Tastings School - Paradise city

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Paradise city

Zak Avery leads us on a beer tour of Copenhagen, Denmark's capital city.

Copenhagen is a city that, by rights, should be high on any beer-lover’s list of pilgrimages.

After all, it was here that Emil Hansen perfected his technique of single-cell yeast culturing, allowing Carlsberg (and everyone else) to produce perfectly crisp, clean beers time after time.

Additionally, the last 10 years has seen a microbrewing revolution in Denmark (and Scandinavia in general). And how can you dislike a country that has a specific word for a beer bought in a shop and drunk outside (“høker”)? On the down side, there’s no getting away from the fact that even though Denmark is one of the cheaper Scandinavian countries, Copenhagen is an expensive city to visit.

Nevertheless, it’s still a lot of fun, and very compact. You can walk across the centre in 15 minutes, should you wish to hurry straight from the station to postcardperfect Nyhavn. The local snack is a gourmet hot dog (“pølser”), usually served with dried onions and gherkins (it tastes much better than it sounds) for 20- 25 kroner. If you’re having a day on the hoof, they are a great way to refuel quickly and cheaply.

As a visitor to Copenhagen you will probably arrive by train, and the Tivoli will be the first thing you see. Nestled conveniently next to its main entrance, looking a little like an 80s shopping mall with its white-framed glass walls, is the Bryggeriet Apollo, a very enjoyable brewpub. As well as its regular beers, it has a rotating roster of special brews. On my visit, as well as its standard lager (golden, sweetish, with slight spiciness), I found a walnut ale (coppery, sweetish, but with a slightly tannic dryness) and a smoked IPA (dark, sweetish, with a subtle smokiness and too few hops to really be an IPA). It also offers a good range of food, and if you are willing to exchange your shoes for a pair of raffia slippers, you can clumsily pour expensive beer all over yourself from an oversized Kwakstyle glass.

North from here, at the top of Axeltorv square and opposite the eye-popping Palads cinema, is Zum Biergarten, easily spotted by its huge creeper-covered chimney outside. Zum Biergarten is, as the name suggests, a German-themed bar, with an airy interior and a huge outdoor seating area. If the weather is good, it would be easy to spend a summer evening here, lounging al fresco with draught and bottled German beers.

Also in the northern quarter of the city centre, Charlie’s Bar is one of those institutions that is impossible to resist.

Yes, it’s ludicrous to go to Copenhagen to visit a perfectly miniaturised version of a traditional English pub, but predictably, it doesn’t disappoint. You can, if you want to, buy Cask Marque-accredited British cask ale, or they have a good range of continental beers.

Also in the neighbourhood, Den Tatoverede Enke is tucked away in a large courtyard (Baren Boltens Gaard), serving a wide range of Belgian beers downstairs, and with a good restaurant upstairs.

South from here is the relatively new Copenhagen Brewpub. The range of beers is good, and it can offer a five-glass sampler, a civilised way to taste a large part of the range. It also does good, reasonably-priced bar food, and the shaded courtyard is a great spot for a long lunch. Don’t get too comfortable though, as there are more gems close by.

Along the chi-chi shopping street of Læderstræde are a couple of places that are definitely worth a detour. The Lord Nelson sounds as though it should be another English pub, but is actually a basement bar (look for the recruitment agency Danvikar – it’s below that) specialising in beers from small Danish breweries, and also a range of Danish ciders. It has its own beer made by Danish brewery Herslev. An IPA from the same brewery was alarmingly redolent of kumquats and orange squash; good, but a little eccentric. Just round the corner, the black-painted BarleyWine is a treasure trove of small-brewery beers from Denmark and abroad. Spoil yourself with some Mikkeller beers, Copenhagen’s most out-there microbrewery.

The Carlsberg brewery museum and visitors’ centre is east of the city, and you can walk to it in about 20 minutes. On the way, a slight detour will take in the smoky Vinstue 90 (also known as 90eren), a bar famous for serving Carlsberg lager under very light pressure. The 10 minutes it takes to pour a pint with a head like a snow-capped mountain peak is probably longer than it takes to drink it. The beer itself perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but the splendid feel of this local bar goes a long way to compensating for this.

A 20 minute walk north from the city centre, crossing between the lakes, brings you to the neighbourhood of Norrebro.

The Norrebro Bryghus more than justifies a trip out to this district – in fact, it almost justifies a visit to Copenhagen on its own.

Housed in an old brick-built factory, this is an upscale brewpub and eatery with commendably high ambitions. Everything from the simple but iconic labelling on the bottles and pumpclips, to the excellent food served in the bar and upstairs restaurant, suggests a classy operation.

The beers don’t disappoint either, with its own large range available on draught and in bottle, plus a supplementary selection from the rest of the world.

I tried the Ceske Bohmer (a pale, delicate, helles-style lager), Ravensberg Rod (nutty, spicy and bittersweet), and Pacific Pale Ale (unsurprisingly, an American-style pale ale). You can eat in the upstairs restaurant, or downstairs in the bar. Don’t be fooled by the modest descriptions of the bar food; a “beef sandwich” was actually an excellent pink fillet steak served as an open sandwich; a “plate of meats” was a feast of cured meats and cheeses. Whether you sit upstairs or down, the brewery is open to view, occupying the full height of one end of the building.

Close by, and easily identifiable from the red neon “ØL” (“BEER”) sign, Ølbaren is a smoky, slightly odd bar with large plate-glass windows. It looks and feels for all the world like a disused shop that has been taken over by a group of students with a penchant for fine beers. The selection is good, with local Danish breweries in evidence, and a comprehensive range of international beers. A short stroll back over the lakes brings you to the equally unassuming Plan B, a café-style bar that on first glance fails to impress. Persist though, because squirrelled away there is a huge range of bottled treasures from Scandinavia and beyond.

Perhaps these two compact bars are a microcosm of Copenhagen itself. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal going on, but if you dig a little deeper, and are prepared to put in a bit of legwork, the liquid rewards are there for the taking. All that, and a pølser stand every 100 metres. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Festivals Happily, my visit coincided with the inaugural European Beer Festival, organised by the Danske Ølentusiaster (Danish Beer Enthusiasts). It’s an engaging mixture of macro and microbreweries, trade and public attendees.

Svaneke is a Danish brewery whose bottles bear a label in the shape of the island of Bornholm. The head brewer explained that the Danes have such a strong emotional attachment to this idyllic isle that (and I quote) “you could stick a picture of Bornholm on a piece of shit, and they would still buy it.” He was doing his beers a disservice with this piece of information, but gained more, err, brownie points by eschewing his stronger beers and nominating his Sejlor Øl (Sailor Beer) as his favourite; a pale but surprisingly flavourpacked 3% ABV beer with plenty of hops and a little champagne yeast influence.

Continuing the scatalogical tone, the Mikkeller brewery produced a deluxe caskconditioned version of its Beer Geek Breakfast, brewed with civet-passed coffee beans. The resulting Beer Geek Breakfast Pooh Coffee Cask Festival Edition had a delicious deep-roasted mocha sweetness and surprisingly resinous hop presence for such a dark beer. And further demonstration of the ubiquity of spoken English in Scandinavia came from the brewer of the Narke brewery. Looking like a 60 year old Viking biker, he patiently explained the intricacies of single-varietal hopping in their Amarillo beer in perfect technical English. Copenhagen rocks.

Info
BARS
BRYGGERIET APOLLO
Vesterbrogade 3, 1620 Copenhagen
Website: www.bryggeriet.dk/apollo
ZUM BIERGARTEN
Axeltorv 12, 1609 Copenhagen
Website: www.zumbiergarten.dk
CHARLIE’S BAR
Pilestræde 33, 1112 Copenhagen
Website: www.charlies.dk
DEN TATOVEREDE ENKE
Baron Boltens Gaard, Gothersgade 8B,
1123 Copenhagen
Website: www.dentatoveredeenke.dk
BREWPUB COPENHAGEN
Vestergade 29, 1456 Copenhagen
Website: www.brewpub.dk
LORD NELSON
Hyskenstræde 9,1207 Copenhagen
Website: www.lordnelson.dk
VINSTUE 90 (90EREN)
Gammel Kongevej 90, 1850 Copenhagen
ØLBAREN
Elmegade 2, 2200 Copenhagen
Website: www.oelbaren.dk
PLAN B
Frederiksborggade 48, 1360 Copenhagen
Website: www.cafeplanb.dk
BEER AND FOOD
NORREBRO BRYGHUS
Ryesgade 3, 2100 Copenhagen
Website: www.noerrebrobryghus.dk
SHOPS
BARLEYWINE
Læderstræde 16, 1201 Copenhagen
Website: www.barleywine.dk