For IPA Day this year I thought I’d demonstrate why I don’t do beer reviews any more. I had three beers in my fridge which are all, to some extent, talked-about IPAs: Italian, American and Danish/Scottish. Reviewing really doesn’t get more half-arsed than this:
Brewfist Spaceman India Pale Ale
What we know: IBU 70, 7.0% from Codogno near Milan in Northern Italy. Has had some good press and, to my knowledge, has only very recently been available to buy in the UK.
Appearance: Orangey, slightly hazy with a nice white head which dissipates reasonably swiftly.
Aroma: The sweet breadiness that you’d get with a quite pedestrian English pale ale with some onions and grapes.
Taste: Pleasant, not too sharply bitter. Building dry bitterness, with a kind of dull, not quite savoury but perhaps slightly sour acidic taste to it. Nice enough, but a bit less citrussy than I would prefer.
Conclusion: The Babylon Zoo of beers: a lot of excitement and hype, but ultimately merely satisfactory.
Bear Republic Racer 5 India Pale Ale
What we know: 7.0% überhyped, überhopped US IPA from Healdsburg, Cloverdale, California. Similar hens’ teeth availability in the UK, fuelling that excitement as travellers to the US return to speak of it in hushed tones.
Appearance: Orangey-gold, clear as a bell, decent head.
Aroma: Immediate sticky sugary fruity sweetness, like a Wham bar. One of those plastic sweets that sticks to your teeth as you tear off a hunk.
Taste: A definite sweet orange-lime bitterness, but with an obvious alcoholic aftertaste. Thinner than a barley wine, so the alcohol doesn’t necessarily blend naturally into the mix until it sits for a while. Then it just adds to a really nice beer.
Conclusion: A massively enjoyable IPA. Lacking in depth, perhaps, but nonetheless a summery, citrussy, plasticky joy of a beer. The Californian ska punk of IPAs.
Mikkeller/BrewDog I Hardcore You
What we know: 9.5% Dano-Fraserburgian IPA blend from two archetypal US-inspired European “craft” brewers, each of which has grown large enough in influence, profile and perhaps even obnoxiousness to start suffering a minor backlash. One more so than the other, perhaps.
Appearance: Considerably more reddy-brown than the other two, with a creamier-coloured head.
Aroma: Clearly sweet, with toffee and even a little menthol, although the booze might just be confusing my nose.
Taste: Big, uncompromising, with a rough burnt sugariness immediately developing into a carbonic sourness. I immediately suspect that the other two beers have killed my palate. Swapping back to the Racer 5 though, it still has all the light treble notes whereas this is all big bass. I’m sure there used to be more mango in this beer – in fact I’ve had more than one conversation about that whilst drinking it – and I’m only getting a hint. Is this old or is the newest batch just not as good? It doesn’t help that there’s no date information at all on the bottle.
Conclusion: A bit too heavy for what it’s trying to be, or at least what I want it to be today. A love ballad by Black Sabbath. A lullaby from Joy Division.
Despite my poor, hop-ravaged tongue, the best of the bunch for me was clearly the Racer 5. If you want a rounded, sophisticated IPA you might go for something else, perhaps even something a bit more English. But for me, Racer 5 is the only one of the three that lives up to both the hype and my memories of it. Of the others, I prefer the Spaceman to the I Hardcore You, which doesn’t match my memories of the latter beer at all.
IPAs are great beers to have in your fridge and are a gateway drug for craft beer as a whole. However, in the last year my tastes have changed a little and each of these seem quite sugary and acidic to enjoy in large quantities. The best IPA I’ve had in the last two weeks is still an amazingly fresh bottle of Goose Island IPA, which (I’m surprised to say) I would pick over either of these three for repeated drinking. But right now, believe it or not, I just fancy an Orval; which is basically a kind of Belgian IPA, right? Right?
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.
There are quite a few brewpubs in Copenhagen, although most seem to offer only two types of beer: a Vienna-style lager and a pilsner, which is perhaps unsurprising given the city’s lager-brewing history. I was pleased to see that Nørrebro Bryghus offered a wider selection.
Nørrebro Bryghus is a brewpub in the multicultural Nørrebro area to the north west of the city centre. It has a bar/cafe downstairs and a large, informal restaurant upstairs, with the brewery kit at one end of the building. Kate and I tried:
- Pacific Pale Ale, a fruity and pleasant, if unchallenging American style pale ale;
- Bombay Pale Ale, a take on a historic English IPA;
- Better Dead Than Red Ale, a delicious hoppy red IPA created in collaboration with Beer Here;
- London Porter, a tasty, chocolatey 7% porter; and
- Czech Bohem, a pilsner with an unusual banana yeast character.
We both enjoyed our meals in the restaurant: a perfect ribeye steak and a hearty beef brisket. Whilst it wasn’t cheap, nowhere in Copenhagen is, and we didn’t feel that we’d paid over the odds given the quality of the food and beer. Nørrebro also has a number of other good bars and cafes to go on for more drinks afterwards, so it’s a good option for an evening out.
You can also get Nørrebro Bryghus beers on draft and bottle in Bio Mio in Vesterbro, not far from Mikkeller Bar. In the old meatpacking district, this large organic restaurant with high tables and stools has an interesting menu full of healthy things like stir fries, shellfish broth, and meatballs with pearl barley. The menu even has a key with information as to whether the dishes are high in minerals, improve the libido, or (as is likely to be most relevant) good for your liver. It’s very vegetarian friendly but also has some great meat dishes.
It has an interesting ordering system, where you get given a swipecard as you go in, order the food directly from a chef in the kitchen and buy your drinks using the same card at the bar. Service is efficient and friendly and it’s no hardship to enjoy some good beer as you wait for your food.
We drank Nørrebro Bryghus New York Lager, a sweet and interesting Vienna-style lager that Kate thought was even better than Brooklyn Lager. It went well with a lot of dishes, including the “Fitness Wok” and the “Happy Pork On Your Fork”.
Again Bio Mio isn’t cheap in English terms (most of the main courses are 150-185DK), you get good portions of really good food, meaning that we were happy to go back on the last night of our visit. It’s a great option for hearty but healthy food to load up on before or after you go to Mikkeller Bar or Fermentoren.
If you’re reading this blog at all, I assume you’ve heard of Mikkeller, the Danish microbrewery which has since 2006 been producing a vast range of innovative beers in a range of styles, inspired by and building on the work of the most interesting American craft breweries. I also assume you know that Mikkeller does not have a brewery of its own, but produces its beers at other breweries in Denmark and beyond.
I further assume that, knowing this, and having tried Mikkeller beers, you would already be excited to go to the small, stylish Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen. So, what with you being so well-informed, I’ll just make a few observations on it, why you should go, and why we visited three times when we were in Denmark:
- It’s beautifully designed, as you can see from the pictures on Mikkeller’s new website. It’s clean and minimalist, but also stylish and quirky. The high tables look like drawers and the furniture makes the best use of the space.
- It’s a small bar with good music at an appropriate level, which makes it feel cozy (hyggelig?), where the light colour scheme and bare design might otherwise make it feel cold.
- They have the type of snacks that can be dealt with by a single member of staff, so nothing hot. However the porter sausage is superb.
- There’s free wifi, which seems designed to allow you to send tweets to provoke jealousy.
- It’s on Viktoriagade, not too far from Copenhagen Central Station (København H) and is in the trendy Vesterbro area. Vesterbro seems to be one of those post-industrial up-and-coming areas has quite a few good bars and restaurants (on which more in a later post), although bear in mind that this sits alongside a (not unusually unpleasant) red light district, particularly on Istedgade.
And then, of course, there are the beers. There are 20 taps with a fairly wide range of styles of beer beyond just Mikkeller, including a number of Danish breweries. Most people seem to enjoy the beers in the smallest, 0.2l measures, in dinky stem glasses.
On keg we enjoyed:
- Mikkeller G’Day Mate APA, a nice fresh fruity pale ale with hints of grapeskins and apples;
- Heretic Evil Cousin IIPA, an excellent fresh slightly sweet IIPA with a building bitterness;
- Triple Rock Pacific Gem Single Hop, which had a slightly wateriness and a sweet almost Belgian taste;
- Hill Farmstead Genealogy, a powerful imperial stout from Vermont with a dark espresso foam head which nonetheless had a lot of fresh American hop flavour lifting it;
- De Dolle Bos Keun, this year’s version of the hoppy Belgian Easter pale ale;
- Mikkeller It’s Alight, a refreshing if slightly watery session strength version of Mikkeller’s Orvalalike It’s Alive, which had a little lemony sharpnes on the finish;
- Mikkeller 1000 IBU, which despite its fearsome reputation was an enjoyable big sweet malt and hop bonanza not unlike Stone Double Bastard;
- Mikkeller Big Worse, simply a good, bitter US-style barleywine; and
- Mikkeller K:RELK, a pale ale with limes and orange on the nose but a relatively restrained flavour.
The bottle menu is pretty astonishing, and we also enjoyed a 2007 Orval, in which the leatheryness was cut through with a pleasant gueuze-like citrus sharpness. Following the wine-aged beers we had tried with Garrett Oliver, we also decided to buy a bottle of Hill Farmstead Flora, a wine barrel-aged version of their 5% wheat saison. This was a wonderful, refreshing and refined drink, with all the charms of a Saison Dupont but rounded off with a little white wine.
If I were given to hyperbole, I might say that Mikkeller Bar is the craft beer equivalent of Copenhagen’s famous Noma restaurant. I will say, though, that if it were a restaurant it would similarly merit three Michelin stars: “exceptional… worth a special journey“. Or two special journeys, or even three.
We’ve booked a short break in Copenhagen at the end of the month and, for my sins, I enjoy reading about and preparing for this type of holiday almost as much as going on it. I always get a city guidebook such as a Time Out Guide well in advance, although in the absence of a specific beer guide such as an “Around X in 80 Beers” sometimes there’s not quite enough dedication to beer for my liking.
The following is therefore merely a summary of my pre-reading on beer in Copenhagen, principally for my own benefit, with pretty much all of the opinions being someone else’s. All the information below is gleaned solely from the internet and is therefore caveated up the ying-yang.
I would be very grateful for further hints, tips, advice, corrections, warnings, persuasion and dissuasion as appropriate. I’m very grateful to those who’ve provided recommendations on Twitter already, with special thanks to @Ryan_Witter , @dannybrown76 , @Marc__T , @thornbridgedom and @maltjerry.
I probably won’t get to all these places, and don’t want to ruin the holiday by trying to, so prioritisation is key. A couple of atmospheric bars with good Danish craft beer and nice, reasonably-priced food is all that I’m really looking for. The ones I’m most keen on from first impressions are asterisked.
http://www.bishopsarms.com/K_benhavn/Presentation , Ny Østergade 14, 1101 Copenhagen
Swedish chain gastropub with 400 whiskies, English cask, Swedish and Danish amongst the keg and bottle, English pub décor, free WiFi, slightly expensive food, allegedly. Distressing absence of apostrophe.
Carlsberg Visitors Centre*
http://www.visitcarlsberg.dk/ , Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 København V, Valby
Admission Tuesday-Sunday 10.00-16.30
Carlsberg owns Tuborg, Mythos and Tetley, amongst others. In a move familiar to the people of Leeds, the company moved principal production from this old brewery in Copenhagen in favour of a new site 200km away in Frederica. However, unlike the Tetley Brewery, the Copenhagen brewery in the Valby area of the city remains open as a visitors centre and a smaller-scale brewery brewing “special beers aimed at connoisseurs”. Some reports state that Carlsberg Elephant Beer, a strong (7.2%) pilsner inspired by the elephant statues at the gates of the brewery, is still brewed onsite. Ratebeer doesn’t really like it. Allegedly.
http://www.charlies.dk/ , Pilestræde 33, 1112 København, Strøget
Monday 14.00-00.00; Tuesday-Wednesday 12.00-1.00; Thursday-Saturday 12.00-02.00; Sunday 14.00-23.00
Small, cosy, English-style pub with an emphasis on cask ale and session beer. Not sure I really want to go to Denmark for cask Black Sheep, Brains and Ruddles County, but looks like a nice pub nonetheless with some good Belgian beers, spirits etc. Really annoying style of website. Distressing absence of apostrophe, again.
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002657200741 , Halmtorvet 29 c, 1700 Copenhagen, Vesterbro
Sunday-Thursday from 15.00; Friday-Saturday from 14.00
Another Vesterbro craft beer bar with around 10 taps. Indicative beer list from time of writing includes the likes of Fanø, Beer Here, Croocked Moon, To Øl, Grassroots. A good opportunity to try a range of Danish craft breweries beyond Mikkeller, perhaps?
http://lordnelson.dk/ , Hyskenstræde 9, 1207 Copenhagen K Strøget
Monday 15.30-22.00; Tuesday-Thursday 15.30 -00.00; Friday 15.00-late; Saturday 12.00-late
Basement bar with a British owner, but a focus on Danish microbreweries. Potentially smoky. Has its own cider. 14 draft beers currently include Beer Here, Herslev, Andrik, Warwik, Sirius. Some cask. Free WiFi, newspapers and magazines, board games.
http://www.mikkeller.dk/ , Viktoriagade No. 8 B-C, 1655 Copenhagen, Vesterbro
Sunday-Wednesday 15:00-24:00; Thursday-Friday 14:00-02:00; Saturday 12:00-02:00
It goes without saying that Mikkeller is probably the Danish brewery (albeit a gypsy brewery) that I’ve tried the most and am most excited about. Mikkeller Bar has 20 taps of their own and guest beers. Hosts the Mikkeller Beer Celebration in May. The décor is also really stylish, allegedy.
http://www.norrebrobryghus.dk/ , Ryesgade 3, 2200 København N, Nørrebro
Monday-Thursday: 11.00-00.00; Friday-Saturday: 11.00-02.00. Kitchen open: Monday-Thursday: 11.30-15.00 & 17.30-22.00; Friday-Saturday: 11.00-15.00 & 17.30-22.30
Allegedly the best of the city’s brewpubs and also recommended in the Time Out Guide for a modern take on a traditional Danish smørrebrød (open sandwich) lunch. In the multicultural Nørrebro area of the city, north west of the main shopping area. The highest and most widely rated of their beers on ratebeer include styles such as a US-influenced Imperial IPA (Nørrebro North Bridge Extreme), a strong coffee stout (Nørrebro La Granja Stout), a honey porter (Nørrebro Skärgaards Porter) and a Belgian Old Ale (Nørrebro Old Odense Ale), brewed with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and possibly spiced with “fir trees”. Allegedly.
http://oelbaren.dk/ , Elmegade 2, 2200 Copenhagen N.
Monday 21.00-01.00; Tuesday-Thursday 16.00-01.00; Friday 15.00-01.00; Saturday 16.00-01.00
10 taps, 100 bottles. Indicative tap list at present includes Beer Here, Mikkeller, Flying Couch, Herslev, Southern Tier, Aecht Schlenkerla. Bottles appear to be a good range of Belgian, American and German. Website suggests the bar is up for sale but the bar appears to be open as the list is regularly updated. Allegedly.
http://www.olbutikken.dk/ , Istedgade 44, København V, Vesterbro
Tuesday-Friday 13.00-19.00; Saturday 11.00-16.00
One of the most recommended beer shops in Copenhagen. Allegedly. Note to self: 20kg baggage allowance. See also: Barleywine, Admiralgade 21, http://www.barleywine.dk/ .
http://oerstedoelbar.dk/ , Norre Farimagsgade 13, 1364 København K, Strøget
Monday 16.00-00.00; Tuesday-Torsdag 15.00-01.00; Fredag 15.00-03.00, Saturday 13.30-03.00, Sunday 14.00-23.00
Next to a park and near the central shopping streets. From the pictures looks like a nice pub-come-brown café with a dart board, table football, sofas, tellies showing sport, and handpulls. Danish beers listed on Ratebeer as being previously available here include Mikkeller, Flying Couch and Det Lille Bryggeri, some of which are Ørsted-branded, as well as a selection of imported beers from Belgium, the US and elsewhere from the likes of Stone, Boon, Nøgne Ø.
http://www.vinstue90.dk/ , Gammel Kongevej 90, Copenhagen, Frederiksberg
Sunday-Wednesday 11.00-01.00, Thursday-Saturday 11.00-02.00
A beer bar with an interior preserved from the 1920s that sells itself on a “slow beer” thing, where it takes 15 minutes to pour a glass of Carlsberg. Google Translate offers this:
The whole secret of Slow Beer is very opskænkningen. The beer is the same Carlsberg beer, available in many other places, but a Slow beer is quite different. The beer poured without the use of carbonic acid with a Czech studs cock, which only pours foam. The glass is completely filled with foam, which is allowed to settle. When the foam has calmed down and fill up again with foam. This process is repeated 10 to 15 times, and that’s why it takes about 15 minutes to pour a Slow beer. The method originates from the days where you pumped draft beers by hand – as they still do in many places in England and Germany. The finished Slow Beer is a very soft and round with letbittert beer foam.
My head hurts.
Now: what did I miss and what should I have left out?