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The Carlsberg Experience, Copenhagen: Art, Craft, Tradition and Ruthless Capitalism

May 30, 2012 3 comments

Whereas J.C. Jacobsen, founder of the Gammel Carlsberg brewery, had a great interest in science, his son Carl left his mark as a patron of the arts.  The Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, an art museum in the centre of Copenhagen, was established by Carl and built around his collection, which had originally been housed in a gallery on the brewery site.  The Ny Carlsberg brewery buildings that he commissioned also reflect his interests.

The most striking feature of the brewery is the Elephant gates, where four granite elephants hold up a tower like Hindu world-elephants, or more recently the giant elephants who stand on the back of an even more enormous turtle to support Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

One of the elephants wears a swastika, as can also be seen the wheels of Thor’s chariot, on a dramatic statue on the roof not far away.  As Carlsberg is at pains to point out, this innocent use of a Norse/Sanskrit good luck symbol as a trademark was abandoned by the merged Carlsberg brewery when it became tainted by associations with Nazism at the time of the war.

As the people of Leeds know, the recent history of Carlsberg can also be characterised by cold rationalisation.  It closed the Tetley brewery in Leeds last year, but not before decommissioning the historic breweries in Valby in favour of a brewery site in Frederica, on Jutland.  As a result, the Carlsberg district was oddly quiet when we visited on a weekday morning.  However there are still healthy-looking cart horses in the stables, unlike the Tetley dray horses, a 184-year old traditional Carlsberg did away with in 2006.

However, unlike in Leeds, at least Valby is left with its architecture and a visitor’s centre.  Further, there’s even a “speciality” brewery on site (read “macro-does-craft”): the Jacobsen Brewhouse.  After we wandered around the Old Brewery, we claimed our two free drinks each in the Jacobsen bar.  Jacobsen Dark Lager had a rich apple and red berry smell, if a relatively muted taste.

Carl’s Special was another dark lager from the group, presumably brewed at Frederica.  It was easy-drinking, slightly sweet and nutty, but nothing to write home about.  A standard Carlsberg pilsner was as refreshing and slightly watery as you would remember.  In fact the standout of the four beers was a Tuborg Påskebryg (Easter brew), a strong pilsner with a tongue-tingling spicy hop character. It went well with the marmitey beer-roasted almonds.  Carlsberg bought Tuborg in 1970; the original Tuborg brewery in Hellerup area of Copenhagen was closed in 1999.

There wasn’t a guided brewery tour on offer when we arrived.  Much as I enjoyed the visit and the beer, I did come away with the impression that the visitors to the Carlsberg Experience probably have slightly more esteem for the heritage of the brewery than has recently been displayed by the Carlsberg Group itself.

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Carlsberg and the Copenhagen Interpretation: Beer, Bohr and the Bomb

May 23, 2012 3 comments

Carl Jacobsen had a strained relationship with his father. J.C. Jacobsen had named the Carlsberg brewery after his son in 1847, but after conflicts between the two men, Carl set up a rival brewery in 1882: the Valby Brewery, later renamed Ny (new) Carlsberg by agreement with his father.

Science, however, greatly benefited from the rivalry, as it meant that the Gammel (old) Carlsberg Brewery was left to the charitable Carlsberg Foundation when J.C. Jacobsen died in 1887. Later the breweries merged and Carl became CEO, but the Foundation still retains 51% of the voting shares.

Part of the Foundation’s work was the upkeep of the Carlsberg Honorary Residence, J.C. Jacobsen’s villa by the brewery which was left to Carl for life in his will, but subsequently to the Foundation for residence by ‘‘a man or a woman deserving of esteem from the community by reason of services to science, literature, or art, or for other reasons.”  As a result, as described and speculated upon by Michael Frayn in his play Copenhagen, the Carlsberg Honorary Residence played host to another dispute, not unlike a father falling out with his son.

Niels Bohr had received a grant from the Carlsberg Foundation in 1911 and it later funded his establishment of  the University of Copenhagen’s Institute of Theoretical Physics in 1921.  As a result Copenhagen remained at the forefront of research and debate on atomic physics and quantum mechanics for two decades, centred around the gregarious Bohr who enjoyed long discussions with Einstein and others.  Bohr moved into the Carlsberg Honorary Residence in 1931 and it’s interesting to consider the smells of brewing that must have wafted through the many meetings of great minds it hosted.

From 1924-1927 the young German Werner Heisenberg was a close assistant to Bohr, and developed his groundbreaking Uncertainty Principle under Bohr’s wing, as well as documenting the shared principles now known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. However, in September 1941 Heisenberg returned to Copenhagen in very different circumstances.  Heisenberg had become head of the German nuclear programme, partially due to his position as one of the only prominent non-Jewish scientists in the field.  Bohr was half-Jewish, a Dane living under Nazi occupation who had previously given refuge to a number of German Jewish scientists fleeing the Nazis.

We can’t be entirely sure what happened privately between Bohr and Heisenberg during that meeting, as each gave contrasting stories. Heisenberg’s account suggests that he was trying to obtain some measure of approval for the morality of what he was doing for the Nazis.  Certainly Bohr came away with the frightening knowledge “that Germany was participating vigorously in a race to be the first with atomic weapons“.

In any event, Heisenberg left and continued to work on the ultimately unsuccessful Nazi nuclear programme, eventually being captured on 3 May 1945 by Allied forces behind German lines, just a few days before Germany’s surrender.  There is some speculation that Heisenberg deliberately curtailed the programme’s progress or ambitions, although Heisenberg never claimed this himself.

Bohr, meanwhile, had fled Copenhagen in September 1943 under fear of arrest, first making a visit to Sweden, during which he convinced King Gustav to make a public statement about Sweden’s willingness to accept Jewish refugees.  Hitler simultaneously ordered the deportation of Danish Jews to the camps, but around 8,000 were swiftly rescued to Sweden in or around October 1943. Ultimately around 50-100 Danish Jews are thought to have died in the Holocaust.

Under the name “Nicholas Baker”, in December 1943 Bohr went to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project as part of the British team, acting as a “father confessor” (“Uncle Nick“) to the scientists working on the Allied bomb.  He returned to Copenhagen and the Residence after the war.  Heisenberg visited Bohr again in 1947 at Bohr’s summer house in Tisvilde, by then a disgraced figure from a disgraced nation.

Bohr lived at the Residence until his death in 1962.  He is buried, along with his wife Margrethe, in the same cemetery in Nørrebro as Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard.

Carlsberg stopped using the swastika symbol (which had been used as a trademark since the renaming of Valby as “Ny Carlsberg”) in 1940.  Sadly, I can’t find a single reference to whether Bohr and Heisenberg actually enjoyed a beer together before the war, or perhaps even in 1947.  However, being a Dane and a German who enjoyed long conversations about the nature of the universe, I can imagine that they did.

Themes of #EBBC12: Bad beer, free beer and bad free beer

One of the points that emerged from the panel and group discussions, and indeed Stuart Howe’s very funny keynote speech at the European Beer Bloggers Conference was that opinion is split as to whether blogs should ever be truly negative about a beer or a pub.  Some believe blogging can give pubs and brewers useful feedback about possible improvements, or just a much-needed kick up the arse. Others believe constructive criticism should be fed back privately.

Some people can’t be bothered to write about bad beer and mediocre experiences. Sometimes, it can be fun to read (or write) a really scathing review; certainly restaurant critics and their readers seem to relish it. Similarly, reviews of bad music and awful films (see for example Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon in Empire) can be more entertaining than those of good ones. Furthermore, being warned off a bad experience can be as useful to the reader as being tipped off about a good one.

This discussion has some relationship with another major theme of the weekend: free beer.  Does receiving free samples from a brewer undermine a blogger’s objectivity?  Most people seemed to agree that accepting and (honestly) reviewing free beer is acceptable, although many also considered that it was poor etiquette to ask for it, or at least that the thought of doing so made most people uncomfortable.   Having said that, one of the reps from a multinational brewer said they had lots of free beer to give away and were happy to give out samples when asked, so if you want to dismount your high horse, there’s a gravy train to catch.

My own view on this is that if there’s free beer being handed out, far be it from me to turn it down.  I’ve been sent free beer from St Stephanus (SAB Miller) and more recently Hawkshead, which I intend to review shortly.  Along with all the other attendees of various moral standpoints, I also had an awful lot of good-to-excellent free beer at the conference, from producers as large as Molson Coors to as small as Roosters.   However I would never ask a brewer for free beer if they weren’t already in the process of doing so.

As regards free beer that turns out to be bad, I probably wouldn’t write about the beer if it was going to result in an outright scathing review (rather than, say, a middling one).  But I tend not to do that in any event as, particularly in the case of small and independent brewers and pubs, I appreciate that their jobs are difficult and many of them have invested a huge proportion of their time, sweat and imagination to actually create something real in the hope that others will enjoy it.  In that context it seems cheap and easy to point out a few things I might regard as failings or contrary to my personal taste, just to get some moderately entertaining writing out of it.

I’m also aware that my criticisms might derive from teething problems or a blip. Using hypothetical examples, if I feel aggrieved enough criticise the quality of Orwell’s Wallop or the service at the newly opened Damp Satellite Artisanal Beer Emporium, I’m reporting an actual experience, but one that will hang around on the internet and search engines for some time.  My half-litre of Wallop might have been from a bad batch or a new manageress of the Damp Satellite might lick it into shape, but there’s still an indelible stain on a server in San Francisco.

I’ve only ever been truly negative about a pub once on here, and that reflected some appalling service that both gave me a real sense of grievance and the view that people would benefit from knowing about it. Even then, when I see that particular post still getting hits many months later, I wonder if people still need to be “warned”. Perhaps more to the point, I also wonder if I’m still as annoyed as I was at the time.

Live & Dangerous: Live Beer Tasting at The European Beer Bloggers Conference #EBBC12

May 20, 2012 4 comments

Below is a collection of my tweets and photos from the live tasting and beer blogging event at the European Beer Blogger’s Conference yesterday afternoon.  Let them serve as an example of why:

  • tweets are of the moment, best tossed into the ether never to be seen again;
  • I’m a woeful beer taster; and
  • after 10 beers in an hour, I’m an even worse beer taster than I am normally.

Thanks to all the brewers for the beer.  The conference was great fun and there will be further posts to come, even though they’ll be perfect examples of the type of incestuous intrablogger back-slapping that proper writers like Adrian Tierney-Jones warned us against at the conference itself.  Although Adrian didn’t use the term “back slapping”…

Market Forces: Dock Street Market, Leeds

Back in the mists of time, when everyone was on the previous version of the iPhone and the world was on tenterhooks waiting for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood, there was a deli-come-grocery on the cobbled Dock Street in Leeds called Simpson’s.  Simpson’s was quite expensive, but the young professionals of Brewery Wharf and Clarence Dock liked the fresh bread and the impressive selection of bottled ales, including Ilkley and Saltaire beers.

Simpsons closed, possibly due to competition from a cheap but souless Tesco Express that had recently opened, and there was due wailing and gnashing of teeth about the death of independent shops and quite a lot of discussions about whether it could be re-opened as a social enterprise.  Of course no-one really knew what a “social enterprise” was, but that nice polite Mr Cameron seemed to be in favour of them, and anyone who didn’t really like the word “social” was in favour of “enterprise” and vice versa, so it seemed like a reasonably admirable idea at the time without really gripping anyone.

Ultimately, in November 2010, Dock Street Market opened on the site of Simpson’s, run by “a group of independent local food traders“.  I think the line-up may have changed over time, but at the moment there seems to be a deli counter, a bakery and a bar.  The bar currently sells cakes and Prohibition-chic “teapot cocktails”, which Kate enjoyed.

The fact that I was most interested in the selection of beer will not come as a surprise, but the selection itself might.  As well as cask Black Sheep (it’s still Yorkshire after all, even if it is young, hip, waterfront Yorkshire) there was also Anchor Steam, BrewDog Punk IPA and Ilkley MJ Fortis on keg.  The bottle selection was even more impressive, including Brooklyn Lager, BrewDog 5am Saint, Chimay Red, Orval and Anchor Old Foghorn.

I had a Goose Island Matilda, an Orvalalike which was initially surprisingly bretty, but later pleasingly so, followed by a De Struise Pannepot 2010, a darkly delicious but drinkable 10% spiced Belgian strong ale which really needs that bit of cake to soak it up.

As well as the beer selection, I was impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of Dock Street Market, which leaves it somewhere between a cafe, a bar and a common room; seemingly a successful third place.  Its neighbours, the Leeds Brewery pub Pin and Mitchell and Butler’s Adelphi are another matter: Pin, whilst similarly having an impressive imported selection thanks to James Clay, can seem sadly quiet and has stripped down its food menu.  The Adelphi, whilst being one of Leeds’ best food pubs and having a great historic interior, has had quite an unimpressive cask selection the last two times I’ve been in.

Dock Street Market, for seeming to have come together at random and for its Cath Kidston-esque bunting and cake stands, has nonetheless ended up being perhaps the best place for a beer in the area.  They’re even planning a ticketed Anchor tap takeover/food and beer-matching dinner with Ben from James Clay on 6 June 2012, a US craft beer festival on 4 July 2012 and a BrewDog tap takeover on 1 August 2012, each of which is as good a reason as any to pay your first visit, if you haven’t already.

Beer in Copenhagen: Jacobsen Saaz Blonde in The Laundromat Cafe, Nørrebro

I mentioned in my last post that Copenhagen occasionally comes across as a utopia for Guardian-readers, but I think one of the best examples of the achingly hip chic is a cafe bar we went to by accident: The Laundromat Cafe in Nørrebro.

After Nørrebro Bryghus, we intended to go to Ølbaren on Elmegade.  However it was a busy Friday night and we didn’t feel like standing, so we went for a nightcap to a cool-looking cafe we’d seen across the road.

The Laundromat Cafe is also actually a laundromat, although the four or so washing machines in the back were dormant at 10.30pm.  However there were still a few people sitting around eating some appetising-looking burgers and so on.

Apart from the concept, the decor makes the cafe a wet dream for readers of the glossy supplements.  One detail in particular stood out: bookshelves with paperbacks arranged by colour.

It’s not exactly a beer destination, but I recall that the menu had around 10-12 different bottled beers.  Kate had a reliable Brooklyn East India Pale Ale whilst I had a Jacobsen Saaz Blonde.  As I will hopefully get round to explaining in more detail in a future post, Jacobsen is basically Carlsberg’s version of the recently-popular macro-owned-craft/speciality beer brewery operating from the old brewery site in Copenhagen, whilst most  production has been moved elsewhere.

Saaz Blonde is a 7.1% top-fermented blonde ale made with pilsner malts and Czech Saaz hops.  I found it a pleasant Belgianish blonde with an unexpected amount of yeast flavour (I had expected a strong pilsner) up front followed by a moderate grassy/floral bitterness. I had hoped for a cleaner, punchier hit of Saaz, but it was a pleasant beer to enjoy at the end of the night nonetheless.

Beer in Copenhagen: Smørrebrød and Mikkeller at Torvehallerne

May 13, 2012 8 comments

At times Copenhagen can seem like a Guardian-reader’s utopia: all bikes, roughage, serious television drama and Scandanavian design.  Naturally, to complete the picture, it needs its own gastro-oriented food market to rival Borough Market or Mercado De San Miguel in Madrid.

Copenhagen’s version is Torvehallerne, which opened on a square near Nørreport railway station in September 2011. There’s an open area and two covered markets full of units selling a wide range of fresh fish, meat, cheese, vegetables and various prepared foods.

One Danish speciality we’d read about was smørrebrød: open sandwiches on rye bread.  On one stall in Torevehallerne (Hallernes) we sat at the bar and ordered some impressive-looking smørrebrød with a glass of Mikkeller beer.

It wasn’t clear which beer it was (“fadøl” just means draught beer) but I think it may have been Green Gold or, if not, a similar IPA.

In any event, it was a very nice beer and went especially well with the breaded fish, cured herring and even, at a stretch, the roast beef-topped smørrebrød.  It was particularly effective with the herring, which was delicious, but nonetheless it good to have a strong acidic beer to balance the taste and ultimately clear the palate.

Also at Torvehallerne on the weekend we visited, Carlsberg were giving away free four-packs of their new beer, Carlsberg Copen*hagen, a beer sold in a clear bottle apparently designed to be “gender-neutral” in its branding and marketing. The bottle I drank was a slightly skunked light pilsner with little to commend it over, say, Corona. In stark contrast to the Mikkeller and smørrebrød, it was far from the best Denmark had to offer.

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