Last Updated : 11/09/07
enmark had been one of our very first destinations as Euro-scoopers in 2004 and, whilst we’d scooped quite a few beers, the scene had changed drastically since then; whereas three years previously there had been in the region of forty breweries in the whole country – in no small part thanks to Carlsberg’s antics compounding the effects of an unfriendly beer tax system – in the last couple of years the microbrewery movement had literally exploded into life and the count now stood at well over 100 and was growing all the time.
So, when we were considering a quick trip away in June, Copenhagen sounded like a great idea – loads of new beers and breweries to scoop with some great-sounding new bars to drink them in! The only problems were the limited time we’d have in the city and the flight was from Stansted at silly o’clock in the morning – not a great start to a trip and a situation we’d decided to try and avoid if at all possible – but as there were no other options available from closer to home for a budget price we decided on one final slog down to Stansted…
Friday 22nd June 2007.
We weren’t helped by the atmospheric conditions as we tried to get an early a night as possible since the 20°C temperature outside made sleep unfeasible until far later than we’d hoped; what seemed like five minutes later but which was, unbelievably, actually four hours we crawled out of bed vowing never again to do a move like this; less than four hours sleep followed by a 2.5 hour drive then a day’s walking around/drinking meant that we’d be up for nigh on 24 hours at a stretch… no, we both decided that we were too old for this now and although we had a full day in Copenhagen the evening would suffer as by that time we’d be knackered…
The journey down was fine and I shan’t even bother trying to think up new witticisms about the A11 as they simply can’t conjure up the sheer mind-numbing tedium of driving it at 03:00 in the morning even if, being almost midsummer, the horizon was growing light even by that time. As we were flying in peak holiday period the airport was seething with stag twats wearing uniforms – they’re so original all wearing the same clothes with a name on the back! I wish I was that unique – so we deftly avoided them and checked in via easyJet’s hand baggage only desk so were soon through security and at the gate although I did have a rant at the x-ray machine bloke about there being no signs regarding liquids anywhere… early mornings and all that!
The week before our trip I’d received an email from easyJet claiming that they now had 100 Airbus 319’s in their fleet and only 30-odd 737’s left so, if that was the case, why did I always have 737’s when I flew with them? I assume that this is due to the remaining 737’s being nominally based at Luton although whenever I fly from STN there seems to be one there too… this time, however, an Airbus sat at our gate and my easyJet A319 account was duly opened by G-EZBT. We also had a pair of transits to the gate, but I don’t suppose you want to know about those, do you? That’s just too sad… so I won’t mention that I’ve had them all twice!
The flight over to CPH gave the usual superb views of the amazing bridge/tunnels that connect the Danish islands and then the seriously impressive construction that linked Denmark to the Swedish mainland and we were on the ground right on time. Once we’d trundled our way along miles of taxiway then walked a few miles more to passport control (it’s an enormous airport!) then passed through security we were greeted by a huge bunch of locals feverishly waving flags and holding signs which read “welcome Rikke” – quite a surreal first impression of the country! We acquired some maps and tourist literature from the information centre and then headed off to the train station for the next service to the city centre; as we waited drops of rain wafted down onto the platform and the prospect for the day didn’t look good for all the wandering around we had planned owing to the city’s lack of a tram system (for the record, Copenhagen did have trams but the system was closed in 1972 and sold off in it’s entirety to Alexandria in Egypt!).
When we arrived in the city centre rain was still falling and so we sploshed miserably across to the main tourist office where we hoped to garner some gen about the city’s cow parade; unfortunately, in common with most European cities, there seemed to be virtually nothing in the way of gen regarding the herds of lurid plastic bovines and so, after sheltering there for as long as possible without actually moving in, we bit the bullet and headed for the main square to the tune of swishing wheels on the tarmac.
As we approached Rådhuspladsen (town hall square) the rain eased noticeably and then stopped altogether as we nosed around Nytorv; the transformation from ten minutes earlier was amazing with scurrying clouds replacing the sombre grey mass and even the odd glimpse of the sun as it fought it’s way through the clouds. Feeling much better about things now the weather had perked up we went for a walk around the tourist areas of town, noticing some of the bars and beer shops we planned to visit later on, before pausing to observe a protest outside the parliament although, it being in Danish, we couldn’t work out what it was about!
During our perambulation we observed some unusual sights that included, in no particular order of unusualness, a pan piper with what looked like a dead turkey on his head, a gold-painted plastic cow suspended above the street and then we were almost rammed head-on by a woman texting whilst riding a bike… by this point we would normally have been heading for our hotel to check in but this move was different; we were going to visit the superb-sounding Ølbuttiken beer shop to stock up on some winners for the room then wander back to the surreal Cab-Inn hotel (the rooms are based on ship’s cabins and consequently very small – but are cheap!) via a bar which sounded especially interesting by virtue of selling Carlsberg “without gas” – whatever that meant.
I must admit to being distinctly underwhelmed by Copenhagen on our last visit but on this trip, with more time to just wander around, I hastily revised my opinion to “good but tramless” and we particularly liked the old stock exchange with it’s spire formed of four dragons with tails curled together and also the Amsterdam-like canals, which we planned to explore again on one of the heritage Netto Bådene boats, a trip which – even if it were not in a relatively expensive city such as Copenhagen – would still be a bargain at around £2.50 for an hour-long tour of the city’s waterways. That was a move for Sunday, however, and so we continued our walk around the city’s sights until it was time to get across to Ølbuttiken for some “room beers”.
We made our way back to the huge railway station and then trudged along Vesterbrogade which became slightly less affluent the further west we went although never in any kind of dodgy way; the shops just became less exclusive! We passed a large supermarket and so, mindful of needing some provisions for the evening’s drinking, in we went to see if we could find the thing Sue most remembered from our last trip to Denmark – drinking yogurt! We soon located this and also some bread, cheese and water for later but, despite having found everything on our list, I just couldn’t resist a quick peek at the beer section… after all, we did need just about every beer in the country and this was a big supermarket…
The wine department was enormous and hence – I thought, hopefully – this would give some indication of the corresponding breadth of the beer selection - yeah, right! A pitiful couple of aisles crammed with multinational crap seemed to be all that was available until, wandering off in disgust, we chanced upon a separate ten-metre long double-sided display of micro-brewery beer… Sue went to get a trolley whilst I perused the shelves noticing that, with a growing wish that we had a week in Denmark, the range of bottles was huge and included many massive-sounding micro brewers and, even better, a wide range of styles from brown ale to IPA via strong stout and pale ale – just about the only thing missing was pils, and I wasn’t disappointed to see the lack of that – which showed just how different the Danish brewing scene was to much of the rest of Europe and how far it had come in a few short years.
Sue arrived with a hellfire push-along trolley (see the photo as I can’t describe how hellfire it was!) and we proceeded to fill it with far too many beers for a single night’s drinking – and that was before we’d visited the “proper” beer shop; I could have bought dozens of scoops but somehow restrained myself and we left with just five. Back outside we gulped down the thick, fruity yogurt before strolling onwards to our target where, hopefully, we’d get one or two more scoops…
Naturally, I’d indulged in an extensive Internet research session before we arrived, and so knew that Ølbuttiken opened at 14:00 – so imagine our shock when we arrived to see no sign of life and the displayed opening times quoting 15:00! With 40 minutes to wait I decided to take a wander to a nearby bar with a decent beer list – which we soon found opened at 17:00 - and that it was a café not a pub! With nothing else to do it was a case of strolling back as slowly as possible and then waiting for something to happen; twenty minutes seems an awfully long time in those circumstances!
Five minutes before opening time a young lass arrived on a bike and proceeded to go through the motions of opening up the shop. Once inside it was obvious that this was a place focussing on quality not quantity; it was tiny within and I doubt the range stretched much more than 100 different beers – but what beers! Oude lambic, a number of superb Belgian beers including all three Westvleterens in a wooden crate, some other Scandinavian scoops and even a few American blockbuster IIPA’s, but the main thrust was unashamedly Danish micro brewers, with a frankly amazing range of breweries and styles for sale… how could we choose between 100 beers which, with a handful of exceptions, I’d have drunk there and then?
We eventually came away with six further Danish scoops plus a massive Norwegian winner; we could have bought many, many more but common sense (well, kind of) prevailed and we promised the sociable lass that we’d be back the next time we were in town – which I’d decided would be much sooner than the three years which had passed since our previous visit – before setting off in the general direction of our hotel with packs clinking heavily and the now resplendent sun beating down upon us.
A novel way to get a room upgrade.
We took a slight detour to a place I’d noticed in the Rough Guide; Vinstue ’90 was a lovely old bar, all darkness and little tables, which wouldn’t be that out of place in Amsterdam but critiquing the décor wasn’t the reason for our visit… no, our guide book claimed that it served Carlsberg “without gas, like British real ale” and this sounded too good to be true! Sadly, like many decent-sounding leads, this wasn’t entirely the case although - as is usual in these circumstances - there was a grain of truth in the story! The barman, in his “Slow beer” uniform, explained patiently that the large urn-like contraption on the bar contained beer from a standard keg of Carlsberg but, and here’s their unique selling point, it isn’t top-pressured and comes from the urn (I don’t know what else to call it) via gravity… all well and good, but it’s basically just standard pasteurised – if a little less gassy – Carlsberg and so I politely refused and turned my attention to the bottles instead.
We settled for a bottle of Brøckhouse Stout (5.6%) plus a couple of glasses and immediately I knew that drinking in Denmark would be far, far more enjoyable than in most other European countries; rather than a diet of bland, virtually tasteless and indistinguishable lagers here we had a country where almost everything was top-fermented, with predictable results – flavour, character and interest! The stout was a delicious deep red brew with rich chocolate and toasty malt in the flavour followed by a smooth, mellow and tasty finish with more plain chocolate, burnt toast and a hint of bitterness over the full, nutty malt aftertaste; it was one of those characterful and supremely drinkable brews which you could drink all day as a session beer, I reasoned, but we didn’t have the time – or capacity – for that and so, our glasses drained and wallet £4 lighter, we clanked off down the road towards our hotel for the evening.
We’d stayed at the Cab-Inn Scandinavia during our last visit to Copenhagen and, despite it being very “bijou” and compact, it had been comfortable enough to tempt us back – with the twin persuasions of the price being roughly half of what other more conventional hotels wanted and it being close to the superb Ølbaren and Nørrebro! So a night in the Cab-Inn it was and, as we approached it’s vaguely plastic façade, it was as if we’d never been away…
I presented our reservation printout to the alternative-looking bloke behind the reception desk who, on seeing my t-shirt, broke into a broad grin.
“Flogging Molly, eh?” he read, nodding appreciatively, “For that you get a room upgrade!
Sue and I glanced at each other, not sure if he was taking the piss or was being serious, but it transpired that yes, wearing alternative punk band t-shirts when checking into the Cab-Inn Scandinavia may - if you’re lucky - secure you a better room! We had soon dumped our 11 bottles of beer (when the hell were we going to find time to drink those, I thought, as it’s already 17:00 and we’ve not even started the pubs yet?) and, as we now had limited time to try and scoop as many beers as possible, set off again into the humid afternoon for the walk down to our first brewpub.
Within ten minutes we were lurking outside the Apollo Bryghus, peering through the windows, in an attempt to see what beers were available for scooping. By the looks of the blackboard there were two ticks on sale, a Kölsch and – bizarrely – a cranberry beer, so in we went! This was the third time I’d been in this brewpub; the first time was during my inter-rail in 1991 when “Big Jim” and I found the place by accident, then the next was a full 13 years later on our last visit to the city, so this may well be the brewpub I’ve visited over the longest period of time – 16 years!
I asked the greeting Adas inside if it was alright to stand at the bar and have a swift half; happily for us – and them, it was busy – this was fine and so we propped ourselves at one of the tables by the bar and I quickly ordered the smallest possible glasses of the two scoops. As we supped, the machinations of the pub were very visible from our vantage point, from the chef garnishing the plates to the waitresses filling cafetieres with coffee (and in one case dropping it!); this added a different perspective to our visit rather than sitting alongside the admittedly impressive and very shiny copper!
Anyhow, to the beers… Kölsch (also called Midsummer Øl, 5.4%) was an amber and noticeably wheaty beer with a fairly plain grainy finish and wasn’t, in my opinion, really a Kölsch at all – for a start it wasn’t filtered, but my opinion was mainly based on my tastebuds telling me the flavour didn’t match to any of the ten or so real Kölsches I’ve had before! Cranberry (5.8%) had a slightly phenolic hint to the sweetish, grainy taste yet was mainly a wheaty and relatively plain brew that may have been based on the Kölsch as the base beer tasted suspiciously similar…
Onwards, then, and so off we trotted along Vesterbrogade towards our next target: the Vesterbro Bryghus, which offered six draught beers for our imbibing pleasure (although at the time we didn’t know two of them were rebadges of beers from the Færgkroen bryghus inside the Tivoli gardens!). Once through the bizarre rusty metal entrance (I assume it’s supposed to be like that and they didn’t just forget to weatherproof it) we were swiftly collared by a greeter who was rapidly placated when I told her we only wanted to drink and not eat, so we were directed to a table by the bar where five beers were found to be on tap – the IPA, sadly, wasn’t available. I quickly ordered a tasting tray of the beers for the sum of DKK59 and promptly received five small glasses - with what I’m assuming was 0.1cl of beer in them - capped by an appropriately branded beer mat and so, under the gleam of the Salmbräu copper, it was time to let the serious scooping commence!
The first beer wasn’t a good start; Hvede (wheat) was a hideously sickly fluid with loads of bubblegummy “Bazooka Joe” flavours and I struggled to finish enough of the 100ml of beer to count it! Next was Blonde Lager (actually from Færgkroen although at the time we didn’t know) which to be honest didn’t taste a lot like a lager with a strong toffee and butterscotchy flavour and accompanying sweet malty taste before a rich, sweet, toffee/bitter finish; I’m not sure what type of lager this was supposed to be, but “un-lagered” seems a pretty good guess!
Amber lager was next (another Færgkroen) but this was, as if to showcase their bad brewing skills, very cardboardy and hazy with an unpleasant flavour – this was declined after a few cautious sips just in case it induced amoebic dysentery or similar! Red Ale followed, another sweet and malty brew that was saved by a hint of treacle toffee in the aftertaste and a modicum of dryness. We’d saved the Brown Ale until last, hoping for a chocolatey treat, although on tasting it we wished we’d not bothered as what we had was a very unusual and almost perfumed beer, fairly bitter, with malt and a strange flowery, perfumed finish… all in all then not a good start, flavour-wise!
A mighty fine establishment.
Our next stop was the relatively new Kobenhavn Bryghus about which I’d read various reports that ranged from dire to superb; well, surely it couldn’t be a lot worse than the last brewpub’s pathetic efforts? First impressions were very good, with the brewkit obvious in a side room as we entered, and we eschewed the bustling mayhem of the garden for the cool and relaxed cellar bar where a veritable forest of beer taps adorned the bar… and a handpump too, from which was flowing - according to a chalked notice on a cask hung from the ceiling - Cole Porter (5.2%); result!
The barman, as with every Danish person we’d met thus far, was a model of politeness and perfect English; I remember on my inter-rail meeting some Danes in Morocco and was struck by just how well they spoke English – not that I was going to argue as one of the party, with his wild hair and towering stature, looked as if he’d just jumped off a longship… anyhow, I soon returned to the table having ordered a tasting tray of some very interesting-sounding beers including a mild, IPA’s, a stout and a pale ale. The tray was brought over by the mega-sociable barman with a run-down on each beer’s characteristics and it sounded like a right old mixture of flavours – I couldn’t wait to get stuck into them!
Our first brew was the surreally named William Wallace Scottish Mild (4.5%) and it was a pretty decent attempt at a “60 bob” beer although it was a touch strong and had the customary hint of smoke that the whole world (apart from Scotland) assumes Scottish beers taste of. Despite the strange smokey hint, however, this was a decent sweetish and nutty dry beer that I reckon could pass as a 60/- as long as they take the smokiness out! Next was Ellhorn Pale Ale (4.7%) which apparently contained elderflower… it was pale and very floral with a big bitter hop flavour coming through in the finish; a good beer, but once again I consider they were over-egging the pudding and it would have been a better beer with the strange ingredients left out or at least toned down a touch…
Atlantic IPA (5.5%) came next and I was pleased to hear that the bottle we’d bought from Ølbuttiken was different as that was dry-hop conditioned before bottling. The draught version was a strange brew, not really what I’d call an IPA, being full, fruity and sweet in flavour with some toffeeness and bitter notes in the finish: not a bad beer by any stretch (it would beat the dross we’d suffered in Vesterbro in it’s sleep), but not what I think an IPA should be like.
Hop-bombs and roast-bombs.
The next beer couldn’t be a lot more different in character; Geronimo IPA (7%) was billed as an “American IPA” and this glorious amber brew had a massive citrussy bitter blast on the first sip which increased the more we drank – this was good stuff! Far from being unbalanced it possessed a good fruity malt backbone onto which the masses of lemony, citrussy and strikingly leafy hops were hung. The finish was gloriously bitter, hoppy, citrussy and tangy in a kind of “fresh hop” way and we were both amazed by the quality and flavour of this hop-monster… the first 4.5 pointer I’ve had for quite a while and it was almost a 5 pointer… yes, it was that good!
I’d assumed Cole Porter (5.2%, from cask) couldn’t possibly follow the previous outrageous hop-juice but, by virtue of it being yet another massively flavoured brew, it did just that! An immense flavour of roast malt, liquorice, coffee, crème caramel and toast frazzled my tastebuds accompanied by a bitter, complex finish with lots of burnt, nutty, toasty grain character; a bit extreme, but what a beer – although I’m not sure this was really a porter, more of a strong stout. As well as our cask version the beer was also available from tap but, unfortunately, we just didn’t have the time to do a side-by-side comparison and so that will have to wait until our next visit when, hopefully, we’ll be able to do the same thing with either this or another beer.
With our tasting tray exhausted it was time to dip into the half-pint glasses for our two remaining scoops. Golden Flash ESB (5.4%) was a decent sweet and fruity amber brew with loads of pineapple fruit, Seville marmalade and complexity (actually quite reminiscent of Fuller’s ESB with all that sweet marmalade character) but, sadly, after the previous two tongue-blasters, it felt a little lost and maybe, with a touch of retrospectivity, we should have saved the two “big beers” for last? Ah well, we didn’t know just how massive they were so I guess we’re exonerated from that cock-up!
One more scoop was available and this one looked very interesting indeed; it was a guest beer from the local Mikkeller micro-brewery and was their new Monk’s Elixir (10%) that was, according to reports I’d read, a homage to Westvleteren Abt… well, it was a good beer in it’s own right, but a very different beast than Westy... a deep black/brown brew with an aroma of subtle treacle and fruit, it had a very strange flavour that totally belied it’s ABV; smooth molasses, muscovado and ripe fruit dominated the flavour then, after a few seconds, more tastes joined the party with liquorice and a strange marzipan/nutty tang towards the complex and very mellow finish. I’m not sure that it quite matches up to the sublime Westvleteren, but admittedly it was pretty interesting!
A pub with a tasting tray.
Saying our goodbyes to the convivial staff we were off and heading for the Lord Nelson bar where, apparently, a good range of brews would be available for our scooping pleasure. We soon found the somewhat dingy cellar bar where I was impressed by the range of brews on the taps and even more impressed to see that the bar offered what amounted to a tasting tray in the form of four 22cl glasses of your choice from the selection of beers for around DKK50. I quickly selected four from the printed menus on the bar and returned to our table in the dark depths of the bar to get them in the big orange book.
Herslev Midsommer (5.5%) was a very sweet and wheaty fluid, not my kind of thing at all and possibly the worst beer we’d had thus far – whoops, forgot about the Vesterbro crap already! Moving swiftly on we came to Brøckhouse Brygmeester’s No.10 (3.5%) which wasn’t too clever either, possessing a slightly phenolic toffee/malt taste with a dry malty finish. Thinking we may have chosen all the wrong beers we came to Olfabrikken Columbus – which, to my relief, that was much, much better! An intense “Turkish delight” aroma burst from the glass and followed through into the flavour which had a good balance of maltiness and rose-petally hoppiness giving a very attractive and complex finish; this was a stunner and I wished we had more as the little glass was quickly drained…
Herslev IPA (6.1%) was our last glass and was another good’un; a mid-amber beer with a strong toffee-malt flavour, a bitterness which was slightly too harsh and a balanced finish with lots of taste, much better than the appalling Midsommer we’d had first and was a good end to our selection of beers in the Lord Nelson. Sadly we didn’t have time for the Sankt Nikolai Pub, Nikolaigade 18, close by – a bar that sounds quite similar to the Nelson – and so off we went to have a look in the amusingly named Barley Wine beer shop just along the street.
2 misses and a hit.
We arrived just as the shop was closing and, despite our best attempts to persuade them to let us have a nose around, we were charmingly denied and so wandered off towards Charlie’s Bar with the consolation that we already had far too many bottles to drink back in the hotel! After a stroll along Pilestræde we arrived at a very busy Charlie’s where, on our previous visit, we’d sampled a few commoner Danish beers and avoided the atrocious selection of UK cask ales. This time, after struggling through the throng, we arrived at the bar to find yet more W&D dross on the pumps and nothing particularly interesting in the Danish lineup and so, feeling that the last four years had passed Charlie’s by, we stomped off towards a new bar which received rave reviews from most who had visited it – Plan B.
We actually walked past the place the first time, thinking it was just another café, but when we wandered back along the road I couldn’t believe we’d missed the row of handpumps in the window! Inside was busy but we still found a small table to perch on with the help of the waitress and I was soon reading the pumpclips; the windowsill-mounted handpumps were connected straight into the little 20litre kegs with no added gas, so even those strange people from back home who whine “I’m not drinking keg” would be able to sup with clear consciences as the there was absolutely no CO2 in sight and the beers coming out were noticeably hazy and thus unfiltered/unpasteurised.
Knowing that we had already run out of time (we’d wanted to be back in the hotel by 21:00!) but we may as well have one round, I quickly chose Braunstein Amber (4.9%) and Musikbryggeri daCapo Largo (5.2%) and bore my scoops back to our table. The Braunstein was a subtle malty beer, not particularly exciting by the standards of some of the new-wave micros we’d tried (probably due to being a lager in a land of ales) but certainly not bad and decent drinking, whilst the deCapo was a strange chocolatey brown ale or porter, sweetish and smooth, but with a slight acetic twang to the taste which kind of put a damper on things – one to taste again, but with plenty of promise.
The bar itself was a right treat with the window-mounted handpumps, a huge bottled beer list, very “rustic” toilets, slightly alternative music and a mixed clientele which combined into a really impressive place; by this point we were very aware that we’d seriously underestimated just how good Copenhagen had become for beer scooping and wished we’d booked another night! Resolving to return as soon as we could in 2008 we grudgingly left the excellent Plan:B and trudged over the bridge to our final call, Ølbaren, which was originally intended to be the last-but-one with Nørrebro last but, with the time far, far later than we’d have liked we decided to sacrifice the brewpub as we’d already had eight of their beers and therefore make Ølbaren our final call of the evening - before we got stuck into the bottles back in the room!
We’d really enjoyed our visit to Ølbaren the first time around in 2004 and were looking forwards to this one immensely despite being gutted at having so little time there… ah well, a little is better than nothing I suppose, and we were soon entering the very busy (well, it was Friday evening) and boisterous bar with it’s chalkboard of beers available on tap. We found lurking space by the window and I made my way to the bar where I was immediately recognised as being English (well, I was speaking English!) and was showered with questions about what we thought of Copenhagen and why we’d made the effort to come to this particular bar; it seemed as if everyone in there was a member of the Ratebeer site and they were impressed that I was too, but we needed some beers as time was still ticking – and we wanted to be doing the same!
Ølfabrikken TBD (%) and Coffee Porter (%) were soon procured from the extremely sociable barman who seemed genuinely pleased that we’d made the effort to find his bar, which is a change from the attitude I generally encounter in the UK where it sometimes feels as if I’m being an inconvenience to the barstaff by daring to want a drink… As we supped the beers we were joined by a particularly jovial Danish beer lover who proceeded to explain his country’s meteoric rise in the brewing league tables saying it all began with a new-found love for UK cask ale around five years back and has expanded exponentially since then. He also told us a very true joke; “what do you call a man who speaks three languages? Dutch. Two? Danish. One? British/American”.
The TBD (meaning “to be decided”) was a reddy brew with sweet toffee flavours overlain by rose petals, sweetness and maltiness giving a deliciously suppable yet surprisingly full-bodied beer, whilst the coffee porter was a lot better than I’d expected – I’d not had a good one until this point, all had been too harshly laden with coffee – with lots of roasted coffee-bean and espresso character combined with a surprisingly dry yet richly malty taste then a dry, roasted, coffee grains finish. I was beginning to think that we needed about a month in Denmark as a good percentage of the beers we’d had (discounting the Vesterbro brewpub’s pathetic efforts) had been exceedingly tasty and characterful – it certainly beat suffering glass after glass of boring pils in Germany!
Back to the bottles.
Eventually we tore ourselves away, but as we were leaving the sociable barman called me over and handed me a bottle of Raasted spring ale; I was amazed by the generosity of this gift and tried not to look ungrateful as this merely added to the huge stash of bottles we had to drink when we got back… waving goodbye to the sea of smiling, beer-loving faces – and reflecting that I’ve not experienced such a friendly and bacchanalian pub for a long time – we trotted off at maximum speed to the Cab-Inn to try and polish off as many bottles as we could from our extensive stash.
After a quick snack of surprisingly smelly cheese and soft, seed-laden bread we were ready for the onslaught of scoops. Roskilde Sommerbryg (3.5%) was first up and I didn’t expect a lot from a beer as strong as your everyday mild, but I’d underestimated the skills of Danish brewers yet again; a mid-brown beer with oodles of flavours for it’s modest strength, this brew had malt, bitterness, a complex fruitiness and a very interesting aftertaste with an amazing amount of taste for such a low-gravity beer and was surprisingly reminiscent of a light mild, albeit a touch too bitter.
Søgaards Pearl of India IPA (5.5%) came next and was a pretty respectable attempt at the style - albeit more in the UK than US mould - without a massive overdose of hops all through it’s character; a pale brew, it had a bitter, citrussy and dry flavour with a lasting bitter and lemon zest finish. Kobenhavn Brewpub Atlantic IPA (5.5%) fizzed open and was as unusual as the draught version in the brewpub had been; despite being “dry-hop conditioned” before bottling it wasn’t really what I’d call an IPA but more a good, strong, hoppy “best bitter” with lots of maltiness and a sticky, sappy hop character reminiscent of Fuggles.
Ølfabrikken Pale Ale (5.5% - spot a pattern here?!) followed and, as befitted one of our finds of the trip brewery-wise, was a well-made and bitter brew with a tangy citrus note and a very full, bitter and tasty finish. We moved quickly on to Svaneke Stout (5.7%) and I was impressed; a lovely mellow and roasty brew with lots of coffee and some subtle nutty sweetness coming through into the aftertaste, this was an excellent stout and had we not sampled the Cole Porter in brewpub Kobenhavn then this may have been beer of the evening for it’s unforced complexity without any harshness or excess of flavour, a perfect example of how a beer can be made tasty, complex and flavoursome without becoming unbalanced.
One final beer was managed, Raasted Brown Ale (5.5% - yes, again!) and this was a sociable, well-brewed malty, grainy, toasty brew with ample flavour and character all round. This still left six beers remaining but we couldn’t face any more and so I decided to drink some in the morning then we would attempt something we’d not done for quite a while - check a bag in for the return flight, with as many of the beers we had left packed into it – somehow!
Saturday 23rd June 2007.
Beer for breakfast.
After a lie-in (extended as it was absolutely pissing down!) to counteract our having been awake for over 24 hours the previous day, it was time to finish off our smelly cheese and bread from the night before as a makeshift breakfast along with some orange juice we’d judiciously bought for the purpose of post-beer refreshment, but for a moment I passed on that as I had more important things to consider – scooping some of our remaining bottles!
I opened a very peculiar bottle – Midtfyns Moulin Ale (5.2%) – which I didn’t think was a rebadged, imported Moulin beer but wasn’t totally convinced! A deep red/brown and earthy brew with a caramelly, bitter finish and a fair bit of Scottish beer character, this ale had none of the spurious smokiness most non-Scottish brewers assume Scots use in every beer although the bitterness (and strength) were perhaps a touch on the heavy side for a traditional 80 bob although the typical caramelly, toffeeish maltiness was there in force.
Amager Sundby Stout (6.2%) had a dark brown countenance with a rich, intense coffee/chocolate/malt flavour, all in all fairly straightforward yet well made and tasty, with an aftertaste of the same characteristics but with more intensity and also some bitterness to balance out the huge malt character. My final beer of the morning was a Norwegian brew from the famous Nøgne Ø micro, the intriguingly named Beyond the Pale (5.9%) that, according to the label on the back, boasted a whopping 70IBU bitterness units! A pale brew with a full grassy hoppiness, it was decent enough and certainly bitter yet not as harsh as I expected – maybe they used low alpha-acid hops rather than the rasping targets beloved of British brewers when they make a very bitter beer? Whichever way it had been made it was a suppable pale ale yet somehow failed to interest me that much despite being fairly bitter; maybe a beer needs more than just heaps of bittering hops to make it interesting?
With the remaining three bottles stashed in our rucksacks we embarked on another wander around Copenhagen and did the same move as we’d done on our previous visit by scooping a trip on the Netto Badene tourist boat (getting hellfire open top clag-beast “Netto 2” in the book!) before returning to the city centre for a wander in the improving weather. We were starving by this point and so indulged in a “China box” which is a little cardboard box filled with whatever you fancy (such as battered chicken or prawns plus rice and/or noodles and a choice of sauce) from the display – they were so nice we had 2 boxes each… well, when it’s only DKK25 you can afford to!
An unexpected scoop.
We spent some time watching the boats negotiate the amazingly tight corner at Nybrogade which necessitated the larger DFDS boats stopping and spinning around on their axis to clear the wall! A crack of thunder brought our boat spotting to a premature end and we slithered over the cobbles under the onslaught of a particularly heavy rainstorm into the first best-looking bar we found; the Søren Værtshus on Vandkunsten was a likeable place with a bar adorned with countless fonts including one dispensing Carlsberg special brews and another with Svaneke beers – well, I may as well have another beer, I reasoned – so that was that, it looked as if we were staying there for a while!
Svaneke Mork Guld was the very first Danish beer I’d had on our 2004 trip and I remembered it as a well-flavoured and interesting beer, plus the brewery being on an island close to Sweden made it all the more interesting! The beer I had was the standard Bornholmer Bryg Classic (4.6%) and I didn’t therefore expect much more than a simple thirst-quencher of it; once again I underestimated the skill of Danish brewers and the beer was a delicious golden brew with a curious nutty, malty flavour and a good deal of easy-drinking character making a very moreish brew indeed and I had to fight the idea to have another… I was also tempted with the Carlsberg brown ale but decided to leave that for our next visit!
The rain fell in heavy bursts as we made our way back to the station and thence the frequent and quick rail link to the airport. The journey back was relatively stress-free apart from our flight being 30 minutes late and not being allocated a gate until very late, but this was mitigated by the delicatessen airside selling six Carlsberg “Semper Ardens” beers in 66cl bottles; I wasn’t sure what these would be like but, deciding that we may as well have them seeing as they were relatively cheap and were staring us in the face, we bought all six and clinked off to the plane happy with our haul (they turned out to be astonishingly good, much better than I’d dreamed anything from Carlsberg could be!). The only blot on the horizon was the mind-numbing drive back from Stansted but, as we’d decided to try and fly from more local airport from now on, it was almost bearable… almost…
Denmark has come from nowhere ten years ago as a barren beer wasteland lorded over by a complacent Carlsberg to a thriving beer lover’s paradise today; the reasons for this dramatic conversion are complex but the main thing is that it’s there and all those who appreciate good beer should get themselves over there pronto. If you allow these new brewers a touch of leeway in producing the odd duff beer (I must point out I don’t mean Homer’s favourite beverage, just in case Fox sues me) and forget those who actually can’t brew anything remotely drinkable (Vesterbro and Fæergkroen in my experience) you have a veritable galaxy of interesting, tasty beers to explore in a huge variety of styles which is a huge relief if you’ve been suffering an overdose of drab faux-pils in Europe recently.
It helps, however, if you are a lover of the wolfbine as it seems many of the new micro’s beers are extremely hoppy by UK standards and they aren’t shy of using exotic varieties either. If you love stouts then, just as in Argentina, you’re in for a treat as the various strong stouts we sampled were universally excellent, albeit different, from the intense tongue-frazzling explosion of Kobenhavn’s Cole Porter to the mellow chocolatey delight of Svaneke’s offering. Likewise, lovers of proper IPA’s are in for a treat as the Danish seemingly love to copy America’s IIPA’s and use lots of citrussy hops in decently strong beer giving a delicious bitter bite, fresh hop smack and rich malty backbone; in short, most Danish beers are anything but boring!
If you’ve not been before the Copenhagen is probably the best start to the country as it has five brewpubs plus some cracking bars offering huge ranges of beers. One thing to remember is that, on our experience, the Danes can bottle beers properly (generally with sediment) and so buying bottles is as good an option as draught and as an extra bonus bottles are far cheaper in supermarkets (roughly half the price of beers in pubs) and you also get to keep the labels if you’re that way inclined! Add to this mix the superb Ølbuttiken beer shop that sells the best beer Denmark (and other countries) has to offer and you have a great source of “room beers” – if you get the time to drink them with the cracking pubs in the city!
I’d recommend anyone wanting to scoop some Danish beers to visit sooner rather than later as, despite the opening of breweries showing no sign of abating, at some point there may become a point where, as with the UK’s first flowering of micros 20 years ago, many will suddenly close due to overcapacity in the market… I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen, but there’s always the chance! Judging by the amount of bars selling micro-brewed beer – as well as a lot of “ordinary” bars too – this hopefully won’t happen but you never know, so best to go as soon as possible just in case and give them some support… then go again when my fears are unfounded!
Copenhagen is all you’d expect from a Scandinavian city; clean, relatively safe, well looked-after and a pleasure to visit – apart from the lack of trams! The people are friendly, helpful and speak English far better than most English people so there are no language problems, and the Danes seem to enjoy life (and beer) to the full without – at least, in my experience – most of the problems we have in the UK although that seems to be down to young people drinking concoctions of E-numbers and caffeine with predictable results. Although I’d not describe the city as cheap, it’s not as expensive as you might think if you drink in the locals’ bars and choose restaurants with care (or just eat China boxes!) and a weekend away can be had without breaking the bank too much as long as you’re canny.
If you want to sample a China box, head along Strøget and find our venue opposite Mikkel Bryggesgade - it's well worth a go.
Staying around there.
Hotels are plentiful in the city, although they are generally of a higher price than we like to pay, at around £80-£100 for a double room in a convenient location; we used one of the Cab-Inn hotels in the city (there are three) as, for the scooper looking for a simple bed and bathroom for the use of, they are perfectly acceptable. An additional benefit of Cab-Inn Scandinavia is it’s proximity to Ølbaren and Nørrebro bryghus which are two of the best beer destinations in the city although there’s a much bigger Cab-Inn right by central station if you want to be more central and don’t mind a bit of noise – plus the Scandinavia is quiet and relaxed (not that Copenhagen is a noisy city) and, if you’re lucky, wearing a t-shirt depicting an alternative punk band may get you a room upgrade!
Getting there and getting around there.
Copenhagen isn’t that easy to get too by cheap airlines being a business destination first and foremost; easyJet and Air Berlin go from Stansted whilst the untried Danish cheapie Sterling fly from Gatwick and East Midlands – apart from that it’s fuel surcharges all round on BA, SAS and the like – or you could always get a cheap flight to Germany and then take a train to Copenhagen; Hamburg (the largest German city without a tramway, by the way) is probably the best bet for this, fly there from Luton with easyJet, Manchester and Stansted with Air Berlin, Gatwick with Germanwings and Birmingham with FlyBE. You can also fly to Lübeck with Ryanair from Stansted which is a glorious Hanseatic city with a brewpub too and is well worth a look plus, as a bonus, it’s only 45 minutes on the train from Hamburg.
Another option is to fly with Ryanair to Malmo in Sweden (from Stansted) and then train it over the amazing new bridge/tunnel which (from the air at least) looks to be a marvel of construction and it’s on our list to scoop at some point! Yet another option is to fly to Jutland (the westernmost and largest island in Denmark) - Sterling fly to Aalborg from Gatwick, Ryanair go to Esbjerg and Århus from Stansted - and then train it across via the impressive bridge/tunnels that link the islands. Århus itself is worth a day or two and it has some decent beery attractions too – see our old 2004 report! You can also ferry it across to Esbjerg from Harwich with DFDS although note this is an overnight crossing (departs around 18:00) and it’s compulsory to reserve a cabin space… you may decide it’s less hassle (and probably cheaper) to fly (and that’s saying something these days!).
Copenhagen is rare amongst European cities as in it doesn’t have a tram system; it used to have one but the whole thing was sold in 1972 – apparently rails, vehicles and all – to Alexandria in Egypt where it still runs to this day. This particularly shortsighted and mildly dodgy decision robbed the city of a much-needed transport infrastructure that the replacement buses don’t really match and remains a serious hindrance for the city to this day. Copenhagen has recently inaugurated an underground system which goes some way to redress this problem but we still felt the city could do with a proper mass-transit system… although it’s not that big a place and is walkable, as long as it’s not raining like when we were there! Travel within Denmark is easy via the state rail system, isn’t that expensive and, as you’d expect for Scandinavia, is very efficient.
As I’ve said, the beer scene has gone mental in the last few years and the sheer number of beers available in staggering. With six brewpubs now in operation (albeit with one inside the Tivoli but their beers are rebadged by Vesterbro so there’s no need to pay to get in and including the Carlsberg Jacobsen’s micro in the visitor’s centre) and scores of micros in the surrounding area Copenhagen has come from literally nowhere to become one of Europe’s must-visit beer destinations with a buzzing and scoop-laden scene. Here I list the brewpubs followed by the bars and then, with too many brewers to list individually, I’ll follow that with the beer shop details and the beers we got from them.
Vesterbro Bryghus, Vesterbrogade 2B. ()
Head towards town from the station along Vesterbrogade and the brewpub is on the left close to the road junction with H C Andersens Blvd – just look for the rusty iron door!
One of a cluster of brewpubs around the railway station and Tivoli gardens with a very obvious brewplant at the front (by SALM of Vienna) and a strange rusty metal door surround, this pub is nice enough inside but the in-house beers were extremely poor. The two lagers are apparently the beers from Færgkroen rebadged…
The two Færgkroen lagers rebadged, maybe an IPA, and…
Færgkroen Bryghus, Tivoli Gardens, Vesterbrogade (70DKK entry, closes around 21:00).
This brewpub is physically inside the gardens and thus you need to either pay to get in or climb the fence! It can be seen from the road around the park
By the lake in the Tivoli gardens, this may seem a difficult brewpub to scoop without the requisite fence-scaling skills but don’t worry – the beers are rebadged in Vesterbro (the two lagers, apparently) and therefore you don’t need to splash out £7 extra to score them! And if you did, I reckon you’d feel very hard-done by as they weren’t good when we tried them…
Bryggeriet Apollo, Vesterbrogade 3 (by Tivoli main gate). ()
Outside Tivoli’s main gate, it looks like a cheapo PVC house extension – you can’t miss it!
Yet another brewpub by the station, this one opened in 1989 and is one of the oldest brewpubs in the region; when I visited in 1991 it produced just one beer but now seasonals appear too with 3 beers generally available. It’s mainly a restaurant although you can sit by the bar to scoop the beers, which are relatively expensive, and of “tourist quality” although better than Vesterbro! There are sister brewpubs in Århus and Herning on Jylland plus new ones in Odense and Greenland!
Apollo plus specials.
BrewPub København, Vestergade 29. ()
From the station, walk city-bound along Vesterbrogade past Apollo then Vesterbro, cross the busy H C Andersens Blvd and Vestergade is slightly to your left across the square. Walk along here for 50 metres and the brewpub is on your right.
A relatively new brewpub which looks as if it’s been there for quite a while! Features a terrace out the back and a cosy cellar bar with the brewery on your right as you enter. Tasting trays are available and there are usually at least six home-brewed beers on draught (plus one from cask) and generally a guest beer too. The staff know their stuff, the beers are very impressive (as long as you like strongly-flavoured brews) and overall it’s a superb place which I’ll definitely be going back to; the Cole Porter and Geromino IPA were rabidly good!
Nørrebro Bryghus, Rysegade 3. ()
Located in the trendy Rysegade area of the city, north of the lakes, and easy to find with a map plus it’s not that far from Ølbaren.
A conversion of an old factory which has been done reasonably well giving some industrial character although it’s more bar than pub downstairs and firmly a posh restaurant upstairs. The bar serves a huge range of home-brewed beers, sometimes over a dozen, although despite some interesting recipes they aren’t the most exciting beers in the world. We didn’t have time to visit on this trip owing to time constraints.
A fair way out of town in the west in Valby, reachable by train (to Enghave station) or bus.
I’ve not visited since the Jacobsen micro has been installed on-site so can’t really comment on that bit, but I remember the previous tasting bar was a monument to mundanity so it can’t be much worse; our request as to whether Carlsberg porter was available resulted in blank stares all round!
Bars / Pubs.
Lord Nelson, Hyskenstræde 9. ()
More or less in the middle of the old town, this cellar bar isn’t that easy to spot – look out for the pub sign above your head! See also the well-regarded Sankt Nikolai pub at Nikolajgade 18 close by.
A rather dingy and plain cellar bar which has a trump card up it’s sleeve – around a dozen Danish beers on tap! The selection changes quickly and there’s also the option to obtain a “tasting tray” of four 22cl glasses for around DKK50… scoop-licious!
Charlie’s Bar, Pilestræde 33. ()
Situated in a narrow lane just north of the centre, this pub has a fully opening front section and is correspondingly easy to find.
One of the places that started the current resurgence in proper beer in Denmark, Charlie’s has undergone at least one change of management since it’s glory days yet is still worth a peek on the way to Plan:B. It sports a bank of handpulls that generally dispense a range of staid UK beers accompanied by a list of home-grown brews which was probably superb a few years back but now needs to be revised. Still worth a look, and has a good atmosphere.
plan-b, Frederiksborggade 48. ()
Situated on the main road out of the city heading north, this little cafe isn’t that easy to spot if it’s sun awnings aren’t up – we walked right past it the first time! It’s on the right-hand side of the road not far from the bridge over the Peblingesø; look for the handpulls in the window!
A most unusual bar that has a distinct alternative edge to it yet manages to blend this with a relaxed sociability to give an unusual drinking experience. The strangest part must be the bank of handpulls in the window which dispense beer from the kegs below without any extraneous gas being used, and the extensive bottled beer list is a marvel in itself. Not your everyday cafe and certainly not an amazing building, but you’ll probably like it – we did.
Ølbaren, Elmegade 2. ()
Cross the Peblingesø and Elmegade is the 4th on the right with the bar a few metres along the road.
Superb little bar with a huge interest and enthusiasm for beer which manifests itself in the excellent beer list and choice of draught beers, not to mention the barstaff and customers! I’ve only been twice yet I rate this bar amongst the very best in Europe for both beer range and the experience of being there – go now; it’s one of the friendliest beer-loving pubs I’ve been to for years!
Pegasus, Mysundegade 28.
Not far from Ølbutikken; pass the church and you’re not far off.
Apparently has a decent beer selection, but we didn’t have the opportunity to find out as it was closed when we visited mid-afternoon.
Søren Værtshus, Vandkunsten 6. ()
In the old town area and reasonably easy to find.
A sociable, relaxed bar with a decent beer selection from Carlsberg (the special beers) and Svaneke plus some other unexplored bottles, this bar isn’t anything special yet is worth a quick half if you’re passing or trying to escape from some particularly nasty thundery rain…
Bornholmer Bryg Classic (4.6%) - I didn’t therefore expect much more than a simple thirst-quencher of it; once again I underestimated the skill of Danish brewers and the beer was a delicious golden brew with a curious nutty, malty flavour and a good deal of easy-drinking character making a very moreish brew indeed and I had to fight the idea to have another… ()
Vinstue ’90, Gammel Kongevej 90. ()
Again, close to Ølbutikken, and easy to find on the main road of Gammel Kongevej, on the right-hand side as you walk away from the centre.
A lovely old wood-panelled bar which serves, according to the slogans, “Slow beer”. This translates as Carlsberg from an urn-like contrivance with no dispensing gas although it’s the same beer albeit a little less gassy – still pasteurised and not really worthy of consideration. The bar also has some bottled beers including the very good Brøckhouse beers and is worth a visit to soak in the atmosphere and indulge in a bottle of stout! It’s basically en-route from Ølbutikken to the Cab-Inn Scandinavia so you may as well have a look…
Ølbutikken, Oehlenschlægersgade 2. ()
Follow Vesterbrogade away from the city centre and, after around ten minutes, you’ll come across Oehlenschlægersgade on your left. The shop is 50 metres down on the right.
This is one amazing shop! With inside dimensions not measuring much more than an average bedroom you’d be right not to expect too much – but that would be before you’d come here. The walls are filled with shelves holding shining examples of the brewer’s art from a variety of countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the UK, the US and more with scarcely a dodgy choice amongst the 100 or so choices there – and that’s some going! The range of lambics was particularly strong and all three Westvleteren beers were available, but it’s the Danish micros we were after and there was plenty of choice in that department. An all-round classic shop which doesn’t have many betters.
Barley Wine, Læderstræde 16. ()
On the pedestrianised (well, sort of, if you don’t count kamikaze cyclists) part of the old town, this beer shop is easy to find and it’s also close to the Lord Nelson.
We didn’t actually get inside the shop owing to our visits corresponding to closed periods, but the window display looked pretty decent including Wintercoat and other Danish micros plus a good range of glassware was noted too. It may be a touch expensive owing to it’s location but is worth a look.
Supermarket, Vesterbrogade. ()
Walk away from town along Vesterbrogade and after five minutes you’ll see this large supermarket on your left; the drink is in the basement with a separate display for microbrewers.
It’s cheap, has a decent range and is close to Ølbutikken too – plus you can stock up on all the essentials such as water, bread and cheese plus anything else that takes your fancy.
Beers and Bars of the Weekend.
If only weekends were three days long… or Friday/Saturday breaks, for that matter! I seriously underestimated the sheer quantity of beers now available in Copenhagen and wished we had at least an extra evening in town which means another trip is necessary as soon as possible. If we exclude the tourist-standard brewpubs around the station (although Apollo has improved since our last visit) the standard of beer in Denmark has come on amazingly and we enjoyed some absolute classic brews in some cracking bars despite reluctantly missing some out due to time constraints.
There’s enough in town for at least a long weekend and if you like characterful, richly-flavoured ales then you won’t go far wrong here. It’s a bit of a culture shock from countries such as Germany where the staid beer tradition has stagnated into pils, weiss, dunkel (if you’re lucky) and maybe a seasonal bokbier in 99% of towns and, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting brewing nations on the planet at this current moment; get yourself there and experience it...
Beers of the weekend (five rather than the usual 3 as we had so many good ones!)
Bars of the weekend.
Special mention must go to the superb Ølbutikken shop where huge care is obviously taken in the selection of beers – there was hardly a mediocre bottle anywhere in the building!
© Gazza 11/09/07. V1.0
|Faergekroen brewpub in Tivoli gardens
|Scooping in a supermarket...
|Scooping in Vesterbro
|Plant in Vesterbro
|Bar in Brewpub Kobenhavn with handpump!