A “gypsy brewer” sounds like some itinerant magical beer producer—and just a heads up, no matter how many TLC show titles contain it, the term “gypsy” is actually considered offensive. So we’re only using the term here because, for reasons that’ll become obvious (if not excusable), it’s come to be a specific term in the brewing world.
Most of us know one thing about a “gypsy”—they’re on the move. It’s a nomadic lifestyle, kind of like that of the Bedouin. And really that’s the only reason the term is applied here. A gypsy brewer has no facility of his or her own. Instead, the brewer travels to a functioning brewing facility and pays for use of the space to produce their own beer.
Seems all warm and fuzzy, right? Craft beer lovers helpin’ each other out? Not quite. In fact, plenty of brewers object to gypsy brewing, mostly because there’s no financial commitment. Traveling brewers don’t have to put the money down to invest in a brick and mortar space, meaning (theoretically) they can dilute the already bustin craft beer market without also contributing to its infrastructural stability.
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The term “contract brewing” is closely related to gypsy brewing, although a contract brewer might actually have a smaller-scale facility in which to brew—but when success hits, we all need to scale up. (Or sell out?)
The good thing about gypsy brewing is it actually allows a bit more freedom. Without those overhead costs, which yes might feel a bit unfair, traveling brewers can afford to be a bit more experimental. Not that a gypsy brewery wouldn’t also stick to creating some reliably delicious Pale Ale (and please, people, start drinking Pale Ale, IPA is doing just fine without us all ordering it all the time). But you can also find some pretty interesting stuff from gypsy brewers, beers like “Pappy’s Imperial Biscotti Break” from Evil Twin—an Imperial Stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. (Though not all Pappy’s created equal.)
Regardless of where you stand on the deliciously over-flooded craft beer world, principles of financial commitment, or Pappy for that matter, there’s no denying that the ability to start brewing without having to lay down a bunch of gold bars could (and does) actually enable potentially talented brewers to supply us with more beer. Which, no denying, is a good thing.
A Few Gypsy Brewers To Know:
Mikkeller – This Copenhagen brewer actually brews most of his beers in Belgium, and exports them to over 40 countries around the world.
Evil Twin – Founded by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø – another brewer from Denmark – in 2010 Evil Twin brews at 10 different breweries in 6 different countries around the world. Presently it is based in Brooklyn, but he’s a Gypsy Brewer so who knows…
Stillwater Artisanal – Stillwater Artisanal is a nomadic ‘gypsy’ brewing venture headed by Baltimore native Brian Strumke. Formerly an internationally renowned techno DJ and producer, he is now considered one of the best brewers in the world.
Omnipollo – Based in Stokholm, Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin conceive of their beers at home, and then travel the globe brewing beer at places with extra capacity.
To Øl – Nomadic brewing in Scandinavia is clearly “a thing.” This brewery is made up of two more Danes traveling from brewery to brewery making their beer.