Never Gonna Give you Hop

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Pop legend from the 1980s Rick Astley (of ‘Never Gonna Give you Up’ fame) and beer legend of today Mikkel Borg Bjergso (of Mikkeller brewery fame) came together in West London last week to launch a collaborative beer.

Or they would have done if one of them had not been the regular rock star and pulled out at the last minute. Due to an illness suffered by Bjergso it was left to Astley to manage things solo with a down-to-earth affable approach that many musicians – and brewers for that matter – could learn from.

The location chosen was the Draft House bar in Hammersmith because Astley was due to attend a sound check at the relatively nearby Royal Albert Hall that afternoon ahead of a big performance in the evening as part of a world tour that has brought him back into the pop star firmament.

Not that you’d know it though because he seemed to be the least flustered person among those in his (modest sized) entourage doing things that those people do. No apparent pop star ego was in evidence as he completely dismissed having contributed any real input into the collaborative beer – Northern Hop (a 4.7% lager) – he’d helped produce.

“A year ago Mikkel came to me about brewing beer and I stressed that he shouldn’t expect me to offer anything up. I took it just as a fun thing,” says Astley. Hold on, how come there was even an approach in the first place because Astley and Bjergso do look a rather odd pair to hook up.

Apparently the Mikkeller founder is a massive fan of the musician dating back to his early years listening to those big Astley hits of the 1980s. A link had occurred because Astley’s wife is Danish and their daughter is studying in Copenhagen and enjoys drinking in the Mikkeller bars. She gave it the thumbs up to dad and with a little investigation he “liked the way they do things [at Mikkeller]”.

Even though he is a busy man Astley says it was difficult to turn down the approach because he knew it would be something good to experience: “I don’t see it as a business venture. It’s not about the money. My wife and I look back and things are all about the memories. The easy option is to say ‘no’ to everything. But if you say ‘yes’ then you’ll get the rewards.”

The first time the pair ‘met’ to talk about the beer was in Los Angeles when Astley says they had a “fun night out”. He adds: “He’s an interesting guy. When we initially did Facetime I said ‘wow!’ He’s not the type to gush until he trusts you. He’s very much into the beer and there is a mad scientist about him. But then if you’ve spent your life brewing beers and you’ve made however many then what stops you doing more? It’s like writing a song. We’ve heard all the songs so how do you make it interesting? What is everyone else doing?”

Astley found out what it takes to keep pushing the boundaries when he undertook various tastings with Bjergso and visited the famed Belgium-based brewery De Proef, which makes the majority of the Mikkeller beers.

He found beers such as one brewed with pears for a Danish chef that he could not drink: “In Belgium I tasted some odd drinks and some did not make sense to me.” Whereas others opened his eyes to the possibilities that he had not considered were even options as far as beer styles were concerned.

Rather un-pop star like he is more than willing to admit his limited knowledge when it comes to beers – which had mainly involved drinking Doom Bar in his local The Bell in Hampton Court. But this has been gradually changing.

“I drink there with a friend and we’d get uppity if the Doom Bar was not on. Usually I’d have one and a half pints and then leave because I’d also like a couple of glasses of wine at home. But now if there is nothing on but the regular beers then I’ll have a gin and tonic,” he says. Astley’s beer drinking on tour has also broadened out as he says the tour manager will “scope out the beers [beforehand] that are on the bar”.

Despite the myriad potential styles for his collaborative beer Astley chose not to deviate too far from the norm: “I wanted a beer that I could down, out of the fridge, and drink it with friends.” This sounds rather sensible to me because it fits absolutely perfectly with the character that was to be found launching Northern Hop in Hammersmith.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider