Starting a multi-state distribution brewery usually means a lot of capital, but a growing number of so-called “gypsy” brewers have figured out how to get their products to the public without a million-dollar investment. These itinerant brewmasters rent unused fermentation space from established breweries, where, free from capital constraints, they mix lush and exotic elixirs that push the boundaries of the craft.
This rudderless approach can be controversial. The term “gypsy” itself sometimes offends those of Romani ancestry. And within the craft beer world, itinerant brewers and traditional brick-and-mortars have sparred. More often than not, though, the model is a win-win-win: the brewers create innovative styles, taking risks without the overhead of a physical brewery; the host breweries earn revenue on what would otherwise be unused capacity; and consumers get avant-garde brews that might otherwise never come to market.
Below are five brands that best represent the gypsy-brewing lineage.
Photo via Mikkeller
If you’ve heard of a gypsy brewery, it’s likely Mikkeller. Now an international superstar, in 2005 Mikkel Borg Bjergsø was a teacher who teamed up with his friend Kristian Keller to shop their homebrew. Keller left early on, but Mikkel stayed, winning awards and brewing eclectic beers. A decade later, more than 40 countries now import Mikkeller beers. While Mikkeller brews most of its batches at Belgium’s de Proef Brouwerij, the company has perfected the art of collaboration. Mikkeller produces beers with some of the most sought-after breweries in the world, including Stone, 3 Floyds, and Hill Farmstead. Try a variation of Beer Geek Breakfast, the coffee-infused oatmeal imperial stout that made Mikkeller famous.
Photo via Evil Twin
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø is literally a twin brewer—his estranged brother is Mikkeller’s Mikkel Bjergsø. Jeppe may not actually be evil, but he brews devilishly enticing beers. Owner of a high-end beer retailer in Copenhagen, in 2005, Jeppe began working with Belgium’s renowned Cantillon Brewery, collaborating on the ultra-rare Blåbær blueberry lambic. Jeppe has since expanded his empire, creating the Evil Twin label and renting brewery space from friends in the business. Now headquartered in Brooklyn, NY, Jeppe brews Even More Jesus, Imperial Biscotti Break, Hipster Ale and others at nearly a dozen breweries in a half-dozen countries.
Photo via Stillwater Artisanal
When brewer Brian Strumke launched Stillwater Artisanal Ales, he vowed to create art in a bottle. That’s exactly what he’s done. Like many great artists, Strumke combines the familiar and the foreign, blending Belgian yeasts and German-inspired grain bills with unconventional additions like lavender, jasmine, or rose petals. A former techno DJ, Strumke started brewing commercially in Baltimore in 2010. Today, his beers are available in 45 states, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. Although he’s the sole owner and employee, he collaborates with international brewers (he brewed his Holland Oats with the Dutch brewery Emelisse), and has even concocted multiple collaborations with Mikkeller.
Photo via Pretty Things
Owners Dann and Martha Paquette talk about their company not as a brewery but as an exploration: a project with broad guidelines and no definitive end, one that allows for continual discovery and playful invention. The Paquettes explore not through the use of novel ingredients, but by expanding the outer edges of traditional recipes or by resurrecting and reinterpreting long forgotten styles. Pretty Things brews mostly at a single host location, Westport, Massachusset’s Buzzards Bay Brewing, although they have made a number of collaborations with other breweries, most notably Boulevard Brewing. Try Jack D’Or, their flagship saison—a dry homage to the classic style with a healthy dose of American bitterness.
Photo via Nowhere in Particular
The newest brewery on this list, Nowhere In Particular launched Wanderlust, a triple IPA, in 2014. In the months since, brewer Pat Sullivan has created a cult-like following for his big versions of classic styles like Notes from the Underground, a Russian Imperial Stout, or Treasure of the Humble, a Belgian-style strong pale ale. Sullivan creates his concoctions at Cincinnati’s Rivertown Brewing Company and at the Motor City’s Brew Detroit. Sullivan prefers the term “hobo brewing,” a nod to his own itinerant lifestyle that includes stints as a nationally-ranked telemark skier, a marathon runner, a rock climber, and a ship’s captain. NIP’s beers are found throughout Ohio and Michigan, with distribution slated soon for other Midwestern states.