You could be forgiven for thinking that Copenhagen was built on Carlsberg. The name is everywhere, and not just gleaming out of bars and restaurants – the wealth of the Carsberg family has also funded public buildings within the city including the popular museum Carlsberg Glypotek. But while the ubiquitous lager is one of the world’s best know brands, less has been written about a Danish craft brewing revolution that began around a decade ago. Despite lacking the brewing tradition of the likes of the UK and Belgium, seemingly out of nowhere microbreweries sprang up at such a rate that Denmark soon had more breweries per capita than any other European nation. This surge of beer making has subsided in recent years but the country is still home to some of Europe’s finest and most innovative breweries – so we paid three of Copenhagen’s most celebrated brew pubs a visit.
Before sampling the best of the city’s beers we began the day with one of Denmark’s more unique drinking traditions – a breakfast shot of the bitter liqueur Gammel Dansk. This flavoured spirit (its 29 ingredients are a closely guarded secret) is wheeled out for an early morning nip whenever a convenient excuse can be conjured – birthdays, holidays or just to warm the cockles on a cold day. With a warm, spicy spirit inside it was now time to head for the beer…
The beer coinisseurs current destination of choice is Mikkeller, a small bar in the city’s Vesterbro region with a reputation for brewing their own great beer as well as introducing Danes to craft ales from other like minded breweries. The enterprise, brainchild of former physics teacher Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, doesn’t own its own brewery but hooks up with other craft breweries across Europe, borrowing their brewing kit and collaborating on yet more beer recipes.
When we visited the bar it was running a ‘tap takeover’, sharing its 20 pumps with beers from Italian brewery Toccalmatto whose zesty, hoppy IPA Zona Cesarini (6.6%) was one of our highlights of the weekend. The Mikkeller brewery churns out an ever changing line-up of its own brews, with our favourites on the night including the superb, fresh tasting Vesterbro Pils (5.3%), a lovely take on a Belgian white beer Vesterbro Wit (4.5%) and another fruity, well hopped San Franciscan style IPA Green Gold (7%).
Mikkeller & Friends
Following on from the success of their first bar, Mikkeller recently opened a second, a short stroll north to Nørrebro (if we turned up two weeks earlier for opening night we might have snaffled one of the 1,000 free beers handed out to lucky beer drinkers). Mikkeller run this bar with another small brewery To Øl* whose two founders were taught the art of beer making by their physics teacher, the aforementioned Mikkel. With 40 beers on tap this bar offers more choice, a funkier turquoise painted plywood decor and an area dedicated to off sales. Beers are sourced globally from craft breweries that share their ethos of quality and experimentation. One of the standout brews for us was twist on a strong Belgian style beer, with a crazy name – De Molen Smoke & Beards (8.5%) by Portland, Maine brewery Allagash. We detected a delicate flavouring from the smokey malt but, fortunately, there was no evidence of beards.
Another award winning brewery in Nørrebro, this bar also provides a separate room for dining and brews some of its beers on the premises, the shiny vats separated from the bar area by nothing more than a casually draped rope. It is already well established with locals and tourists and provides tasting sessions for those who want to discover a bit more about their craft. Like most things in Denmark the bar and branding are presented with a clean, modern design aesthetic but, fortunately, this isn’t a case of style over substance and the beers are all of an extremely high standard. At any time the tipples on offer are a mix of their regular classics (including a smooth, malty New York Lager (5%) and a light bitter Ravnsborg Red (5.5%)) and rare or seasonal ales such as the excellent dark Easter brew Påske Bock (7.5%).
NEED TO KNOW
• Mikkeller Bar: Viktoriagad no. 8 B-C 1655 Copenhagen V. http://mikkeller.dk/the-bar/
• Mikkeller & Friends: Stefansgade no. 35 KLD 2200 Copenhagen N. http://mikkeller.dk/mikkeller-friends/
• Nørrebro Bryghus: Ryesgade 3, 2200 Copenhagen N. http://noerrebrobryghus.dk/13/
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the extremely comfortable and good value Andersen Hotel, happily just round the corner from Mikkeller Bar. They also had a fridge well stocked with bottles from Nørrebro Byrghus. Helgolandsgade 12, 1653 Copenhagen V. http://www.andersen-hotel.dk/en/
It’s worth pointing out that beer in Denmark ain’t cheap. You’ll get a good range of beers for around 25DKK (£2.85) per 25cl glass but some of the more unusual or stronger brews can cost up to 55DKR – which smashes the £10 per pint mark.
*Due to the vast choice of drinks on offer we somehow neglected to order a To Øl beer. Or, rather, we have no recollection or notes about drinking a To Øl beer. Next time…