Ron Pattinson explores one of Europe’s hottest beer destinations
December 15, 2005 Written by rpattinson
Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS -
I finally made it back to Copenhagen. The changes since my last visit were a shock, but for once in a positive sense.
On my last visit in the late 1990´s, there was very little decent beer, with the exception of a few locally-brewed porters. Mostly your choice was limited to Carlsberg or Tuborg pils.
The turning point came in 1998 with the foundation of Danske Ølentusiaster, Denmark´s beer consumers´organisation. Their success in attracting members and educating the public is an example to campaigners everywhere.
Specialist beer bars began to appear: Charlie´s, Gulliver´s, Tatoverede Enke. At first they concentrated on imported British, Belgian or German beer. Not surprising, as there was very little Danish beer worth bothering with. But with consumer demand and retail outlets established, microbreweries followed. A trickle of craft beer turned into a flood.
The reaction of local monopolist Carlsberg was surprising: they started microbrewing themselves. With their Semper Ardens series, they brewed beers aimed at the new, more discerning, type of beer drinker. Perfectly logical, you might say. But take a look at similar global brewers elsewhere. You don´t see Heineken or Inbev brewing an IPA or an Imperial Barley Wine.
The city now has half a dozen top-class beer bars, four brewpubs and several excellent specialist beer shops. Even the supermarkets have a good choice of quality beers, partly courtesy of Carlsberg who import Brooklyn Brewery´s full range. Most pubs have four or five beers on draught, though these are usually just Carlsberg´s mainstream efforts.
With beers from Belgium, Britain, the USA, Sweden, Germany and Norway, Copenhagen´s specialist outlets offer a breadth of choice rarely seen elsewhere. Your biggest problem is likely to be deciding where to start. I left each bar with a long list of beers I still wanted to try.
Charlies Bar has something rarely seen outside the UK: a bank of six working handpumps. The beers are split about 50-50 between British ales and Danish micro beers. On my visit they were serving Limfjords Porter, Denmark´s best stout and dangerously drinakble despite its 7.9% ABV.
For Belgian beer fans the highlight has to be Den Tatoverede Enke (The Tattoed Widow). As if the cosy downstairs bar with its 16 draught beers wasn´t enough, upstairs there´s a restaurant serving beer cuisine. The sight of tables laden with fine food and bottles of quality beer is truly heartwarming. The set menus have a beer to match each course, but it´s also possible to drink and eat a la carte. An outstanding establishment that rivals the best in Belgium. The beer selection includes authentic Oude Geuze.
Plan-b, with the look of a dull coffee bar, is another place you might well not give a second glance. Until you spot the shelves piled high with ale. This tiny beer bar manages to stock over 400 beers drawn from all over the world. In their cellar Danish, Belgian, Swedish, Norwegian, British and American micro-brewed beers jostle against one another. The enthusiastic owner is only too happy to make recommendations or pour samples.
I would probably have walked right past Pegasus without a local to guide me. From the outside, it looks just like what it used to be: a wine bar. Its new owner has added an impressive range of around 100 Belgian, Danish, British and German beers. Inside it´s all exposed brickwork and clean Scandinavian design. Its a lot cosier than it sounds and the friendly staff make it feel even warmer.
It´s rare that I come across a something new in pub design (I´ve been around a bit). Nørrebro Bryghus´s juxtaposition of lounge bar - all comfy sofas and soft lighting - and industrial unit - strip lights and stainless steel - I hadn´t seen before. You could easily think that the two halves of the building had been placed next to each other by accident. Their beers are an eclectic mix of British, German, Czech and American styles. Traditional lambics and Gale´s Prize Old Ale are some of the highlights of the 50-strong bottled selection.
The Ølbutikken beer shop has not only an outstanding selection of Danish micro beers, but also a surprisingly good range of American beers that rarely make it across the Atlantic. Amongst the Belgian choices is the extremely rare Pannepot and even Westvleteren. The legendary Nogne Ø from Norway and Nils Oscar from Sweden are also stocked.
Copenhagen is becoming one of Europe´s top beer-drinking destinations. I think the credit goes to Danske Ølentusiaster - a very active and well-supported (over 10,000 members) organisation. Why not go and give them some support?
You can find a more complete guide to Copenhagen´s pubs here:http://www.xs4all. nl/~patto1ro/copepubs.htm