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.