Five years ago, Denmark was all international-style pale lagers with green labels in similar bottles. Little wonder: Copenhagen’s Carlsberg brewery is a landmark in brewing technology and history. Here, Jacob Christian Jacobson established Danish lager brewing in 1845, built upon yeast he (may have) smuggled from the brewing mecca of Munich. The lager tradition is hard to shake.
Now the country of aquavit, bitter and lager beer has 75 microbreweries. Nørrebro brewpub in Copenhagen’s central By (village) hosts guest-brews by people like Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Sam Calagione. They also have another brewery out of town for bottling.
Head brewer Anders Kissmeyer used to work for Carlsberg, but saw the light while judging beer in the United States. Now Nørrebro has ten different beers on tap at the same time. The design is modern: you can see the stainless tanks directly from the Scandinavian-styled two-floor restaurant and bar.
Nørrebro opened in September 2003, and it’s been a revolution since. They carry ten different brews all the time. Real Ale, India Pale Ale, New York Lager, and Honey Porter are the regulars.
“Anders got into anarchy in the U.S. We are very American-inspired, and don’t care for rules. It took us two years to get the investors together. A place like this didn’t exist in Denmark before. Apollo brewpub (next to the Tivoli Gardens) had a pilsner and a monthly special, but the food was very classical,” beer ambassador Kasper Larsen says.
Kasper is an anxious ex-homebrewer, and, yes, their brewing equipment does come from the U.S. So far Anders has brewed 35 different beers, and they have had about a dozen guest brews.
“Unlike the U.S. brewpubs, we want to put emphasis on the food,” Kasper notes.
Beer is featured in almost all the dishes on the menu. Foie gras crème brûlée is flavored with their New York Lager, fried turbot by Ravnsborg Rød, and chocolate fondant is lightened by elderflower sorbet and raspberries marinated in Furesø Framboise.
“This is something to die for with Roquefort cheese.” Kasper presents a two and a half year old bottle of Little Korkny Ale (12.25 % ABV). Together with the apricots and other dried fruits, the acidity is still refreshingly high in the beer.
Tonight will be busy as Denmark is hosting Sweden in the European soccer championship. The 150-seat brewpub has over 400 reservations. People start arriving in their Danish team shirts. Like Norway, Denmark is a booming economy.
“People spend more on food, wine and beer. Carlsberg started with their speciality beers, which opened people’s eyes. Celebrity chefs talked about beer. So why were there no speciality beer bars? The Beer Consumers Foundation started ten years ago and has 11,000 members. It’s the biggest in the world after CAMRA.”
“Only one of the new Danish breweries has closed so far. My guess is that after a few years only fifty will remain. So far everything sells. It’s a young market and people like to buy local beer.”
Most of the breweries are micros. There are about a dozen brewpubs in Denmark. Prices are premium: four or even eight times the price of a Carlsberg Pilsner. And people are willing to pay it. Not all that glitters is gold and not all the new microbrews are perfect, but, happily, there is much to celebrate.
One final note: Flying Dog has been flying in Denver, CO with their distinctive Ralph Steadman labels. Across the Atlantic, both Nøgne ø in Norway and Nørrebro in Denmark have state-of-the-art packaging. Nørrebro even came second in an international design awards competition. Gold went to iPod.
Based in Helsinki, Finland, Mikko Montonen writes on beer, wine, and gastronomy for Finnish and international audiences.