Holland? Isn’t that the capital of Copenhagen?” This stupid question rises to my mind. It was asked on my first trip to North America years ago when I told someone I was from Holland. And for those who still wonder if this is true: no it isn’t! Holland is a country on its own and Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, the country I recently visited. But the question is an example of how misunderstood this small country is in our beer scene as well. Denmark is in fact a peninsula connected to Germany - its only land neighbor – plus a few larger islands and many small ones. But you can find all that and more on wikipedia.org if you’d like.
We started our Danish trip while crossing the border near the German city of Flensburg on Monday morning. We left the highway soon to visit the tiny village of Bylderup-Bov with of course our first Danish brewery. Hard to find, as we didn’t have any address but the first farmer we asked immediately knew where to go. He did however give us some doubt, as his responding question was “Is there anything going on already?” And there wasn’t. No problem, what’s next on our list? Sadly enough that first day we weren’t very lucky. In one town they were still busy laying the foundation of the building where the brewery was to be established. But I don’t blame the Danes for that. I blame it to the other highway, the Internet. The list of breweries I had was a compilation of several lists I found on the Internet. And the Internet was just too damn fast.
Many Danes invited us to visit them when in Denmark after I opened a topic in the Europe forum. But which road we would take and which breweries we would visit was too unsure to make appointments every day in another town. And I really regret that we didn’t except for the first night. That night we stayed at Michael’s place, also known as Dalle at RB. He, his beautiful wife and adorable kids gave us a very friendly reception. A perfect dinner, too many beers to humanly drink and a great evening tour at the Viborg Bryghus.
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During our trip we found out that Michael and his wife weren’t an exception in Denmark. We met many people and everybody was very friendly. Giving us brewery tours, directions to the next brewer, brewers calling other brewers to see if we could have a visit there, brewers giving advise where to stay the night. Just amazing.
Luckily everybody spoke English very well. Even a small 10-year-old brewer’s daughter helped us out in English. Few words but spoken well. I said luckily because the Danish language is very hard for me to grasp. I speak 4 languages but after one week, asking dozens of times and trying hard I still didn’t know how to pronounce the single word “Bryghus”. So I gave up.
When I suggested to my friend to have our annual beer trip in Denmark this time he frowned his eyebrows. Denmark? They have like 12 breweries! All large breweries, certainly not opening up their doors for 2 strays like us. But he couldn’t be more wrong. The past 10 years a revolution has changed Denmark. Especially the past 5 years many new breweries opened their doors. And now almost monthly a new brewery starts. The majority of those new breweries aren’t brewpubs like in Germany but real microbreweries. And most of those new micros aren’t like new breweries in Holland as well, where some hobby home brewer decides to sell his beers without any investment or increasing of production. No, most Danes do it right straight away with an investment between 300,000 and 7,000,000 euro.
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Some of these investments gave new life to old breweries, like Ørbæk and Indslev. The latter with an extra touch as they decided to only make wheat beers. An original slogan by the way contrary the slogans “we are the first micro”, “we are the smallest in Demark”, “we are the only micro doing it all by hand”, “unlike other breweries we don’t filter or pasteurize” and “we are already an old brewery, from 2001”. Those we heard at least 5 times in different breweries. So who was first micro? As far as we could find out this was Refsvindinge Bryggeri on Fyn, the large island in the middle of Denmark.
Refsvindinge started to produce beers that weren’t seen in Denmark since the 50’s. They brewed only ales and slowly a revolution took place. Nowadays about 70 small microbreweries produce bottle conditioned ales. The beers are mainly based on English, Scottish and American styles like porter, imperial Russian stout, brown ale, IPA and so on. All with their own touch. Some are Belgian based but with the use English hops.
“We are trying to sell them as wines” is what several brewers told us. There was no real beer culture in Denmark and competing with the big breweries was impossible. Therefore they compete with wines. The specialty beers are sold in large bottles with stylish labels and the same prices as cheap wines. And it works. People buy them like wines. Just a couple of bottles to share them with friends during dinner. The prices are high due to taxes but it also gives brewers the opportunity to brew high quality beers with quality ingredients and the right amount of time and attention. And those high quality beers are available everywhere. Around Denmark there are hundreds of specialty shops but also every supermarket has a decent range micro-brewed beers on their shelves. And not just that. In many shops we also found a large number of British and American beers like Samuel Smith, Fullers, Harvey’s, Great Divide, Avery, Brooklyn and many more.
You cannot judge a beer culture on one short trip alone. But for now my only conclusion can be that the Danes are very spoiled and if it wasn’t for the prices I’d be very jealous with all those domestic and imported high quality beers. But how long will it last? Is this new beer culture hype? Will the average Dane go back to wines or worse? Strong competition between the new micros is to be expected soon I’m afraid. They are already clearly looking for an identity and right to exist. But who will survive? And maybe Refsvindinge started a new revolution already? Their prices do compete with the large breweries…
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We left the highway soon to visit the tiny village of Bylderup-Bov with of course our first Danish brewery. Hard to find, as we didn’t have any address but the first farmer we asked immediately knew where to go.