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.