There's a white door built into the back wall of Tørst. Daniel Burns, chef and owner of the newly opened bar and restaurant in Greenpoint, slid it open to reveal a small, simple room: tables on one side, his kitchen on the other. Everything about the space was clean and streamlined, but there were dozens of handmade ceramic dishes scattered everywhere. "These just came in from Denmark this morning," Burns said of the beautiful dinnerware. They were shipped over by Kasper Würtz, whose plates Burns will be using at Luksus, the 26-seat restaurant, when it opens in the back of Tørst next month. In the meantime, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø has made Tørst one of the city's most ambitious beer bars.
"I've had the idea to do a beer bar for ten years," Jarnit-Bjergsø said. "I travel a lot with my brewery (Evil Twin) and I go to a lot of good beer bars, but I never go to places where I feel like it's perfect. I knew that if I were ever going to be involved in a beer bar, I would have to give it 100%." Jarnit-Bjergsø, a Denmark native, is what people have come to call a gypsy brewer. He doesn't have his own facility for brewing. Instead, he travels the world and collaborates with different breweries, putting his recipes in their tanks and creating limited-edition brews, many of which are featured at Tørst.
The bar opened only four weeks ago, but has quickly won the hearts of hopheads this side of the Atlantic. "We went through the whole craft beer thing in Denmark only about ten years ago," Jarnit-Bjergsø explained. "It's still so young. For example if you have a bar in Denmark that has ten beers on tap, you call yourself a specialty beer bar. In the US, if you have ten beers on tap you could just be a restaurant that wants to serve a few beers. Craft beer is just way more integrated into drinking and going out here."
This enthusiasm in the US market gives Jarnit-Bjergsø room to expand his beer program. There are currently over 120 bottled beers available at Tørst. "We'll take it up to 150 or 200," Jarnit-Bjergsø said, "but I don't want more than that because I don't want to compromise the selection. I only want to present the beers that I want to sell, the beers I believe in." Some of the bottles aren't for sale, though: they're withheld as part of Tørst's cellar-aging program. "We have other stuff that we keep secret, mainly because if we didn't it would sell out," he said matter-of-factly. "I see it happen in the US and especially in Europe. One beer bar in Belgium used to have the greatest cellar. Ten years ago, I went there to drink all the time. Since people have gotten really into beer though, and started traveling for it, bottle lists can disappear very quickly. I don't want to risk that."
Tørst also has twenty-one tap lines to serve beers in eight or fourteen ounce pours. Gabe Gordon, a friend of Jarnit-Bjergsø's and the brewer behind Beachwood BBQ Brewing in Long Beach, California, designed the tap system. It's called the Flux Capacitor, and is a large part of what makes Tørst so unique. Each tap can regulate the amount of nitrogen and carbon dioxide that goes into every pour. Tørst manager (and DBGB alum) Jon Langley explained, "You get about five different gas blends and you get pressure control for each beer. That exists at other places, but ours are right up here at the bar. The gas blends are all quick disconnects, so you sort of operate the thing like an old-school telephone operator."
There is also built-in temperature control for each tap, which allows each style of beer to be served at the proper temperature. "The bigger a beer gets," Jarnit-Bjergsø explained, "the more and more flavors and layers it has. If you serve certain beers too cold, it kills those flavors. But if you let them warm up a bit, you can taste a lot more in the beer."
The beer selection at Tørst is as much a showcase of the world's greatest craft beers as it is a portrayal of friendship and passion Jarnit-Bjergsø has found along the hop trail. The list has options from Sweden (Omnipollo), Beligum (Hof Ten Dormaal, Brasserie de Cazeau, and Dochter van de Korenaar), the Netherlands (Emelisse), England (Thornbridge Hall), and the US (Stillwater, Perennial, Kuhnhenn, and Beachwood BBQ). But that will change just as frequently as Jarnit-Bjergsø travels and discovers new breweries. "I had some beers from a brewery called 7venth Sun about a month ago—absolutely amazing stuff," he says. "They're a very small brewery, but we're talking to them about making some beers for us just because it's so good and so unique. I think we have a place that gives a lot of attention to breweries from all over the world, so it'd be great to help get the word out about 7venth Sun beers."
The bottle list is in place for the deeply committed, but with more than twenty draft options from small, lesser-known breweries, how does the average drinker know where to start? We sat down with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and Jon Langley and let them guide us through the expansive list. As we tasted our way from lightest to fullest, Jarnit-Bjergsø made the message very clear: "If we can set a new standard by showing what's possible in terms of the beer and service, and if we can inspire other people to do the same, that would be awesome. We just want to make New York a better beer city."
About the Author: Craig Cavallo is a Serious Eats intern with an addiction to New York City's food and drink. Learn more about his problem at digestny.com.