Last Updated : 14/09/05
The new gen is here.
A Norse Adventure.
enmark isn’t a country that leaps out at you when you think of advanced beer cultures. I find this a bit sad as surely the Vikings were the ultimate binge drinkers, mead monsters and ale anarchists? From archaeological evidence "beer" (drink made from mashed grain) has been made in Scandinavia for over 3,000 years and I’m putting a few quid on the pretty safe bet the Vikings didn’t exercise moderation in this early beer’s consumption – after all I’m sure they didn’t have breath testers back then and, besides, being drunk in charge of a pillaging beserker party in a longboat was surely a positive, rather than negative, thing?
Today’s Danish beer culture of a pitiful 22 active breweries (2003) boils down to a huge homegrown multinational named Carlsberg, a group of large breweries (the people who used to own Cains), 6 old established regionals and a handful of micros and brewpubs. Owing to some bizarre tax laws breweries over 100 years old enjoy tax breaks so the law effectively dissuades the setting up of new micros and brewpubs. Add to this unusual scenario the fact that the 2 breweries most seen in bars, Carlsberg and Tuborg, just happen to be the same company and you have all the symptoms of a market being crushed under the heel of a large company producing bland crap and tax laws dissuading competition and maintaining the status quo. Seems like a story from some beer lover’s fertile mind? Welcome to everyday life in Denmark.
Fortunately it seems the Danish people are waking up to the reality that they’ve been somewhat short changed in the beer department. British pubs are now the height of "cool" in Denmark (although I doubt they have the required shaven headed yobs drinking chemical piss to make them truly "British") and a major part of these bars is real ale, often imported from the UK but also coming from Wintercoat, Denmark’s own real ale brewer (and bloody good they are too). Danes are rediscovering their own beer culture, the micros are growing and more brewpubs have opened recently; Nørrebro in Copenhagen was the most recent in September 2003 and it’s very popular. The next few years may see Denmark return to the position of having a beer culture to be proud of if the encouraging growth in micro beer is maintained, and there is no reason to bet against it. All they need is a few Vikings to kick some arse and away we go…..
Our visit was prompted by a rail day in Randers on the isle of Jutland, which is the largest and nearest Danish island to the UK. I booked flights to Århus with Ryanair for £19 single, back from Copenhagen with easyJet for £30 each and booked hotels for the 2 nights, one being a surreal sounding take on an ocean liner’s cabin. We were ready to jump headlong into the discovery of a largely unknown beer culture (for us at least), which doesn’t happen that often these days! I had searched the web for info and once again Ron Pattinson’s excellent site came to my rescue with pub guides to the major cities and a full brewery list. We were pleased to see that there seemed to be quite a few surprises in store, such as a high occurrence of high ABV Baltic porters, which can’t be a bad thing – you can never have too many Baltic porters in my opinion.
We arrived in Århus on the Friday morning and had a walk round the town, finding it was quite small and buzzing with life (probably owing to the large student population). We located the bars listed in Ron’s guide then went back to the hotel for an hour’s sleep as we had been up since 02:00 in the morning and decided that we’d be dossed before we had chance to try all the pubs if we didn’t - we decided that we were getting old! The ludicrously comfortable beds in the hotel ensured we had a good sleep.
After a few hours well needed slumber, we eventually got out of bed and after a short walk arrived at a bar called, somewhat implausibly, Ris Ras filliongongong that promised the largest beer selection in town. It was a small, cosy place and we found seats by the bar and studied the beer list. It had a good selection from Denmark as well as some very impressive Belgian brews and a wide variety of other European rarities. We started with a 70cl bottle of beer from a micro, Brøckhouse, and found it very malty with a citrussy hop taste. If this was the standard of Danish micro beer, I decided, I was all for it! We tried several more beers and found the standard a lot higher than we had imagined, the dark beers being particularly impressive. We even persuaded the barman to steam off the bottle labels for us with the cappuccino machine’s steamer attachment! Now that’s customer service; somehow I can’t see the barman in Wetherspoons doing it.
Thanks to the hotel we had acquired a tourist guide to the town and in the list of bars I’d found the frankly ludicrous sounding "Cockney’s pub". I was halfway through a verbal tirade against the establishment having no shame in giving itself such a totally shite moniker when in the picture I saw a Wintercoat pumpclip that stopped me mid-rant – this place had to be scooped in! (Wintercoat had received excellent reviews on all Danish beer sites I’d seen so I was determined to try them). The very sociable barstaff in Ris Ras gave us directions to the absurdly named bar and, conveniently, it was very close to our final call of the night, the St Clemens brewpub on the main square. After a mild heart attack whilst settling the bill, which had already blossomed to around £28, we made our way to Cockney’s pub for an encounter with the Wintercoat brewery.
Cockney’s pub is tucked away in a narrow lane in the centre of town behind McScum and it’s one of those places that you’d never walk past by chance. There were signs outside proclaiming real ales on draught and a bank of handpumps were visible, so in we went. It’s obvious that the landlord is trying to create a pseudo-English local that, to be fair, comes very close to reality although I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that seemed English. The amusing bit came when we examined the beers on handpump; London Pride, Jennings Cocker hoop and Banks’ bitter were the first three! "Banks's?" I bellowed, "I’ve come all this way for that crap?" Fortunately, the other 2 beers were Wintercoat India Pale and Oatmeal Stout, so we ordered a half of each and also a half of the local Ceres Royal stout which was available on tap to wash them down.
The Wintercoat beers didn’t disappoint; they were both excellent quality real ales but with a strange twist – they had the general character of UK real ale mixed with the body and flavour of a Belgian beer. Strange but intriguing, and Wintercoat immediately shot up into my top ten European breweries on the strength of those 2 beers. That’s quite an achievement! The Ceres stout was less impressive, given it’s ABV of 7.7%, but still very acceptable and definitely in the Baltic porter style and, anyway, after the previous 2 beers it would have had to be something really special to stand out so I don’t really blame it - it was just the company it kept!
After these excellent beers, we headed for the St Clemens brewpub on the main square. We already knew it was a sister pub to the one in Copenhagen that I had visited on my inter-rail in 1991, although I reasoned that this was too long ago to remember what the stuff tasted like. It looked pretty similar with lot of pine furniture and although it was fairly busy we found a table near the door. After the usual short delay whilst we wondered if the policy was bar or table service, a waitress appeared. We had just missed the food, but we ordered a 25cl glass of the house beer and the monthly special, "Tasmanian devil", which apparently contained eucalyptus (a nod to the bride in the recent royal wedding being a Kiwi). The house beer was competent, if a little boring, but the monthly beer was excellent; it had a sappy, piny, earthy type of flavour that reminded me of the hemp beers of Vienna. We decided on an early night (definitely getting old!) and after finishing the beers we made out way back to the hotel and it’s unfeasibly comfy beds via a pizza takeaway.
The next morning we took advantage of the inclusive breakfast (served on the 10th floor with great views of the harbour) which turned out to be a real revelation – eggs, bacon, the smallest sausages I’ve ever seen, numerous types of bread, loads of cereals, cold meats and cheese, cakes, pastries, juice, coffee…. The choice was enormous and we had a good graze which would last us well into the afternoon. After a few hours around Randers on some 50 year old diesel engines, we took the train (via the very impressive 16km bridge and tunnel combination between Funen and Zealand) right into the heart of Copenhagen. As we were on an earlier train than I had planned we immediately headed for the Bryggeriet Apollo brewpub to sample the beers. The same 2 beers were on as in the sister pub in Århus, although the Tasmanian devil was slightly weaker, and they tasted pretty similar with the special being the best beer.
As the bar was fairly busy we didn’t linger but headed off to the Cab-Inn hotel. Once we had dumped our excess baggage in the tiny yet functional room we headed off to the Øl Baren bar that promised draught Danish micro beers and a fairly large bottled beer list. We were very impressed with this place; it’s on a sidestreet in the northern district of Nørrebro and looks quite unpromising from the outside (it has a cracking sign – no bar name, just a big neon "Øl") but inside it’s great – very basic and modern but welcoming. There were 13 beers on draught, with Wintercoat ESB being the star of the show, and a large bottle list within which we found the Thisted Limfjords Porter that sounded excellent but unfortunately had not been available at Ris Ras the previous evening. Whilst consuming these excellent beverages, we admired the printed beer list which has some cracking Belgian beers – Blaugies Darbyste, anyone? After waiting for a very sudden and unexpectedly heavy rain shower to stop we reluctantly left and headed off to the Nørrebro brewpub nearby for a promised feast of beers.
It wasn’t far to Nørrebro and we were soon inside, although our plans to eat there (reports spoke of excellent beer cuisine) were foiled by the upstairs restaurant being totally booked up for at least the next few hours. We settled instead for a table in the downstairs bar where the surprisingly large brewery could be seen taking up the whole of one end and the bar the other. There were 7 beers available including 2 specials – an Easter bock and a royal wedding beer, although the 2 standard dark beers were unavailable; presumably visitors to the Ølfest had polished them off the previous week. We started with Ceske Bohmer, a reasonable take on a Czech Plzen beer, and Ravnsberg red which seemed more of an amber beer than the presumed Irish red style. NY Lager was, in our opinion, more of a Vienna-style beer with some caramalt noticeable and the Stuykman Witt was obviously bubblegummy but a bit middle of the road for me. Royal Hobart ale had some unusual hops but was a bit lacking in body and finally the Påske Bock was the best beer we had there; an intense caramelly and thick toffee-tasting brew. We left the 12% beer as we didn’t feel like it by the time it came round to drinking it; you can tell we’re not desperate anymore!
The barsnacks were pretty good (onion rings, cheese, potato skins with dips etc) although the pub seemed to be doing it’s best to kill it’s customers through excessive sodium intake – all the food was covered in sea salt crystals to the extent that we spent a good ten minutes rubbing it off the potatoes with napkins! Not wishing to heap on the criticism, but we also felt the beers were a little "safe" in flavour although good representations of the styles involved. I’d like to try the place again in a year or so as the brewer may have shaken off his Carlsberg heritage (for he was a brewer there) and started to give the beers a bit more free rein in the flavour stakes. In the meantime I’d still recommend the place pretty highly and it’s a "must visit" if you’re in Copenhagen, even more so with the superb Øl Baren just 5 minutes away.
The next day we were free to wander round the city doing the sightseeing thing although I had planned a few bar visits too. First things first; we arrived at the Carlsberg brewery for their free tour as we wanted to see if the beers really were as bad in Denmark as in the UK. Sadly, this turned out to be the case with the "tour" being a self-guided wander round the old (closed) bit of the brewery reading company propaganda and not sight nor smell of brewing. To be honest, you don’t get much for nothing and 2 free beers each seemed a good deal until we tasted the beer in the sample bar! There were no dark beers available ("We don’t have the porter, it’s too strong" stated the barmaid when I enquired as to it’s availability) so we had to settle for the next most interesting thing – the wheat beers. The 2 available were, to be fair, totally different with the Carlsberg being a sweetish, toffee tasting one and the Tuborg more of a German style and easily the best beer we had in the bar. We also tried Tuborg "classic" gold, which was very bland with a caramel hint, and of course we just had to try standard Carlsberg. I can happily report that it’s totally shite there too; it was flat with a thin weetabix taste and a chemically bitterness; yeuch.
We arrived at Charlie’s Bar in the city centre just as it was opening and the very sociable British barman (from Guildford!) told us all about the Danish drinking culture and how British pubs are catching on, and real ale with them. There were 4 real ales and over 10 other draught beers available so we tried the Fuglsang white bock and Hancocks pilsner which were both OK without setting the palate alight. Unfortunately, the next 2 bars we were going to visit were both closed, so we had to make do with a tourist boat ride round the canals (do the Netto Bådene blue boats rather than DFDS, they’re half the price) before heading back to the airport for the flight home. The airport was very large and neither of us took to it; the flight wasn’t allocated a gate until 15 minutes before departure time meaning we were hanging around watching screens (there are no seats in the concourse areas!) before a last minute rush for the gate. Cheers then, not impressed! Thankfully easyJet managed to be near enough on time for once and we arrived back in Stansted only ten minutes late.
Don’t go to Denmark if you’re poor! Beer is fairly expensive, with the average seeming to be about 25DKK for a 25cl glass (about £2.50) and a bottle usually around the 29DKK mark although you can pay a lot more than this; a 70cl bottle of Svaneke was 90DKK! Rail transport is reasonably cheap and there are bargains to be had in the hotel field if you know where to look. Copenhagen is a reasonably pleasant city, but not really in the same league as Vienna or Prague and it really needs to bring back its trams!
The countryside is quite pleasant and hilly, especially on Jutland, where it reminded me of Devon or the Lakes although it’s flatter and less interesting on the other 2 islands. The civil engineering is very impressive with the 16km bridge/tunnel arrangement between Funen and Zealand being particularly good. How the hell did they build that?!?
Invest in a Rough Guide before you go to get the best from your time in Denmark. We really enjoyed our weekend away, but make sure you have plenty of credit on your card before you go….
Travelling to Denmark is fairly easy via budget airlines with both easyJet (Bristol, Stansted and Newcastle to Copenhagen) and Ryanair (Stansted to Esbjerg, Århus or alternatively Malmö just across the sea in Sweden) flying daily. If you’re flush with cash (or you have some airmiles to use) you could always travel with rip-off flag carriers SAS or BA from Manchester or Birmingham; see the superb Flightmapping or Skyscanner websites to get the full picture. The trusty to and from website will tell you how to get from the airports into the town centres and hasn't let me down yet!
If you’re really averse to flying then you could go for the 20-odd hour coach journey from London to Copenhagen (via Brussels or Amsterdam) with Eurolines but I imagine this isn’t a barrel of laughs. Alternatively, to make a real holiday of it you can go by boat (well, a big fuck-off ship) from Harwich to Esbjerg on Jutland with DFDS who sail 3 times a week (20 hours). The trip by train is feasible but not really advisable due to cost; you could get Eurostar to Brussels, then a Thalys to Germany and a night train to Copenhagen…. I dread to think of the cost and complexity of it. Check out the German railway’s DB website for train enquiries. You could theoretically knit a visit in with other European countries by buying an Interrail ticket which have various zone options - see a travel centre for details.
Getting around within Denmark is reasonably cheap thanks to the national rail company DSB who run the majority of rail services. A single from Randers to Copenhagen was about 290DKK, or £27 for a 4 hour journey. Copenhagen has a comprehensive bus network along with a new underground and a local S-tog electric train network. A day ticket is available for a surprisingly reasonable sum; get one from the machines on the platforms.
Comfort Hotel Atlantic, Europaplads 10-14, Århus. Big multi-story eyesore right by the harbour with unfeasibly comfy beds and a superb breakfast spread. 5 minutes from the station or the city centre, £75 for a double including stuff-your-face breakfast buffet. (There is also a Cab-Inn right next door to the St Clemens brewpub on Kannikegade 14 that may be more attractive if you want a late night!)
Cab-Inn Scandinavia, Vodroffsvej 57, Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. One of 3 Cab-Inns in the city, this one is the most convenient for the Nørrebro brewpub. It’s only about a 15 minute walk from central station and is very good value for Copenhagen. Didn’t try the breakfast. Rooms are tiny and like being in a railway compartment; the minuscule shower/toilet is very surreal but it works! £55 for a "double".
Beer and Bars
The beer is far better than we imagined – apart from Carlsberg/Tuborg being predictably crap (but apparently the new micro is pretty good!). The regionals brew some respectable stuff but, as usual, the micros are the ones to aim for with Wintercoat being the find of the trip. The brewpubs are OK if a little unexciting with Apollo, St Clemens and Herning all owned by the same company and doing average beer, Nørrebro has good potential but seems to be playing it a bit safe to start with and the one on the island of Bornholm at Svaneke seems a good bet if the one beer we tried is anything to go by.
Bars in Århus
Ris Ras filliongongong, Mejlgade 24. Cracking little bar with Belgian beer signs outside and a wide range of European brews in bottle and on draught inside. Excellent beer list includes both Svaneke and Brøckhouse alongside others (for a price!) and lots of Belgian brews. Expensive-ish, but well worth it.
Cockney’s Pub, Maren Smeds Gyde (Behind Body Shop near the cathedral). A totally cringeworthy name but has some good beers on, the highlight being the superb Wintercoat brews on handpump alongside imported UK cask beers. Actually feels like an English bar, albeit with a European twist!
Bryggeriet St Clemens, Kannikegade 10-12. Large brewpub right on the main square selling a standard pils and a monthly special beer. Has sister brewpubs in Herning and Copenhagen and a Cab-Inn conveniently next door!
Bars in Copenhagen
Bryggeriet Apollo, Vesterbrogade 3. Next door to the Tivoli gardens and just round the corner from the main train station, this bar is jammed full of tourists. Brews a house pils and monthly special on the very visible brewery inside. Has sister bars in Herning and Århus.
Nørrebro Bryghus, Rysegade 3, Nørrebro. Opened in late 2003, this excellent rebuilding of an old factory houses one of Denmark’s newest breweries. There are usually 6 beers available from a larger list as well as monthly specials. Apparently the food in the upstairs restaurant is very good (beer cuisine) but it was booked solid when we went. If you’re averse to salt don’t order too many bar snacks!
Øl Baren, Elmegade 2, Nørrebro. Quite hard to find but well worth the effort, this superb little bar has a great beer list and 12 on draught including the wonderful Wintercoat ESB. Fairly close to the Nørrebro Bryghus, this bar is highly recommended.
Charlie’s Bar, Pilestræde 33. English style bar with 4 real ales on handpump plus lots of Danish and other countries beer on keg. Like a small Firkin in character. Has a sister bar (the Wharf) in the far northern wilds of Jutland at Aalborg.
Carlsberg Sample room, Gamle Carlsbergvej. A hell of a long way out west and honestly not worth the bother unless you’re keen to see just how crap multinational beer can be. You have to put up with a self-guided tour first, but you get 2 free drinks so it’s up to you. The wheat beers are your best bet but don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed is the best advice I can give. Try the new micro on-site!
Other bars we didn’t have time or opportunity to sample.
Gulliver’s pub, Gothersgade 2, Copenhagen. We got as far as the closed door, but we could see Wintercoat beers inside (oh, the despair!) plus a lot of other draught beers. It looks like it models itself on a British pub with a lot of dark wood, but this is conjecture rather than fact. This bar may have closed.
Den Tatoverede Enke, Baron Boltens Gaard (Gothersgade 8B), Copenhagen. This remarkably confusing address can be simplified by saying it’s about 20 yards to the north of Gullivers in a small precinct set back from the main road. Apparently has loads of rare Belgian beers including real Lambic and Westvleteren. We got as far as the closed door, it wasn’t really our day!
Ron Pattinson’s excellent website contains beer information and bar tours of not just Denmark but most other European places you would want to go to. Highly recommended.
Food can be expensive, but we found a "China box" to be a cheap way of eating – they are served from street stalls and you choose what you want in the box to take away, usually deep-fried prawns and chicken with rice and/or noodles and sauce. They cost around the 25-30DKK mark, which is cheap for Denmark!
New Gen - 2005.
There is a new brewpub, opened in 2005, with a curiously unimaginative name - Brewpub! It's situated in Vestergade 29, only about half a mile east of the main station. There is also, apparently, another brewpub called Faergekroen inside the Tivoli gardens next to the existing Apollo brewpub although this seems a bit dodgy to these cynical ears! And there's more folks, as another brewpub has recently opened - the Husbryggeriet Jacobsen at Gamle Carlsbergvej 11. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed this is the same address as the Carlsberg brewery; it is! This is a micro-plant which is turning out some good beers which, presumably, are made to seem better by the big plant's output! Paul Harrop has told me he was very impressed by the Jacobsen beers during a recent visit, so that's another on the list for the next visit!
There are also some new beer pubs of which I have no gen at present; Denmark is becoming a real hot-spot for beer!
For up-to-date brewery gen, have a look at Paul Harrop's superb website.
Some phots and stuff ... all by Gazza.
Danish in Brief
If you know any German then you will probably understand a lot of Danish as they share the same root. However, as almost everyone speaks English (and other languages) to varying degrees of perfection there’s no real need to learn huge swathes of Danish. A few words, however, will make a world of difference.
Yes – Ja (yah)
No – Nej (ney)
Please – Værsa Venlig (varsa venlig)
Thanks – Tak (tak)
Good day, Hello – Goddag (goddag)
Goodbye – Farvel (Farvel)
Beer – Øl (uurl – or something like that!)
Version 1.2 - © by Gazza 14/09/2005