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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.

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.

Beer in Copenhagen: Ørsted Ølbar & Cafe

The one place I regret not being able to devote more time to in Copenhagen is Ørsted Ølbar.  It’s a really nice basement bar (for some reason almost all the bars seem to be lower than street level) opposite a park and a short walk from Nørreport Station.

We visited it mid-afternoon at the end of a long walk, when it was quiet and the light shining on the distressed wood of the tables inside was beautiful. The barman was happy to have a chat about the extensive range of keg beers on offer and offered to let me try a couple before buying.

I had thought that Ørsted Ølbar had some cask beer, but what appeared to be traditional handpumps were in fact keg fonts.  There’s a bit of an “English” pub feel to the bar, although this isn’t overdone.

The bar has a number of “Ørsted” beers, although they’re all brewed by different Danish microbreweries.  Ørsted Bitter Bitch was a pleasant, sharply bitter IPA brewed (according to Ratebeer) by Det Lille Bryggeri. To Øl Sleep Over Coffee IIPA was very bitter with an upfront coffee taste: two forms of bitterness, really.

Finally the barman recommended a bottle of Mikkeller 10 from the cellar.  This was a superb IPA in a beautiful bottle made with 10 hop varieties: Warrior, Simcoe, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin, Nugget, Tomahawk and East Kent Goldings.  The fresh tropical aroma had a bit of lime to it, and the rainbow of hops in the taste somehow achieved a great balance to a properly bitter beer.

If I go back to Copenhagen, which I really hope to, I’ll make a point to leave time to visit Ørsted Ølbar.  If you’re going, I recommend you do the same.

Beer in Copenhagen: Fermentoren

As well as having Mikkeller Bar and some great restaurants in the meat packing district, Vesterbro is also the location of another great little beer bar in Fermentoren.  It’s at 29c Halmtorvet, along the same road as the meatpacking district and on the corner of another road (Skelbækgade) that takes you to Dybbølsbro railway station.

I expect that Fermentoren will always be secondary to Mikkeller Bar in most people’s eyes, but it’s a cosy basement bar with good music, helpful staff and a great little selection of craft beers, mainly from Danish microbreweries, and staff who are happy to help you choose. You can check out the current tap list on their Facebook page.

I should also make special mention of the gent’s toilets, which have a bunch of quotes from The Big Lebowski stencilled on the wall.

During the course of a couple of visits, Kate and I tried:

  • Dry-Hopped Saison Dupont on keg (lovely);
  • Croocked Moon Stonewall IPA , a fresh US-style IPA with a grapeskin hoppiness;
  • Flying Couch Paint It Black IPA, a good example of a black IPA which had a slightly stouty profile (coffee and vanilla), that burnt rubber/waterwings smell and taste that you only ever seem to get in this style, and a nice fresh hoppiness;
  • Fanø Edison Tripel, a delicious smooth tripel with a noticeable coriander taste; and
  • Beer Here Hopticulus, a malt-and-hop bomb of an IPA with a note of celery.

Fermentoren serves well as a place for winding down with a good Danish craft beer after dinner, but it also has an outside area if you’re lucky enough to get a warm, sunny afternoon.

Beer in Copenhagen: Nørrebro Bryghus & Bio Mio

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.

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