 2013 | Story Clubs and Bars

Mikkeller Bar is only at the soft-opening stage but can already be safely called a smash hit: The temple to experimental Danish brewer Mikkeller was packed when Sayre Piotrkowski, St. Vincent’s Beer Director, and I arrived for drinks and conversation a few nights ago. The place is pretty much straight out of a Danish design catalogue, with exposed brick and steel girders, colorful murals, and tons of tables and bar space. Drinks-wise, it offers 42 temperature-controlled taps pouring exclusive house beers, Mikkeller classics like Beer Geek Breakfast, and local and world beers of note. The Twitterloin watering hole's official opening is today, with tons of events and fanfare running through the weekend. Piotrkowski and I sat down for a (slightly drunken) talk about the bar's draught-oriented ethos and where it fits in SF's booming beer scene:

Beer #1: Magnolia New Speedway Bitter, dispensed via hand-pump (which means no added CO2)
"This beer has got some green apple to it, a common aroma on cask-dispensed English ales, and you can of course get it on draught at Magnolia. This is how I start: keeping it local."

Question #1: Mikkeller Bar SF is very draught-beer focused. Is everything better on draught?
"No. Ultimately I think where I stand is that bottle-conditioned beers, which you can easily present at various temperatures, are best served in bottles. That goes against decades of misinformation—from Miller to Coors to even the Brewers Association—that everything’s better on draught."

Beer #2:
Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca
"The nitrogen heavy-high temperature dispense at Mikkeller really mellowed the acidity of Calabaza for me. The bottle version is much more bracing."

Question #2: Is there a specific reason that draught can be difficult to get right?
"Belgian beers by recipe have more dissolved CO2. Your goal in beer is to maintain the correct amount of that dissolved CO2, but you have to move the beer from the keg to the tap with CO2. If you’re applying too much, you’re force-carbonating the beer. It’s math, you can figure it out, but every one of those variables makes the equation harder. Here, with 42 temperature- and pressure-variable draft lines, they’re doing a lot of calculation and adjustment."

Beer #3:
De La Senne Jambe-de-Bois
"This beer is the best trippel in the world in my opinion: Here it’s dispensed at proper temperature, thanks to this unique draft system. Still, trippel will always be a style that benefits greatly from bottle-conditioning in my view."

Question #3: So, beer is booming, but are we in a suds bubble?
"It’s crazy—I used to be the public face of the last bar that everyone thought was taking beer too seriously, Monk’s Kettle, and it just made a fucking billion dollars. Every time we did something more expensive, it got busier. We don’t really know where the lid on this thing is. But is this a clean Toronado, or is it trying to be something bigger? They’re kind of murdering it either way. It’s always good to demonstrate to people with money in the food and beverage industry how ridiculous the enthusiasm around beer is, and that’s what Mikkell does. I hope that everyone who has a vested interest in beer tries to make this enthusiasm last."

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