Land of Lager
Denmark may be a land of lager, but paradoxically it’s also the land from which the word “ale” made its way into the English language. The route was explained by Niels Buchwald, the head brewer for Ceres, a brewery located in Denmark’s second largest city, Århus.
The Danes (along with their cousins, the Norwegians) were the globe-trotting conquerors from the 700s through the first century of the second millennium. The Viking word for bitter was “aul(t).” As the Vikings successfully, and repeatedly, conquered coastal towns in the British Isles, the letter “t” was eventually dropped from this Viking word and “ale” came into being. On a similar linguistic note, the modern-day Danish word for beer is “øl.”
All this, of course, is nothing more than a diversion from the opening statement: Denmark may be a land of lager. And lager drinkers command the overwhelming majority of Danish beer drinkers. Soon after the lager revolution that began in the 1840s way down south in Munich, Vienna and Pilsen, the Danes, like beer drinkers over most of Europe, turned away in droves from their traditional beers—dark ales and weak table beers—and readily embraced the clear, golden lagers developed abroad.
The 1850s and 1860s saw a burst in brewery openings in Denmark, all concentrating on lager production. The most famous story of them all, a story that goes down in the annals of Great Brewing History, involves Denmark’s most internationally famous brewery, Carlsberg.
Jacob Christian Jacobsen, born in 1811, followed his father into the brewing business in Copenhagen. JC, as he became known later in life, also shared his father’s interest in scientific brewing matters. When JC heard of the new lager beer experiments being undertaken by German, Austrian and Czech brewers, he set off in the pursuit of higher brewing knowledge. He became a student of Gabriel Sedlmayr II, the famed owner and master brewer of Munich’s Spaten Brewery.
Sedlmayer, along with his friend and rival, Anton Dreher of Vienna, were the pioneers in developing lagers in the 1840s. From The Book of Carlsberg, it’s written that JC “managed to secure two pots of yeast from Brewer Sedlmayr.” Two pots of the new lager yeast were indeed a fine thing for JC to obtain.
But he was in Munich at the time and he wanted to brew with this yeast in Copenhagen, a not-so-mere 600 miles north. JC was in a tough spot. How could he transport a perishable, living food product such as yeast, a product that needed to be kept constantly cool, all the way home? It was 1845. Refrigeration was still some years off in the future. The story told by Carlsberg is that JC placed the pots of yeast under his stovepipe hat during that several-weeks-long stagecoach ride home, cooling the pots with water from streams at every coach stop.
Once home, JC brewed his first batch of lager using his mother’s washtub as a fermenter and lagering vessel. JC’s lager was a success. He next brewed a larger, professional batch that became the first commercial bottom-fermented Danish lager.
JC was given a royal license to lager his beer in the cellars under the Copenhagen city ramparts. He soon established a new brewery just outside the old city gates in an area called Valby. There was good water in Valby and also a new railway line for bringing in supplies and shipping out beer. Just as important to a lager brewer, Valby contained the one and only hill of any size in the otherwise flat, greater Copenhagen area. JC knew that he could dig cellars into this hill (called a “berg” in Danish), in which he could age his beers. JC named the new brewery after his son, Carl, who was five years old at the time. Thus in 1847 the new brewery was named Carlsberg—Carl’s hill.
Carlsberg, along with its totally owned subsidiaries, Tuborg and Wiibroe, today remains the largest brewer and seller of beer in Denmark, with a 70 percent market share. Carlsberg is also the seventh largest brewing group in the world. But as large as Carlsberg is in its home territory, it does have a few competitors.
Location and History
Denmark is a nation of 405 islands (many uninhabited) surrounded by the Baltic Sea on the east and the North Sea on the west. The largest and main island, Sealand, where Copenhagen is located, lies in the easternmost part of the country. At 16,630 square miles, Denmark is the smallest country in northern Europe, and with a population of 5.3 million, Denmark is the most densely populated nation in northern Europe.
The Viking story, is, of course, the first big chapter of Denmark’s history. After the Viking era, Denmark followed the usual path of European countries, consolidating as a nation-state under a monarchy, gathering territory, and fighting what reads like an endless succession of small and large wars with its neighbors. Eventually, by the early 1600s, Denmark was a major power in northern Europe, with Danish territory extending east to Baltic lands, a large chunk of southern Sweden, all of Norway, parts of modern-day Germany and the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland in the North Atlantic. Then the tide turned.
To be brief, Denmark lost a major war with Sweden and in 1645 forfeited all Swedish possessions. Danish territory was immediately reduced by one-third and the population by 200,000. In 1814, after Denmark had sided with France during the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark lost Norway, which gained its independence. In 1864, Denmark lost another third of its territory, the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in southern Jutland, to Austria and Prussia. Two hundred thousand Danes were left south of the new border, but the northern half of this territory returned to Denmark after a plebiscite in 1920. In 1944, Iceland declared its independence from Denmark.
So what does all this history have to do with Danish beer? As with all things Danish, it sets the stage for the Danish national psychology at the middle of the 1800s. From being a regional superpower, and descendants of the all-powerful Vikings, Denmark was now a tiny European country with a small and remarkably homogeneous population. National regeneration began with the motto, “Outward losses must be compensated by inward gains.” Moorland was reclaimed, a cooperative movement caused a shift from agricultural farming to livestock farming. Social Democrats entered the government and steadily increased their numbers. The very beginnings of the liberal welfare state, modern Denmark, were formed.
Advances in Brewing Technology
It was also in the mid- to late-1800s that industrialization began in earnest in Denmark. Breweries were a part of this process. The Danes became avid and technologically adept brewers, leaders in all advancements in the brewing sciences. JC Jacobsen remained an innovator in brewing his entire life. He set up Carlsberg Laboratories in 1875 and dedicated the labs to brewing research, as well as research in national scientific endeavors.
The single most important achievement in the history of brewing occurred in 1883. That was the year in which Emil Hansen, a young scientist hired by JC to work in Carlsberg Laboratories, isolated and cultivated the first pure-culture, single-cell yeast strain for brewing. Working with Tuborg and then Carlsberg beers, Hansen found several “bad” yeasts in the beers that were causing problems of unpleasant aromas and bitter flavors. Hansen’s achievement was so monumentally important to lager and ale brewers worldwide that the yeast strain he developed was scientifically classified as Saccharomyces carslbergensis. That name remains to this day.
Danish Brewing Today
Carlsberg may be the giant in Danish brewing, but other breweries do exist and survive, mostly in small local or regional markets. Counting Carlsberg’s three distinct brands (Tuborg and Wiibroe being the other two), there are currently 16 breweries in Denmark (as a comparison, at the beginning of the 1900s there were about 400), two on the Faroe Islands, and four brewpubs.
The Danish Beer Group is the corporate name of the breweries Albani (Funen), Ceres (Jutland), Faxe (Sealand), Maribo (Lolland, a small island south of Sealand) and Thor (Jutland). Harboe is in southern Sealand and Brøckhouse in the northern part of the island. Ørbæk, Refsvindinge and Vestfyen are on Funen. Fuglsang is in southern Jutland, and Hancock and Thisted in the north. Föroya Bjór and Restorffs are the breweries on the Faroe Islands. The Aage Damgaard restaurant group has three brewpubs: Apollo (Copenhagen, Sealand), Sct. Clemens (Århus, the east coast of mid-Jutland) and Herning (Herning, mid-Jutland). A fourth brewpub, Svaneke, is located in the tiny town of Svaneke on the small island of Bornholm, located about 100 miles east of Sealand in the Baltic Sea (the easternmost land left to Denmark after the many dispossessions).
Brøckhouse, a microbrewery located in 46-year-old brewer Allan Poulsen’s basement in the suburban town of Hillerød, north of Copenhagen, is one of the newest Danish breweries. Poulsen is a homebrewer turned pro. He still works four days a week in Copenhagen as an information technology consultant.
Starting with a homemade 40-liter homebrew system five years ago, Poulsen upgraded to a 500-liter batch commercial system last year. He specializes in brewing top-fermenting ales, the first Danish brewery to do so since the mid-1800s. He buys his malts and hops from Danish, British, German, Belgian and American suppliers. His yeast comes from Wyeast Labs in Mt. Hood, OR. The Brøckhouse beers, first sold commercially in December 2001, are draft only, except for a few special hand-filled 1-liter and 3-liter bottles. The first two Brøckhouse beers available for tasting in May of this year at the Danish Beer Festival in Copenhagen were IPA (hoppy in the American style with Cascade hops in the finish) and Wit (fresh, bright and lovely, perfectly capturing the classic Belgian-style wheat beer). Poulsen said a barley wine was conditioning in the tanks for a later release.
Brøckhouse beers were selling last spring in several cafés in Copenhagen and one in Odense, the largest city on Funen.
The Ørbæk Brewery, located in the village of Ørbæk on Funen, will be the newest Danish micro when it opens in late 2002. Located in an old brewery and maltery established in 1906, Ørbæk will concentrate in brewing organic beers. The owner, who also owns a natural foods store in Århus, has been producing organic sodas in the Ørbæk site for several years. He hired 38-year-old Jørgen Sonne as head brewer.
Sonne, an accomplished homebrewer for eight years, is a former blacksmith and mechanical engineer. He studied brewing at BrewLab at Sunderland University in the United Kingdom and apprenticed at the Border Brewery, also in the UK. He describes working at Ørbæk his “dream job.” Speaking of Sonne, Torben Steenberg, a member of the Danish beer consumer organization Danske Ølentusiaster (Danish Beer Enthusiasts), said, “We have high hopes for this fellow.”
The first beers expected from Ørbæk will be Classic (a pils), Ale (Trappist style), Half and Half (dark lager/bock blend) and Weissbier (unfiltered with 60 percent wheat malt.)
The next village over from Ørbæk is Refsvindinge (unpronounceable by most Danes, not to mention other nationalities), where in 1885 Hans Poul Rasmussen established a maltery. Today, the fourth generation Rasmussen, John Juul, operates the Refsvindinge Brewery and Maltery, a true farmhouse brewery, with the home up front and the brewing barns out back.
John Rasmussen learned brewing from his father who learned it from his father who learned it from Hans Poul. This is old-fashioned Danish family brewing. The equipment may look old, primitive and beat up, but at Refsvindinge, traditional methods and equipment work fine. Rasmussen brews lagers and ales, his ales being the only Danish-brewed ones until Brøckhouse and Carlsberg produced ales in the last few years.
In the old days, Refsvindinge produced Hvidtøl (white beer; a popular beer produced by many Danish breweries, which was actually a dark, top-fermented sweet ale) and in later years was a distributor for Carlsberg. When a new Carlsberg sales manager in the 1970s suggested that perhaps they should stop making their own beer if they wanted to continue selling Carlsberg, the Rasmussen in charge at the time made an easy decision—drop Carlsberg and brew their own beers.
Today, these beers include Pilsner (typical Danish pilsner character, just a bit bigger all around), Hvid Guld (White Gold; a slightly stronger lager), Ægte Fynske A-Z Ale No. 16 (Genuine Funen; the brewery’s biggest seller and the only ale brewed in Denmark for many years; copper brown, all-malt, sweet, caramel- and treacle-like, roasty and complex), Brygmesterens Egen Pils (Brewmaster’s Own Pils; a sweet, amber pilsner), Påske Bryg (Easter Brew; a pilsner). The brewery produces two children’s beers, a Danish holiday tradition: Lys Bjørneøl (Light Bear Beer; a 2.4% pilsner) and Mørk Hvidtøl (the incongruously named Dark White Beer; a 2.4% incredibly sweet, dark ale).
Two specialties of Refsvindinge deserve special mention. From the old, old days, Refsvindinge brews something called Skibsøl (Ship’s Beer), re-introduced in Denmark by Refsvindinge in 1994.This beer is brewed with malts smoked in Refsvindinge’s own maltery. In times past, Danish sailors thought that raw, smoky, roasted malt preserved beer for long sea journeys. No highly-hopped, strong IPAs for Danish seamen. Skibsøl, bottom fermented, is dark, raw, and tastes a little like rope and tar.
A beer brewed especially for the Danish Beer Festival last May was Enkens Anden Lyst, Ægte Fynsk Hvedøl (Widow’s Second Desire, Genuine Funen Wheat Beer.) Brewed in the Belgian style, with help from homebrewer Niels Thomsen of the Hand Brewers Guild in Århus, Enkens Anden Lyst was the result of a bet placed between the previously mentioned Torben Steenberg and John Rasmussen in early 2001 as to whether Rasmussen could come up with a new beer before the May beer festival. Rasmussen won the bet with a beer brewed with unmalted wheat, oats and pilsner malt, Hallertau Perle and Saaz hops, bitter orange peel, coriander, just a bit of cumin and Belgian ale yeast. The finished beer, brewed on Easter Saturday, March 2002, is cloudy gold, highly phenolic, tart and clove-like and dry in the finish. It’s unfiltered, non-pasteurized and bottle conditioned. And quite distinctive.
An independent Danish brewery in Haderslev, in the province of South Jutland, is Fuglsang. This is territory lost to Austria and Prussia in 1864 and returned to Denmark in 1920. Owned by four members of the fifth generation of the Fuglsang family, the brewery, founded in 1865, is also a maltery, the third largest in Denmark after those owned by Carlsberg. The brewery and maltery, buildings that range in age from 1800s vintage to modern, are spread out over a large area across the street from Haderslev Pond (more the size of a lake). In times past, blocks of ice were carved out of the frozen pond to lager the Fuglsang beers.
Fuglsang beers are sold nearly exclusively in the local area. The rest of Denmark considers these beers “foreign.” Fuglsang beers also sell extremely well just 50 miles south, at the German border, where they are cheaper to purchase than in Denmark because of Denmark’s high tax rate on alcohol.
Danish beer enthusiasts call their favorite German beer shops on the border their “beer pushers.” Foreign, as well as Danish, beers are “imported” by consumers into Denmark. In Jutland, this figure may be as high as 50%.
The Fuglsang maltery produces a light pilsner malt and an amber Munich malt from two-row Danish spring barley. The Danes are major barley growers. Each day, 150 tons of barley enter the Fuglsang gates and are cleaned, germinated, dried and finally placed in four giant kilns. The brew house produces lagers in the Danish tradition, with Fuglsang malts and starch adjuncts. These are not hoppy beers, as most Danish beers are not. Fuglsang beers include Pilsner (sweet and dry), Black Bird (an amber lager, also sweetish and dry) and Bock Øl (a strong bock).
The Hancock Brewery in Skive, in northeast Jutland, sits at the south end of one of Denmark’s tangle of fjords. The family name of the owners is Strange Nielsen. Hancock comes from the name of the wife of a Hancock export manager in the 1960s. A current executive at the brewery, Jørg Jensen, explained that the English-sounding name was thought at the time to be preferable to Strange Nielsen for export purposes. (In Danish, however, Strange is pronounced with a silent “g,” and it doesn’t sound anything like the English word “strange.”) As it is, Hancock’s beers are almost exclusively domestic in sales.
The company was started in 1876 as the Thordal (Valley of Thor) Brewery to produce Danish hvidtøl and mineral water. The Strange Nielsens took over the brewery in 1913, and the third generation of the family now runs the business, currently located in a large block of a modern building on a rare Danish hill overlooking the town of Skive.
Hancock prides itself on using only Saaz hops from the Czech Republic, the hops made famous in Czech pilsners. The word “Saaz” appears on many Hancock labels. Most of the brewery’s beers are lagered a full six weeks, giving them great depth of flavors. Others are lagered far longer. Høker Bajer (Shopkeeper’s Bavarian) is a standard pilsner, pale gold, soft and sweetish. Hancock Beer, its label in English, is a stronger (6.5 percent) pilsner, bright gold, sweet, with good body and some hop character that is rare in a Danish pilsner.
The specialties of Hancock are its strong lagers. Jule Bryg (Christmas Brew) is lagered for one year and emerges at 10.6 percent. Påske Bryg (Easter Brew) is also 10.6 percent. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (again, written in English) drops to a mere 6.5 percent and is lagered for four months.
The highlights of a Hancock tasting are Old Gambrinus Beer, Light and Old Gambrinus Beer, Dark, both aged for at least six months. Don’t be fooled by the word “light” on the first beer’s name. Old Gambrinus Light is a 9.8 percent blonde lager with powerful aromas of malt sweetness and alcohol and a rich, full bodied, malty sweet flavor that finishes slightly dry. Old Gambrinus Dark is also 9.8 percent, sometimes higher, deep amber in color, also sweet and alcoholic in the aroma, and full, rich, malty, chewy, alcoholic and eminently satisfying in its flavor. Before World War II and anti-German feelings (Denmark was neutral at the outbreak of the war, but brutally and harshly occupied by the Germans), this beer was called Munchner Øl (Munich Beer).
Traveling northwest from Skive across the island of Mors and then back onto the mainland, one reaches the town of Thisted, located on the northern shore of the Limfjord. Just 15 miles or so north of Thisted is the North Sea. The town is home to the Thisted Brewhouse, a cooperative independent brewery founded in 1899 by local citizens and the province of Thy. The brewery went bankrupt not long after its inception but was re-established in 1902. It remains to this day a private stock company of 1,800 local residents and 200 former residents. Outsiders need not apply for shares. When a shareholder dies, the shares are passed on to children. The last Saturday of each January is a General Assembly for all shareholders. Business is most likely discussed, but the party goes on until at least 5:00 the next morning.
The Thisted Brewery complex is a series of brick buildings in a courtyard setting. The clear blue waters of the fjord can be seen behind the buildings and through the courtyard. The managing director and brewmaster at Thisted since 1981 is Peter Klemensen, formerly a brewer for seven years at Carlsberg and four years at Vestfyen. Klemensen said, “The secret of special beers is to find the balance between the drinkable and the pleasurable and the sociable,” and, “You can’t cheat nature. You must lager like in old days.” As he was taught as a young brewer by his mentor, he believes that “the role of a brewmaster is 1) not to taste beers before 11:00 a.m. and 2) not to drink before noon.”
Thisted brews traditional lagers that use 18 percent corn adjuncts, but specializes in all-malt organic lagers. Fifty-year-old iron mash and lauter tuns are still in use, and the Thisted malt mill was sparkling new at Carlsberg in 1902. Klemensen employs a method of lager brewing called triple decoction brewing, which produces full, deep grain flavors. He uses German and British hops, but never Saaz hops, which he dislikes. A Carlsberg yeast strain ferments all his beers.
Thy Pilsner is a traditional-tasting gold, sweet pils. Thy Classic is an amber, caramel-like, medium-bodied pils. Økologisk Classic (Organic), Denmark’s first organic beer, is an amber, medium-bodied pils that tastes sweet and finishes dry. Thy Økologisk Humle (Organic Hops) is gold, medium bodied and less malty than Økologisk Classic, with a slightly more pronounced hop character. Porse Guld (Bog Myrtle Gold) is earthy in the aroma from the bog myrtle, gold in color, sweet in its flavor and dry in the finish. Årgangsbryg (Once a Year Brew) is a celebratory beer for Thisted’s 100th anniversary. The gold pilsner has a fruity aroma (bananas, maybe strawberries), a medium malt sweetness, medium body and finishes dry.
Økologisk Porter is a strong (7.9 percent ), dark bottom-fermented beer that is rich in coffee-like, roasted grains in the aroma and taste. This beer is full-bodied and sweet. Limfjords Porter (also known as Porter/Stout Specialøl and Double Brown Stout) is another 7.9 percent lager, black as can be, smoky and roasty in aroma and full of roasted malt, caramel malt and smoked malt flavors. Especially smoked malt flavors.
Klemensen buys his smoked malt from Refsvindinge. This is a lovely beer—rich, full bodied and deeply satisfying. Thisted also brews Økologisk Stout (again, a lager). The porter and stout are beers originally brewed at the Urban Brewery in northeastern Jutland. When this brewery closed some years ago, Klemensen bought the brands.
The Danish Brewery Group
The Danish Brewery Group became Denmark’s second largest brewer when it absorbed six previously independent Danish breweries (Faxe, Ceres, Thor, Albani and Maribo) and several foreign breweries (Cains in the UK; Kalnapilis and Tauras in Lithuania) and beer-related holdings in other European countries. The Brewery Group holds a 15-20 percent market share of all Danish beer sold and exports 85 percent of its beers to 65 countries around the world.
Faxe is the only Brewery Group brand sold nationally throughout Denmark, concentrating on sales of its flagship, Faxe Pils, a 4.6 percent lager made with 10-20 percent maize grits. This is a sweet, pale, light-bodied lager, designed for drinkability. Like all mainstream Danish lagers from the largest to the smallest brewery, there is no intent to present any hop bitterness or aroma. And like all mainstream Danish lagers, this one finishes quite dry. For something a bit heartier, Faxe produces Frühlingsbock (Season’s Bock), a 7.7 percent, all-malt lager, amber in color, sweet in aroma, with a rich, malty sweet flavor.
Ceres, the number two brewery in The Brewery Group line, brews standard and export pilsners, but concentrates on its Ceres Royal line, sold extensively (50 percent market share) on the German side of the Danish-German border and in Italy, a huge Ceres market. (Ceres is sold in 300,000 of 340,000 Italian beer outlets.) Many of the beers in the Ceres Royal Selection are 6.5 percent to 7.7 percent lagers, such as Ceres Red Erik and Ceres Royal Stout.
Carlsberg, Tuborg and Wiibroe
Besides the internationally known Carlsberg and Tuborg pilsners, the brewing group also brews some special beers never seen in the United States. Tuborg Classic Hvede (Classic Wheat) debuted in April 2002 as the brewery’s first wheat beer, available only in bottles. Classic Hvede’s Bavarian-style yeast strain emerged after Carlsberg brewers experimented for two years with 40 different yeasts. The beer is unfiltered and exhibits the classic Bavarian wheat beer characteristics of clove-like and bubblegum aromas and flavors and a sharp, fresh tartness.
Carlsberg Hvede, similar to Tuborg Classic Hvede, came out in the fall of 2001 as a draft-only beer. Carls Special, introduced in 1997, is a Munich-style amber lager, richly sweet with malt and caramel aromas and flavors, deep copper in color and full bodied. The beer was a People’s Choice winner when Carlsberg test-marketed six-packs of six experimental new beers.
Carlsberg Elephant Beer, occasionally available in North America, was introduced in the 1950s to celebrate Winston Churchill’s visit to Denmark. It’s a big, rich, gold, warmly alcoholic (7.2 percent) lager with a powerful malt sweetness in the flavor. Carlsberg Imperial Stout, also known as Gammle (Old) Carlsberg Porter, debuted in 1985. This 7.8 percent lager has a toasty, roasty, coffee-like aroma, is jet black with a tan head, and tastes like it smells, of highly roasted grains. The beer is full bodied, chewy, alcoholic and rich, and has flavors of dark fruit.
Other Carlsberg specials include Påskebryg (Easter Brew), usually around 7 to 8 percent, Julebryg (Christmas Brew), approximately 5.5 percent; and Master Brew, a barley wine-style beer that’s the strongest beer in the Carlsberg portfolio, at 10.5 percent.
A project dear to the hearts of Carlsberg’s Group Innovation Department, especially so to Torsten Steenholt, a master brewer and the manager of this experimental brewing unit, is the Semper Ardens project. Semper Ardens, one of JC Jacobsen’s slogans, is Latin for “Always Burning.” The phrase is meant to signify the passion that should always burn in the soul of the brewmaster.
A 10-hectoliter pilot brewery and a smaller 100-liter brewery set up in the old underground cellars at Carlsberg have produced four Semper Ardens beers since 1999. The idea for these beers came from the ground up in the technical brewing group, not top down from the marketing department. In the Spring of 2000, Carlsberg released 3,000 hand-filled, hand-labeled, 700-ml bottles of Semper Ardens Abbey Ale, followed every three months by a similar 3,000 bottles of Semper Ardens Bock (with bog myrtle and rowanberries), Criollo Stout (a chocolate stout), Cerise (a cherry lager) and Weisse (a wheat beer brewed with the juice of freshly squeezed Brambly apples). These bottles were only sold to 30 top-rated restaurants in Denmark. Each restaurant was allowed 100 bottles.
Wiibroe, a brewery founded in 1840 in Helsinør (Elsinore to English-speaking fans of Hamlet), has produced Årgansøl (Yearly Beer) each year since 1989 as a barley wine-style beer at 10.6 percent. The beer is rich amber, smells of alcohol and malt sweetness, and tastes sharply rich, creamy and warm from the alcohol and finishes dry and hot. This is a big beer. Also from Wiibroe are a standard Pilsner, Guld (Gold), an export lager, Classic (an all-malt pilsner) and one named Imperial Stout/Porter, an 8.2 percent beer.
Danske Ølentusiaster/Danish Beer Enthusiasts
The independent breweries in Denmark carry on the heritage of brewing traditional pilsners and special lagers, such as low alcohol children’s beers, high alcohol Easter and Christmas beers and unique beers such as Limfjords Porter and Skibsøl. These are not always easy to find, however, being primarily locally distributed.
A growing number of Danes have begun demanding special beers from other countries, especially Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. To this end, a consumer group of beer lovers and homebrewers joined forces in September 1998 to form Danske Ølentusiaster. This group is today the second largest beer consumer organization in Europe with more than 4,000 members. Only the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in England is larger.
For two years, beginning in 2001, Danske Ølentusiaster has produced the Ølfestival (Beer Festival) in Copenhagen. The three-day festival held last May attracted as exhibitors every brewery in Denmark except for one, several Swedish breweries, beer importers, special beer bars and cafés, beer shops, and homebrew guilds. One hundred sixty volunteers, headed by a phenomenally well-organized and efficient Danske Ølentusiaster staff, helped 5,343 attendees enjoy over 450 beers they would probably never get a chance to try at their local bar or café. A major goal of Danske Ølentusiaster is to fight for the right of Danish consumers to buy and drink a great range of beers, both Danish and imported.
The Danes are well on their way to experiencing the beer revolution that took place elsewhere over the past two decades. As Marttin Stuart Nielsen of Danske Ølentusiaster wrote in the foreword to the Ølfestival program, “This creates unutterable joy for the Danske Ølentusiaster and it confirms that the Danish now show beer the respect and interest it deserves with the millennium-long brew tradition we have in Denmark.”
Special thanks goes to the Danish Tourist Board, Carlsberg Breweries and all 4,000+ members of Danske Ølentusiaster, especially Søren Houmøller, Torben Steenberg, Ole Madsen and Marttin Stuart Nielsen. An extra special thanks goes to Kirsten Mejnholt for her invaluable help with translations.
Gregg Glaser is news editor for All About Beer Magazine.