Monday, 15 September 2008

Copenhagen (part one)

September is going to be a busy month. I've a trip to London at the end of it. I'm just back from a weekend in Copenhagen for the European Beer Festival.

I've got a very soft spot for Copenhagen. Even before it became a beer mecca, I thought it was a pretty cool city. Now it's like paradise. Just with colder weather and higher prices.

Until now, I've always stayed in one of the cheap hotels that cluster just west of the main station, around Vesterbrogade and Istedgade. But Mike, my travelling companion, had found a bed and breakfast. Having more free time than me, he'd had chance to hunt around on the web. The B & B was in Frederiksborg, a little further north than I'd been before.

I'd rather stupidly assumed that all of Copenhagen's western innercity was slightly down-at-heel. That Frederiksborg is quite different was immediately apparent. From the architecture (more ostentatious) and the shops (posher). In the immediate area around the B & B were a collection of delis, stylish furniture shops and a chocolatier with a chocolate fountain in the window. My kids would have liked that. But they were safely at home with Dolores.

We arrived about half ten. Now there's a rail connection, it's a piece of piss getting into town. "Look, there's a big green thing with Carlsberg written on it. I wonder if it's part of the brewery?" "Looks like an office block to me" said Mike, as we neared Københavns Hovedbanegård. I love the Danish language. I just wish I could understand what the hell anyone is saying.

I'll explain. Back in the Happy Time (before I becamed kidded up), I used to learn to read a new language every year or two. Danish was one I put a lot of effort into. If you already know English and German, it's not that hard. Danish filled in a lot of the holes in my English etymology. Most basic English words that don't come from German or French are of Danish origin. Tree, for example.

I used my standard method. Bought a novel and a dictionary and started at page one. Of the novel, not the dictionary. I had a quick glance at a basic grammar to get some idea of the structure and pronunciation, but didn't pay too much attention to the latter.You don't hear much spoken Danish outside Denmark. There are no Scandinavian TV channels on the Amsterdam cable.

Pretty soon I was fairly proficient at reading Danish and rattled my way through a dozen or so novels. Time to give the spoken language a try. We arranged a trip to Copenhagen. In the first minute I realised that the pronunciation I'd been using in my head while I read bore not the slightest relationship to real speech. My god. I'd found a language with even worse spelling than English. I couldn't understand a single word anyone said. If they wrote it down, I was fine. But that isn't very practical.

Digression over. I just wish I could say Hovedbanegård the way the conductor does when announcing the next station. When the conductor did announce Københavns Hovedbanegård, we got off the train. Well, not immediately. We did wait for the train to stop and the doors to open.

It's not just sound of the name I love. The station itself is pretty groovetastic. Restrained, but beautiful stained glass windows. Then there's the canopy above the platforms. And the roof in the main hall. Both look much like the cast-iron constructions you find in all old stations. But look more closely, and you'll see that the structure is actually made of wood.

"Language, architecture, Copenhagen neighbourhoods. Isn't this blog supposed to be beer-themed?" I'm getting to that. Just providing a little colour before the inevitable list of beers I sloshed down.

Killing time
The festival didn't kick off until three. We had a few hours to kill before that. As usual. Mike's mind was on food. Mine was on beer. Walking back towards town after dumping our gear in the B & B, we soon stumbled upon an Irma supermarket. I was intrigued to see what its beer section looked like. I'll be honest, it was pretty depressing. It wasn't that big, but had a selection almost as good as Ton Overmars (my local purveyor of St Bernardus Abt). Some decent international stuff and beers from around a dozen Danish micros. It made me think, which Dutch micro beers have I seen in an Amsterdam supermarket? Erm, erm . . . 't Ij . . erm . . that's it.

As it was on the way to the festival, Pegasus seemed a good spot for lunch. I'd really liked the place on my last visit to Copenhagen. According to that definitive work, The Copenhagen Pub Guide, it opened at ten. It was very dark and very shut when we arrived. "Didn't we have lunch here last time?", I asked. Mike remembers this sort of thing. "Yes." Seems the opening times have changed. It doesn't open until 17:00 now. Oh dear.

Mike had already had already taken a good, long shufti at a Pølser Vøgn we'd passed on Vesterbrotorv. Seemed like a good option for a quick snack. It just meant walking in 100% the wrong direction for the festival. Either my memory is failing me, or they've improved the choice of sausages in these little kiosks. I got something not unlike a bratwurst. We scoffed al fresco on the square, which was already occupied by a small group of alcies slurping Carlsberg Grøn from the bottle. That'll be me in a few years. Though I'm pretty sure my choice of cheap loony juice will be Carl's Porter.

We still had a fair bit of time to kill. All the pubs, the closed Pegasus excepted, in that Copenhagen Pub Guide were in other parts of the city, even further away from the festival. Though there were several pubs and cafes on Vesterbrotorv. Mike said "We could drink a coffee here." Yeah, right. I was going to drink a coffee. It was after twelve and my beer counter was firmly stuck on zero. We picked a place at random. The closest one. Café Obelix.

My expectations weren't high. A Tuborg sign was hanging outside. Maybe they'd have the Porter.

What I found inside is an indication of how far Denmark's beer revolution has gone. Remember, this was somewhere that was more a coffee and cake sort of place than a pub, let alone a beer pub. They had nine draught beers and around 15 bottled. That would count as a semi beer pub in Amsterdam. OK, there were obvious signs of a Carlsberg tie. But in Denmark that means things like draught Brooklyn Lager. Carlsberg import Brooklyn's beers and you see them all over the shop.

But I wasn't going to choose an American beer as my first in Denmark. Something immediately caught my eye. Broyhan Rod. I have more obessions than you could shake a whole forest of sticks at. Broyhan is one of them. Simple choice. A pale, cloudy beer was poured into my glass. Not very red-looking, but I was prepared to overlook that.

Kongens Bryghus Broyhan Rod. Butter, toffee, caramel, citrus, resin and tobacco. I'll be honest, pretty diacetylly. But that may well hacve been because it was the first one served that day. The hopping was a bit harsh. And it didn't seem much like Broyhan, from what I've read about the style. Still, closer that the bog-standard pale lager they call Broyhan in Hanover. I gave it 61 out of 100. A bit generous, perhaps, but I had been spitting feathers.

Mike ordered a coffee.

When Mike's coffee was done, he wandered off in search of the supermarket with an outstanding range of beer we'd been shown on our last visit. While he was gone, I ordered another beer. And a double Aquavit. I told you, I was spitting feathers.

Kongens Bryghus Rosenborg Ale. Golden, little head. Metal, pine, tobacco and boiled sweets. Tasted very pasteurised. Stewed, in fact. A rough bitterness, too. Just 38 out of 100.

Before anyone brings it up, I realise Kongens Bryghus is just a Carlsberg/Tuborg brand and not a real brewery.

There was time for one more sausage stop on the walk to the festival. This time eaten on a square with two clumps of alcies. Their poison of choice was Tuborg Grøn. Nice little variation, there. "Why are there so many oriental drunks?" Mike asked. "No idea. Positive discrimination?" I hadn't particularly noticed. Most had that healthy alcoholic beetroot face I recognise from myself.

Wandering around aimlessly
We'd planned to hit the festival bang on opening time. A failure to properly check at the address on my part, meant we had an unscheduled wander around another part of the Carlsberg complex. On the upside, it presented me with plenty of photo opportunities of the older parts of the brewery. One thing in particular I'd wanted to get a snap of. The Elephant gate. Particularly the one elephant with a swastika on its side.

The Carlsberg brewery must be the last building in Europe to sport swastikas. Why is that? It used to be Carlsberg's trademark. Long before a certain A. Hitler adopted it as his own. Carlsberg should have sued him for copyright infringement.

The festival
When we eventually got to the right bit of Carlsberg it was 15:15. I like to give you exact timings. When the film is made of my life, these little details will be important. Ewan McGregor will be perfect to play the part of me. As long as he loses the beard and Scottish accent. And possibly gets a little taller.

There was a mob at the entrance. But, having press accreditation, I didn't have queue with the plebs. Or pay to get in. This blogging thing is really starting to pay off. In return for just several hundred hours of my time spent on writing and research, I get to save 100 crowns and 5 minutes queueing. Bargain. In front of me at the press entrance was Keith, who'd been on the last BierMania! tour I'd done. Small world.

My thirst was still raging. So I almost ran to the first stand that looked vaguely interesting. Braunstein. Only after I'd ordered did I notice I was standing next to Stephen Beaumont. Strange what thirst can do to your powers of observation. Stephen was busy sampling their distilled offerings. A gin and a beer schnapps matured in wooden casks. Not oak ones. But I've forgotten what type of wood. [chestnut: thanks Stephen] What they usually use for balsamic vinegar. What I then did, I wouldn't recommend as a way to start a serious beer tasting session. I joined him on the spirits. Stephen had a reasonable excuse. Having been at the trade session, he'd already had two hours on beer. The only explanation for my actions is that I'm a pisshead. And I'd noticed that the festival glasses were just 10cl.

The beer schnapps was very pleasant. Very pleasant indeed. The gin wasn't bad, either. I had a quick chat with the brewer and he said they'd started making whisky, too. But the first batch won't be ready until 2010. Can't wait.

I also tried a couple of Braunstein beers. Dark Lager, which was OK. Their standard Porter, which was nice. And Black Oak Porter, aged 8 months in oak. Very nice. You'll have to excuse the brevity of my descriptions. You try writing notes when you're stood up and have a glass in one hand and a festival programme in the other. Plus I don't like looking too nerdy. Not all the time. Sometimes life is more about fun than notes.

Now that my hands had stopped shaking, it was time to look some people up. So on to the stand of Tatoverede Enke. That's a Copenhagen beer pub/restaurant owned by Reinhard. A German living in Gothenburg. The stall had some interesting Swedish beers. A couple of cask offerings from Ocean, the newest brewery in Gothenburg. And Närke Stormaktsporter. I had one of the latter. Pretty damn good. Sadly, Reinhard was on driving duties. But his other half was there and we had a little chat.

Next was Menno's turn. I'd seen the wooden barrel of Cuvée on my visit to De Molen a couple of weeks previously. And he'd given me a taste of the bottled version. It's a mix of Trarina Esra and Rasputin that's had another fermentation with Bordeaux wine yeast. It has a distinctive vinous, almost grape-like aroma. And is effing delicious. Not much time to chat with Menno, as the stall was very popular. I'm not surprised. I'd have been happy to lie under the barrel of Cuvée, turn on the tap and drown myself in the stuff.

My excuse (I'm apologising a lot in this post) for what happened next is that I don't live in Britain. One stand was all British cask beer. A pretty good selection. "Do you have any Mild?" I asked the bloke with the classic beard, beergut, brewery T-shirt combination who was serving. "Will Holden's do you?" That'll do more than nicely. Even better, they had plastic half pint glasses you could borrow. 10 cl of Mild would be pretty silly.

I couldn't resist half pints of Fuller's 1845 and Harvey's Porter. Only had them in bottled form before. I told you, fun was foremost in my thoughts. There was no way I could get around all the beers that were new to me. No point trying.

By this time, I was well fed up with standing. The main hall had no seating. I tell a lie, there were a couple of dozen seats in the seminar area. We rested our feet there for a few minutes. Then a seminar started. Given by someone who looked like a hard-drinking docker. We moved on.

Finally looking at the map properly, Mike noticed that there was a tent outside full of beerhall table and benches. The Mad Telt. Better late than never. Plenty of empty places, too. In the space between the hall and the meal tent were a couple of those sausage wagons. We indulged in our third sausage of the day. We were to get through plenty more before the weekend was done.

Just time for a Klosterbryggeriet Hamborgøl, supposedly a Doppelbock. Wasn't Hamburger was a sort of wheat beer? It was OK, I suppose. I'd been spoiled by the wonderful beers I'd already tried.

Tatoverede Enke
Mike and I had a plan. A couple of hours at the festival, then eat in Tatoverede Enke. I like simple plans. Having had enough of walking, we took the train across town.

What can I say about Enke? No praise is high enough. It's one of my favorite pubs. Downstairs is an intimate bar, upstairs a stylish restaurant. The latter is where we were headed. For 300 crowns (approx. 40 euros) we had two courses of top nosh. Cooked with beer. I'm trying to think of a better beer restaurant, but can't. Maybe there is, somewhere in Belgium. But nowhere I've been to. They've a cracking choice of beer, too. Sixteen draughts and about 100 bottled. It used to be all Belgian, but I think they now have a few Swedish ones.

I won't bore you with exactly what I ate. Just that it was spectacularly good. And Saison Dupont and St. Bernardus Prior went with the food a treat. We finished by splitting a hideously expensive bottle of Pannepeut, one of the many variations of Pannepot from the World's Best Brewer. I would give you my opinion, but I have enough enemies already.

It was still pretty early when we headed back to the B & B. Only about 21:00. I nipped into a kiosk to pick up a couple of bottles of beer to wind down with. Nothing very special. Sadly, they stocked no Porter.

There was plenty more to do the next day. Visit the beer festival, photograph pubs, eat sausages. But I'm saving the details for my next post. See you there.

Café Obelix
Vesterbrogade 53
1620 Copenhagen
Tel: 33 31 34 14

Den Tatoverede Enke
Boltens Gaard
Gothersgade 8 C
DK-1123 København K
Tel: 33 91 88 77


Anonymous said...

Chestnut, Ron, the schnaaps was matured in chestnut wood. The gin wasn't. Damn fine they were, too.

I hiked the distance from my hotel to the festival each day along Sonder Blvd. and stopped in to an ordinary convenience store at one stage for a bottle of fizzy water. They didn't stock that, but they did have a spectacular beer selection that included not only numerous Danish craft beers, but also such relative esoterica s Bush Cuvee Prestige! More proof of how much a beer town Copenhagen has become.

Anonymous said...

"Now that my hands had stopped shaking...."

"....a couple of bottles of beer to wind down with"

Love it, love it, love it :)

The Beer Nut said...

I was highly amused by Menno and his barrel, and how he rarely travelled more than arm's length from it. Amazing beer, too. Though I doubt I could handle more than a couple of mouthfuls. There's a lot going on in there.

Boak said...

really cool post, thanks Ron. Looking forward to visiting Copenhagen some time.

Knut Albert said...

Great post, a pity we didn't meet while there. Next year, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

I must have missed you in the crowd... spent all of the festival trying to prenvent my glass from drying up. ;o)

Regarding your comment on asian-looking alcies: they're not. Asian, that is. Most of the asian-looking people one comes across in Copenhagen are Groenlanders.
Greenland was granted home rule in 1979, but its head of state still is the Queen of Denmark, and Denmark is the one country they can emigrate relatively easily to.

Cheers !


Ron Pattinson said...

Stephen, your memory is much better than mine. I knew it was some nice sort of wood. I found decent beer just about everywhere I looked. Great beer town. Now if they can just get their prices to the down to the Franconian level.

Knut, I missed so many people. Probably because I was hiding in the meal tent.

Laurent, I expected you to be easy to spot, but the crowds were too big. My glass was permanently empty. Well glasses on the second day, as I had two.

Anonymous said...

By the way, as you mention Irma supermarkets : indeed the larger ones have impressive beer ranges. I checked the Irma branch in the small mall next to the Apollo Brewpub, along the northern edge of Tivoli.
To drop a few names found there : Carlsberg, Thisted, Jacobsens, Gourmetbryggeriet, Norrebro, Brockhouse, Skovlyst, Midtfyn, Herslev, Olfabrikken and more...
Which is extremely handy to pick up some bottles before boarding the night train home :o)