“Euro Christmas 2010 Part I” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
Our whirlwind European tour covered six cities in six countries over two weeks. The non-stop itinerary included two favorites, London and Dublin; two new cities, Hamburg and Copenhagen, as well as two that we wanted to explore further, Amsterdam and Brussels.
In this first of two parts, we explore the beer scenes of Dublin, Hamburg and Copenhagen.
So enjoy our latest beer adventures in Europe…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
Needless to say, the morning after our night at the Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen was probably the roughest of the whole trip. The day before, we had great plans for our second day, doing all the touristy things available to visitors of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, we got a late start. We blame the Mikkeller Bar.
We did manage to figure out the trains and even survived the short ride out to visit the Jacobsen Brewhouse at the Carlsberg Visitor’s Center. When we got off the train, a large building with ‘Carlsberg’ on it was readily visible and just a few blocks away. “Cool! That was easy,” we thought. Well, the Carlsberg compound is a large place and while we were close to the visitor’s center as the crow flies, to get there we had to go all the way around. Other people seemed to be having an equally challenging time finding it. We did see the humongous elephants along the way, though, which I admit was pretty cool.
After a frustrating 45 minutes, we finally found it. (We discovered later that by approaching the complex from Valby Langgade by bus, signs clearly mark the 5-minute walk to the center.) The Jacobsen Brewhouse is a line of beers that Carlsberg says are an “expression of our ambitious plans for the development and marketing of uncompromising specialty beers and serves as a living embodiment of Carlsberg’s cultural history.” The brewhouse is located in the heart of the visitor’s center.
Seeing that we got a late start and it took so long for us to find the place, we only had time to try one beer, the Saaz Blonde. Chris thought the beer was on the sweet side, more like a Belgian Blonde. I found it reasonably acceptable. We added Jacobsen to The List and headed back out. (In hind sight, we should have added Carlsberg as well because it’s brewed on the premises on a separate system. However, we didn’t have a Carlsberg while there, so we can’t count it on The List now.)
We decided that a long walk from the Carlsberg Visitor’s Center/Jacobsen Brewhouse to the next brewery, Nørrebro, would clear the cobwebs out of our Mikkeller Bar head. So, an hour later, we arrived there ready for more beer and a spot of lunch. Chris had decided before we left that he would try herring, a Danish delicacy. At Nørrebro he had his chance – and took it.
Nørrebro is set-up on two floors with a keller-like drinking space and brewery downstairs and a dining room upstairs. The dining room is furnished in classic Danish furniture that Chris thought looked like an Ikea catalog. We were lucky enough to be seated at a table with a clear view down into the brewery. Though the only action happening down there was cleaning.
Among the beers we tried were the Çeske Böhmer, a Czech Pilsner, and a high alcohol (imperial?) porter conditioned in Cabernet barrels. To go with his trio of herring, Chris drank the Bombay Pale Ale, an IPA.
For his herring adventure, Chris tried the first style on his plate, which was in some sort of white, creamy sauce. Taking a small bite, he made a face and remarked that it was “very fishy” and “a weird texture.” He moved on to the second style, red herring served with capers. He managed more or less with that one until he took too big of a bite. He very nearly threw up on the table and thereafter lost the stomach to try the third style, which was pan fried. I gotta hand it to him, he gave it a go. He’s definitely braver than me! The decent-length walk back to the hotel, helped Chris regain his composure and feel better.
After a short break at the hotel, Chris and I ventured to our next brewery. We took this visit with a grain of salt because all the reviews clearly stated that Færgekroen Bryghus (located inside Tivoli) was not worth visiting. However, we like to try places for ourselves rather than completely depend on the reviews of others. Plus, we’re what Evan Rail calls “completists.” We must make every effort to get to every brewery in the area. It was unfathomable to pass on a brewery so near our hotel just because of poor reviews.
So we paid our entrance fee to Tivoli and wandered through the theme restaurants, candy kiosks, and trinket shops to find Færgekroen on the far side of the park. The restaurant is located by the side of a lake and the deck where we sat (covered and heated for the winter) offered a nice view of the sparkling Christmas lights. We ate a quick bite and tried their Blonde. The place was full and the service good. Færgekroen was added to The List and we left for one last visit to the Mikkeller Bar.
Except for a going away party in the corner, the Mikkeller Bar was not as busy as the night before, which bode well for us to actually make a short night of it. Jannik had hoped to get a Mikkeller beer on that had been conditioned in Cognac barrels. Unfortunately, the bartender relayed a message from Jannik apologizing that he was unable to access the warehouse to get it. I thought it was incredibly hospitable that Jannik made the effort and even remembered to get the message to us.
Our second go at the Mikkeller Bar was actually as short a visit as we intended it to be. We had tried most of the beers the night before, so we tried a few others and called it a night. Next stop: Amsterdam.
Sometimes even I’m surprised at the lengths we’ll go to get a brewery added to The List. But with a goal of hitting brewery #600 well within sight, every effort to make additions had to be made on this trip. Our excursion further north to Denmark was one of those extra efforts.
People have suggested to us for a while that we try Danish beer, so Chris decided to tag it onto this year’s European Christmas vacation. But come on, who goes to Denmark in December? It’s colder than a witch’s you know what, it gets dark early and it’s guaranteed to clean out your wallet. So again, who goes to Denmark in December? Well, we do.
We arrived in Copenhagen in the afternoon and the sky was still bright and sunny. The cold, around 20º F, was also there ready to turn our cheeks rosy and our extremities numb. Luckily, we were prepared for that.
Our hotel was conveniently located near the Rådhuspladsen, close to both the central train station and several of the breweries on our itinerary. We wasted no time dropping off our bags before heading back out to add another brewery to The List.
Around the corner next to Tivoli, Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, was Bryggeriet Apollo. It was our first outing in Denmark and our first go at the Danish language. We were a little nervous, but they spoke English, which made it a lot easier to order. (Did you know that there is no word for ‘please’ in Danish?) Seated in the front atrium near the shiny copper kettles, we started with the Pilsner. Initially, it seemed to be their only beer. However, we soon discovered that they also had a Christmas beer (Jule bryg) and an IPA, as well as Black Santa Christmas Stout. With its roasted toffee flavor, the stout was the standout for us. We ended our lunch with a tasty traditional Danish dessert, rice pudding with warm cherry sauce. We left feeling more confident about our ability to get around the language issue.
Undaunted by the dipping temperature, we bundled up to walk across the street to Vesterbro Bryghus. This place was not as readily spotted as Apollo had been, but we did find it. (Look for the brewery signs on the window of the pub Strecker.) The tall, young blond behind the bar served us samples of their Blonde, Amber, and a Jule Bryg. She also tried to give us the Tuborg Christmas beer, but we politely declined the holiday macro-brew. She was very friendly and we enjoyed ourselves as she spoke of the rivalry between the Swedes and Danes, something akin to the good natured antagonizing between Americans and Canadians. We weren’t charged for the sampler set, but we did pay $22 for our two half liters of the Amber. Chris didn’t mind, he had spent time with a real live Danish girl.
By this time, the sky was dusky and a few snow flurries grazed our faces, but the beer was starting to kick in, so we felt fairly warm inside. We ventured further away from our hotel to the other side of the Rådhuspladsen.
Over there we found Brewpub København. Chris joked about sitting outside. The courtyard was spacious and quite nice looking, but that would not have safeguarded me against the nippy air, so sitting out there was out of the question. Chris followed me down the stairs into the warm and inviting pub.
Brewpub København offered a wide selection of beers, including Red Christmas (a smoky tasting ESB), Brewster (a pale ale), and The Brewfather (a 5.6% Czech lager). Several of the menu items were made with beer and I was especially intrigued by the traditional Danish open sandwich with scrambled “hopped” eggs. The bartender confirmed that Amarillo hops were somehow incorporated into the eggs. However, he warned me that the hop flavor was barely noticeable. He was right, but I enjoyed my egg sandwich, none the less. Chris’ favorite at Brewpub was the Cole Porter. While this beer is sometimes served on cask, he drank a half liter from the taps.
We continued with a short walk to Charlie’s Bar on Pilestræde. The walk probably would have been a bit quicker if it wasn’t for the hordes of holiday shoppers. It reminded us of Grafton Street in Dublin during the holidays with little space to move around and many an “Excuse me” being uttered. Charlie’s is not a brewpub or a place to necessarily try Danish beers. But, if you’re looking for a great beer selection, including properly served real ale, then this is your place.
We stepped through the narrow front door, which was none too easy in my big winter coat. The tightly packed tables were closely spaced and tricky to navigate without hitting someone in the head. No one seemed to mind, though, as we made our way to the only available spot at the corner of the bar. The pub was nicely decorated with wonderfully smelling pine garlands draping across the ceiling. (Upon a second visit, I realized they were fake and probably just sprayed with Pine-Sol to give that fresh pine forest fragrance.) The ceiling and walls were covered from top to bottom in handpump clips, beer signs, and other breweriana.
The Englishman behind the bar served real ale from 6 different handpumps, plus a variety of lagers, ales, and ciders. Chris and I settled in to get warmed up with our beers, a Westmalle Dubbel and Schneider Aventinus. Charlie’s doesn’t serve food, but welcome you to bring in your own. They do have board games available, though, for a 50 Danish Kroner deposit, as well as free WiFi with beer purchase (ask for the password). Be sure to hit the toilets, as right next to them is the windowed cellar where the casks are clearly visible.
Charlie’s was a quick stop because we had another, much anticipated place to go: the Mikkeller Bar. Back across the Rådhuspladsen we went, passing the beautiful, enormous (and real) Christmas tree, our hotel, Vesterbro, Apollo and Tivoli.
Turning left down Viktoriagade off Vesterbrogade (a major street), it looked like a quiet residential neighborhood. However, looking down at cellar level, we saw several establishments conducting their business and one of them was the Mikkeller Bar. There is no awning or major sign at the Mikkeller Bar, but the lettering on the door and a view of tap handles confirms you’ve found it.
The place was fairly full when we arrived, so we first chose a small nook tucked toward the back. We were looking to be a bit more social than that, though, so we changed our minds and made our way back through the front room to a side room. The sparsely decorated pub, with its white walls and a gray cement floor, reminded me of a modern art museum. Candles and bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling created a calming, if not slightly spooky, soft lighting.
Chris ordered us some beers and we established ourselves at a table. In the meantime, a few employees opened the cellar door that was only 60 ft away. Chris took the opportunity to look inside and discretely take some photos. Seeing Chris’ obvious interest in beer, the establishment’s manager, Jannik, invited him to step inside to get a better view.
Two large shelves that ran the length of the room held hundreds of bottles. Several vintages of Mikkeller’s own Santa’s Little helper, various brews from Port, Ale Smith, and Cantillion to name a few. Chris’ beer geekiness started an incredible evening of beer, snacks, and good conversation with both staff and regulars. I even got to hold their empty bottle of BrewDog’s the End of History. I will say that holding a bottle-stuffed, tuxedo wearing stoat was every bit as gross as I thought it would be.
We spent a few hours there and drank what seemed like an endless stream of beer (served in 25cl glasses). Plus we ate several orders of cheese, sausage, and nuts. In the end, I was shocked to find that the bill was about the same as it had been for lunch. The Mikkeller bar was the best bargain and entertainment we found in Copenhagen.
The Mikkeller Bar seemed to put things into perspective for me. It was warm and inviting with great beer and friendly people. It didn’t matter that it was dark out (okay, it was nighttime by then), as that actually made the candle-lit atmosphere even more appealing. Plus, with the beer, food, and hours of fun we had, it felt like a darn good bargain. Maybe we hadn’t really made any sort of sacrifice at all. Maybe Denmark in December wasn’t the longest length we’ve gone, but it was pretty close.