Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Copenhagen (part two)

Day two. Not having gone crazy and been early in my bed, I was up and bright as a button at 08:30.

As usual, Mike's thoughts were on food. But he was awake a little before me and had already breakfasted.

"I want to look at the harbour." He said. "Fine by me." The sun was shining, the birds were singing and we'd worked out which bus went from our B & B to Kongens Nytorv. Everything was fine with the world.

Wandering around aimlessly again
From Kongens Nytorv we walked along Ny Havn and then across the water to Christians Havn. There's a cetain quality of light in Copenhagen, the sky a striking azure blue. You couldn't imagine a better background for the brightly painted pubs of the Ny Havn. At its end, the deeper blue of the sea added another dimension to an already colourful tableau.

"I think this used to be Sick Street." I said. "The road that led to where the jetfoil to Malmö used to dock." I'm such a romantic. It didn't phase Mike, who was staring across the water in admiration at the new opera House. Bit too modernist for my taste. As we crossed the lifting bridge to Christians Havn, Mike wondered if anyone lived in the little towers used by its operators. I tried to convince him this was pretty unlikely, but he took the curtains on the windows as proof of habitation. I let it drop. I would be easy to spend all day arguing with him about this sort of trivia. But life's too short.

We were sort of vaguely on our way Christiania. "It's full of wandering dogs." I told him. That didn't put him off. On the way we sauntered along a couple of canals, filled with variously-sized sailing boats. This part of Copenhagen, with its waterways and tightly-packed streets, is reminiscent of Amsterdam. It also has the spiky outline of 17th century earthworks common in Dutch towns.

Aimless wandering can be an entertainment in itself. If you don't need to be anywhere in hurry. And it isn't raining. As I've already said, it was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature, around 16º was perfect too. Warm enough for me to be in shirt sleeves. A couple of degrees hotter and I would have had to take my shirt off. Just as well it wasn't any warmer. My shirtless torso is not a sight I would want to inflict on anyone. Not even Goethean.

After an hour or so of walking, we needed refreshment. "What about a coffee somewhere?" Mike has this coffee thing. But it wasn't yet midday, so it didn't seem that unreasonable. Two cafés appeared before us, as if in a dream. This really was a perfect day. We randomly chose one.

What I found inside is an indication of how far Denmark's beer revolution has gone. Hang on, I've already used that thought. Never mind. It applied even more than with Obelix. The café we had entered wasn't even vaguely pub-like. Yet they had six draught beers. More than the number of tables.

Don't be shocked by what I tell you next. Remember, it was only 10:30. I ordered a coffee. Without rum or anything else to spice it up. I know you're disappointed. But none of us is superhuman.

As we walked past the church with the funny spiral tower, we chanced upon a group of Belgian teenagers. I'm always tempted to start earwigging when confronted with Dutch-speakers abroad. Assuming they can't be understood by bystanders, they can be disconcertingly honest.

I wasn't sure of the exact route to Christiania. "Let's follow the teenagers" I suggested. "They're bound to be headed to Christiania to buy drugs." Well what the hell else would they be doing in this residential part of town?

Typically, there wasn't a dog in sight as we entered Christiania. It looked a good bit neater than I remembered it, too. I didn't tell Mike, but I was hoping to have a beer in one of the illegal pubs. They're a good bit cheaper than real ones, if you don't mind drinking mainstream Carslberg products. I still hadn't tried their Porter yet on this visit. I pictured myself in a shack in the convivial company of crusties and the odd alcy. But the day had stopped being perfect. None of the pubs opened until noon. What sort of anarchy is that, not opening until midday? Christiania has really sold out.

When we got to the charmingly-named Pusher Street, along with the "No photos" signs, there were packs of dogs. Well, not exactly packs, but lots of individual dogs. They, too, were a lot more docile than I remembered. When did Christiania turn into a squatter theme park? Or, like an over-amarilloed Stout, has it just mellowed with age?

The beer festival kicked off at noon on Saturday. The Plan was to arrive there about then. We could make the journey by a combination of Metro and S-Tog. Around the entrance to the Metro was a small flea market. On sale were bits of people's old junk. Very much like Koniginendag round my way. Mike was hungry again. I think he's got a tapeworm. He eats twice as much as me, but's half the weight. He spotted a girl with an apple cake. "The recipe is French," she said, "from Brittany. But I'm Belgian. I bought the apples in Sweden." Europe really is becoming very European. If you see what I mean.

The festival
We got to the festival 15 minutes after it opened. The crowds at the entrance were even thicker than on Friday. And I was one of the plebs this time. Back in my proper station. My press pass was only valid for one day.

I've been to loads of beer festivals. But I've never come across as efficient a method of entry. You just gave the person your 100 crowns and that was it. Once in, you helped yourself to a glass (with two tokens inside it) and the programme. The queue was moving forward at near walking pace. Despite their being a couple of hundred people in front of us, we only had to wait a couple of minutes. My compliments to the organisers. And because you began with two tokens, you didn't have to queue up again at the token sales counter.

The programme was pretty impressive, too. Full colour, very informative and the size of a book. I can't remember a better one.

We now knew where the seats were. So we went directly to the Mad Telt. Loads of seats again. Being seated the whole time (apart from collecting beer), my notes are much more extensive. I bet you're pleased.

I impulsively grabbed the first beer I came across (that thirst thing again). Kølster Mørk Festival. The pump looked like it was formed from a salvaged lathe or bit of agricultural machinery. Sadly, it was much more interesting than the beer, which was very cloudy and a bit funny tasting.

On Mike and I's last trip to Copenhagen we'd met Mike Murphy from GourmetBryggeriet. I'd later tried a couple of their bottled beers and had been reasonably impressed. That's why my second choice was their Blue Mountain Stout.

GourmetBryggeriet Blue Mountain Stout. Black with little head. Very bitter, burnt, smoke, roast and liquorice flavours, with a touch of fruit. Too roasty for my taste, but not bad. 66 out of 100. I've only just realised that the Blue Mountain in the name might refer to the Jamaican coffee. If so, no wonder it was so roasty. I've never seen the logic of putting coffee in a Stout. It already has roast grain. Adding roasted coffee tips the roast into overload and doesn't even add a new, contrasting flavour. Just my opinion. Like I said, not a bad beer, just not to my taste. (I've just looked. It does indeed contain Blue Mountain Coffee.)

While on my way to fetch beer I bumped into Beer Nut and Mrs. Beer Nut. Not that we had much time to chat. Just thought I'd drop yet another name. I hoped I'd bump into him again later. A shame that I didn't.

Next was a former Best Beer in the World, Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter, from the Tatoverede Enke stall.

Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter. Pitch black with a very dark tan head. Lovely oily texture. Alcohol, prune, liquorice, roast, toffee, cherry, raisin and a few more flavours beside. Powerfully flavoured, but deep, complex and harmonious. Even Mike thought it was great and he's not a big Stout fan. 89 out of 100.

I liked De Molen Cuvée a lot on Friday. So I had another, this time in circumstances where I could savour it.

De Molen Cuvée. Black with a pale tan head. Wine, black chocolate, roast, alcohol, burnt, caramel liquorice, etc, etc, etc. Delight in a glass, complex and vinous. Easily the best Dutch beer I've ever tried. 93 out of 100 and I may have been a little mean. And I've got a bottle of it waiting for me at home.

I think that's more than enough tasting notes for one post. I had a few more Porters/Stouts and Nørrebro Bryghus No Name No. 4 (Mild), a beer almost, but not quite, totally unlike Mild. The cask Ocean Arbedersporter (is that right? It wasn't in the programme.) [Ocean Järntorgets Arbetarporter is the correct name. Thanks Lars Marcus Garshol.] from Sweden was pretty good, as was Brøckhouse Bryggmasterens 12, an aged Stout of 13% ABV.

There was a sausage moment somewhere amongst all the beer. And a passing young lovely in a skimpy top. Not that I notice that sort of thing, being a marriedly happy man.

Almost forgot, I picked up a book. Danske Øl by Henrik Bøeghs. About Danish beer and listing all the (many) breweries in the country. I didn't realise until he offered to sign it, that it was the author serving. The book is in Danish. See, learning to read Danish wasn't a total waste of time.

Mike had a new plan. That we'd leave the festival at 15:00, go into town and come back at 19:00 to eat. That was his tapeworm talking again. It didn't sound very practical to me, so I decided to pass on the return to the festival.

Pub photography
We all make mistakes. Last time in Copenhagen, I hadn't checked opening times properly and had tried to visit two pubs on a Sunday, when they were closed. Zum Biergarten and BrewPub København.

Zum Biergarten is, as the name implies, a German-inspired beer garden. Surprisingly, it's in the middle of the city, not far from Radhusplads. It's in the courtyard of some old industrial complex (another bit is called the Pump House, so my guess is that it was a pumping station).

It's a lot smaller than a German beer garden and there probably as many seats inside as out. But we got there just after opening time and had our pick. There was Spaten Helles on tap and a variety of Belgian, Danish and American beers on draught and in bottle.

We sat outside and admired the ivy-clad brick chimney backed by a clear blue sky. The day was moving back into the perfection zone. I sipped my Indslev Hvede Bock and felt a warm glow of contentment. And it wasn't just from a toileting accident, though, wanting to avoid the hideous festival toilets, I had been bursting for a wee when we arrived. A half-litre glass was a delight after the tiny 10cl measures at the festival. Even Mike was impressed and he's notoriously picky.

Even before we'd left Zum Biergarten, I suspected Mike wasn't going to be quite so happy with our next destination. He was convinced BrewPub was going to have the sort of American-influenced beers he hates. The place has a funny layout. There's no entrance on the street. You have to enter through a courtyard beer garden, down a set of stairs. We're both getting on a bit, so it took us a while to work out. Even then, we only managed it with the help of a sign with a big arrow. Fading faculties and all that.

Inside it was modern and a bit trendier than my inner trendometer can bear. But we weren't going to be spending the rest of our lives there. While Mike was trying to work out which was the least American of their beers, I just ordered the strongest. At least you'll get a good whack of alcohol, whatever the failings of the beer itself.

UngStrups Reserve was billed as a smoked Barley Wine of 10.3% ABV. The smoke was of the iodine type, more like an Islay whisky than a Bamberg Rauchbier. I guess they must use peated malt. I thought it was pretty good, reminiscent of Lagavullin. Mike hated it for exactly the same reason I loved it, the iodine flavour. Not that I would have drunk a second.

Time for Mike to go back to the festival to eat. To be honest, I was knacked from all the traipsing around and was ready to vegetate in my room watching a crappy dvd. Hoping to stock up and sandwich stuff and some Porter and the walk home.

But my route took me past Vesterbro Bryghus. A brewpub that was new to me. I took a couple of snaps and wavered. What did I always tell the kids about it being bad luck to walk past an open pub?

Inside it was dark. Very dark. I do like to be able to see my beer. Long and thin. Modern, bare brick walls, copper brewing kit. As you can see, my note-taking abilities had been badly degraded by a long and tiring day.

I ordered a Brown Ale. I should have known better. When did I last have a Brown Ale I liked? Either they're too hoppy, ruining the malty purpose of the style, or sickly sweet. Or like Mikkeler Jackie Brown, an unbalanced mess. It wasn't any of those. It was just bland and too fizzy.

I was slightly too late for the normal supermarkets. My only hope was a decent kiosk. Then I chanced on an Irma City that was open. Oh joy! And guess what? They had Carlsberg Porter, now redubbed Carl's Porter. But what's in a name? Stinky Danish cheese slices, a packet of salami and some crispbread and my healthfood supper was complete.

Carlsberg, sorry Carl's, Porter was better than I remembered. Really quite nice and an excellent accompaniment for the intellectual stimulation of "Meet the Fockers" (I think one of Dustin Hoffman's best ever performances). I wonder if they've changed the recipe?

The day hadn't been 100% perfect. But close enough. Certainly much closer to perfection than most days.

Only Sunday to go. We had a low-key day planned. Visiting plan-b was the only item on the agenda. And perhaps a sausage or two. Would plan-b be able to live up to our memories and expectations? Find out in the next installment.

Zum Biergarten
Axeltorv 12, 1609,
Tel 33 93 90 94

BrewPub København
Vestergade 29,
1456 København K.
Tel.: 33 32 00 60


Zak Avery said...

Nice write up, Ron - your visit is a fairly accurate parallel of mine, even down to catching Ny Havn on a postcard-perfect Saturday. I'm sure we must have seen each other without realising.

Anonymous said...

For the record: "the sort of American-influenced beers he hates" would be those self-described "extreme beers" that frequently are not only extremely unbalanced, but also use a type of hop that impales itself on your tongue and makes every beer you taste afterwards taste the same. There are certainly less unpleasant types of hops, why can't these be banned?

Anonymous said...

Those beers give you english something to rally against, a common enemy.

Whilst quivering in fear within the front-line trenches of camra you hurl forth devotions of love, for boring and forgettable beers, like grenades toward the increasingly frequent american incursions.

Andrew Arnold said...

Ron, I've had a chat with the publishers of Henrik's book about a tranlsation, but they're not sure the market is there. However,I have made a Google Map of Copenhagen microbreweries based on the book (but ran out of steam shortly afterwards).

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Ocean Arbedersporter (is that right? It wasn't in the programme.)

It's called Ocean Järntorgets Arbetarporter, because it's made for the Bishop's Arms pub on Järntorget in Gothenburg (which apparently has some socialist political connotation, not sure why). Lots of people rated this on RateBeer at the festival, so apparently it was there.

Ron Pattinson said...

david harris, Mike isn't British, isn't a CAMRA member, never lived in Britain, not a particular fan of cask beer nor that keen on British styles.

So you really nailed him with your comments.

The English already have a common enemy, should they need one. The Scots.

Ron Pattinson said...

zak, see if you remember an older version of Laurel and Hardy. That would have been me and Mike.

Ron Pattinson said...

Thanks Lars. I was relying on memory. I knew it was something to do with workers.