Friday, 14 June 2013

Craft Beer in Copenhagen

Craft Beer in Copenhagen


Favourite Beer



One of Europe’s most lauded craft brewers, and so a visit to Mikkeller Bar (Viktoriagade 8) is a must. Enter down a few steps into this cellar bar with it’s minimalistic white walled interior, mis-matched furniture, and candles. You’ll see the beers on tap listed on a blackboard, described in the bar’s own leaflet as ’20 taps from Mikkeller and the best breweries in the world’, and who could wish for anything better?

Before launching into the Mikkeller selection, I tried a couple from Danish micro Vesterbro. Vesterbro Wit was a hazy golden take on the Belgian wheat style, with a lingering herbaceous hoppy aftertaste. Even better, Vesterbro Pale Ale (6.5% abv) was a hazy amber Citra hop classic, with a passionfruit palate and a Citra bitter finish that lasted and lasted. Excellent.

I’ve read an interview with Mikkel, where he explains his philosophy. By hiring other peoples breweries in which to brew his beers (chiefly in Belgium, I believe), he doesn’t have a big bank loan to pay back on his own brewery. So Mikkel can avoid brewing ‘safe’ beers with mass appeal, allowing him to experiment and to push
some brewing boundaries. A perfect illustration of this is Mikkeller Rauch Pils. A dark gold proper pils with a clean taste and good bitterness, but with an assertive smokiness from aroma to finish. Surprisingly balanced and drinkable! Mikkel brewed his Mikkeller 1000 IBU to show the world what a beer is like if you add far too many hops! Dark copper, with, unsurprisingly, a big hop aroma. There is a big, big taste – some sweetness – but mainly just huge aromatic hop bitterness. As expected, the hop finish just lasts and lasts. Another memorable beer that stimulates you to evaluate what’s in your glass. I finished off with the excellent Mikkeller Saison Solstice (6% abv), reddish copper with an orangey hop aroma, and a refreshing fruity hop flavour.

Just around the corner from Mikkeller Bar is the beer shop Ølbutikken (Istedgadde 44). The beer selection isn’t the largest, but is exceedingly well chosen. There’s one table near the door, where you can sit, relax and sample anything from the shop for a small supplement.

Favourite Bar


Black Swan (Borgergade 93)

Hidden away a good ten minutes walk from the city centre, but well worth the trek, the Black Swan is a local’s corner bar. It serves a rotating selection of ten Danish micros on tap, as well as a Lithuanian Weizen (Svyturys), and a Belgian Wit. The bottled selection includes brews from Belgium and the USA.

Look in through the arched windows with their fairy lights, and you’ll see a warm Scandinavian interior, with beautiful framed photos, and candles on every table. (Infact all pubs in Copenhagen have candles on the tables, it might be some kind of local licensing requirement!). Us Brits will feel at home, since the Danish owner is a Stoke City fan (I never did find out why) and the barman when we visited was from Newport, South Wales.

In the name of research I tried some of the Danish draughts. Ugly Duck’s Nelson Sauvin was very good, and properly exhibited its single hop character. Beer Here’s Karma Citra was a dark brown brew, with a most pleasing passionfruit flavour from my favourite hop variety. To finish the evening, what better than a glass of Beer Here’s Milk Stout? Dark and not too sweet, the enjoyably roasty flavour lasted long after the last swallow.

We enquired about food, and my Welsh chum directed me over the road to the King Tut takeaway, suggesting that I bring it back to eat in the bar. Pizza and kebab ordered, the King Tut staff, bless them, said ‘go back to the pub, and we’ll deliver it to your table’.

Other Bars and Beers that we Loved


My pre-tour interweb research suggested that the Bishops Arms (Ny Østergade 14) was ‘just a chain pub’ or some kind of ‘Scandinavian Wetherspoons’. Well ok, it is part of a Scandinavian pub group. And it is a kind of open-plan imitation UK pub with its wood panelling and plate rack, tiffany light shades and picture of Queen Elizabeth II, BUT the beer selection is excellent. You can choose from about 200 beers, including eight on handpump and twenty more on tap. The draught offerings are multinational with many unusual brews and, during my visit, two from Mikkeller. The display fridges are packed with bottles, I spotted Cantillon and Left Hand amongst many that I didn’t have time to try. They also stock 400 whiskies!

Charlie’s Bar (Pilestræde 33) is a small, narrow beer temple. The main attraction is the guest ales from the UK on handpump – these included Fuller’s Vintage Ale and a couple from Thornbridge – and every spare inch of wall space is filled with pump clips. The keg selection included Dublin micro Porterhouse, St Georges Kellerbier and the local Hancock’s Pils.

Near to the gates of the Tivoli gardens is the brewpub Apollo (Vesterbrogade 3). The gleaming coppers are proudly on view, and the conservatory-style walls and ceiling give a light and airy ambience. The two permanent beers numbered a dark gold Pilsener (4.6% abv) with a good balance of malt and hops, and a 6.0% abv IPA. The two specials were Amarillo Pale Ale (5.6% abv) which was amber and bitter. Since it was early in the day, I didn’t have the fortitude to try the 9.4% abv Øresundsporter anno 2013, which is a pity!

I like a bar with a strong theme to their beer selection, and found it at Lord Nelson (Hyskenstræde 9). All 14 taps, plus the small bottle selection, are from Danish micros. The bar itself is low ceilinged, candle-lit (of course), and populated by ‘alternative’ types. I tried the superbly hoppy Amager Kåååd (6% abv).

Over the water in the Christianshavn area of the city, lies its oldest pub, Rabes Have (Langebrogade 8) c1632. A little unpromising from the outside, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely old interior, with roses and candles on the tables. The taps are nothing more than the ‘usual suspects’, but bottles from Amager are the reward for those who look a little closer.


Hidden Gem


Call me ‘a sucker for a tourist trap’ if you must, but I couldn’t resist going to Vinstue 90 (Gammel Kongevej 90). The A-frame outside announced ‘Slow Beer Here’, and so it proved. They serve an unconditioned Carlsberg lager that foams so much that it takes around ten minutes to pour. While you wait, it is recommended that you try a different beer! When the Slow Beer finally arrives it is pale gold with a white ‘ice cream’ head protruding comically far above the glass. It tastes just like an uncarbonated Carlsberg lager which is, of course, what it is. The bar itself was smoky and full of locals, and the friendly and characterful licensee showed us to the atmospheric back room with its wall-mounted cases of knick-knacks. Candle-lit too, you’ll be surprised to hear.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Craft Beer in Berlin

Visited May 2013

Favourite Beer

Before arriving in this terrific city, my interweb research had flagged up Brewbaker (Arminiusstr. 2-4) as a brewery to look out for. A U-bahn ride to the north of the city centre brings you to a very pleasant market hall, with an accordionist busking in the entrance. A roof-height banner in the far corner draws us beer pilgrims to sit at the bar, with our view of the brewing kit partly obscured by a kind of faux wall-with-windows.

I kicked off with a Bellevue Pils (5% abv), described in the brewery’s blurb as ‘Unser Hausklassiker!’. A golden pils with a soft malt palate and low carbonation, gently giving way to an exceptionally long, satisfying bitter finish. I could have happily spent the rest of the afternoon drinking this, but I had research to do! Next up was another draught, the Red Lager. This beer takes its dark amber colour from the Vienna, Munich and Crystal malts, and the taste has a subtle hint of caramel.

I was joined at the bar by modest and likeable brewer Michael Schwab. He’s looking for larger premises, since the cellar at the market hall is tiny, with no room for tours. He’s also looking to up production, whilst still remaining a small brewer of unfiltered beers. Michael visited his cellar and returned with three bottles for us to try, plus a sample of his Ginger Beer poured direct from the conditioning tanks. It was hazy gold, with a good ginger aroma. The taste was a perfect balance of ginger and wheat beer, making for a light and refreshing drink. Michael only uses Madagascan ginger due to its greater intensity, meaning that when Madagascan supplies were unobtainable for one year, his Ginger Beer became unavailable too.

Berliner Weisse is a Berlin classic, that uses a variety of yeast distinct from other wheat beer yeasts. Michael’s bottle conditioned version was the best I’ve ever tasted. Hazy gold, the flavour is a complex mix dominated by apples and gentle acidity. In common with many great beers this one is flavoursome and complex, yet soft and gentle. Michael explained that the first fermentation is with both weisse yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria, and a second fermentation is with a Brettanomyces wine yeast. Apparently, after two or three years it tastes like champagne. Michael had recently sampled a perfectly good forty year-old bottled Berliner Weisse.

Michael’s Classic Stout was simply the best stout I have ever tasted. Smooth and easy drinking, yet with an intense and sensational roasty dark malt flavour. Quite superb. Light malts and roasted barley go into the mash tun, as does some crystal malt which generates the slight sweetness.

Michael’s inspiration for his Double IPA is Stone Brewery’s ‘Arrogant Bastard’. He uses hops from the US too - namely Cascade - as well as the German varieties Polaris, Hallertau, Smaragd and Perle. And in no small quantity. A superb hoppy aroma is followed by a big hoppy flavour, with a long, long hop accented finish. Perhaps the most impressive aspect, and again one that can be a characteristic of a great beer, is that it doesn’t taste as strong as 9% abv. I couldn’t taste the alcohol, it was just smooth and satisfying, yet another fantastic Brewbaker beer.

Favourite Bar

Alkopole Bierbar (Bahnhof Alexanderplatz)

I have to thank Peter Sutcliffe, author of the splendid book ‘Around Berlin in 80 Beers’ (publishers Cogan & Mater) for bringing this little gem to our attention. Ok so it’s not a craft beer bar. It’s not old or historic. It’s just a small beer bar in a station building, but it’s lovely, and it’s SO Berlin. You can enter either from the tram stops in the street, or from the station concourse beside the U and S-bahn escalators. Once inside you can sit at the bar, or at a few high tables with stools. One corner houses a Wurlitzer jukebox, another corner has been decorated to represent a country beer garden, complete with excellently-cheesy fake tree. It is run by uniformed women-of-a-certain-age, who do a terrific job striking a balance between friendly efficiency and strict rule enforcement. Behind the bar are jars of pickled eggs and pickled gherkins. On the menu are other Berlin classics such as bockwurst sausage with potato salad.

The handful of draught beers include Berliner Kindl Jubilaums Pilsener, and a dark beer that rotates between Markischer Landman Schwarzbier (summer) or the warming Berliner Kindl Bock Dunkel (winter). The sixteen bottles on the beer menu include Schofferhofer Hefeweizen Dunkel and Monschof Kellerbier which is served in a ceramic pot.

Alexanderplatz station is an ideal transport hub, with links to all of the main attractions, airports, sports stadia and beery destinations. So why not pop into the Alkopole Bierbar whilst waiting for a connection?

Other Bars and Beers that we Loved

Hops and Barley (Wühlischstr. 22-23) is another highly-recommended craft beer destination. A welcoming little bar with ceramic tiled walls, quarry tiled floor, and brewing vessels on display. There are three regular beers, a seasonal special, and even a home-fermented cider.

The regular Pils is pale gold, crisp and bitter, a good proper pils. The Dunkles is dark brown with muted dark malt flavours. My pick was the Weiss, a subtle and lovely amber version of the style, whose long and multilayered finish includes a good dose of cloves.

Chinook Lager was the seasonal special, brewed with the eponymous US hops, and exhibiting them in both the aroma and taste. I got talking to Sven the brewer, and this particular beer was his favourite. Upon discovering my cidermaking credentials, he invited me down to the cellar to show me where his Cider is fermented. He first tried buying apple juice from within Germany, but this didn’t work out, so he tried importing English juice, which is fermented in his cellar. The result is a very drinkable, slightly sweet, 3-4% abv, light-bodied and refreshing cider.

Meisterstück (Hausvogteiplatz 3-4) is one of the new wave of ‘pork and craft beer’ bars that are springing up all over. A big open-plan bar with a huge collection of cuckoo clocks (that seem to go off randomly and intermittently) and a big eclectic collection of light shades. The bar counter is in three parts – to the left is a deli counter, the central section is a sausage grill, and to the right is a copper-topped beer bar. This bar seems to have a strong relationship with the BraufactuM brewery, with the display fridge beside the door being devoted completely to the brewery, whilst the second
fridge behind the bar contains about fifty percent. I chose to try the cheapest BraufactuM beer on the menu, BraufactuM Palor (5.2% abv) which came in at 7.50 euros for 35cl. (Compare this to 3.50 euros for 50cl of weisse at Alkopole, and you get the idea). This amber hop ale was beautifully served in a stemmed wine glass, which helped me to appreciate the pleasing malt and hops aroma. The flavour was beautifully balanced, good maltiness giving way to European hops, leading on to a lovely hoppy finish. A great beer, I just wish that I could have afforded to stay and try some more. Many beers on the menu were priced at twenty euros or more, and they seem to want to take beer to the same level of appreciation as fine wine. As the waitress took my customer account card to the pay point, I wondered about the type of people who eat and drink here regularly.

We visited a number of relatively well-established brewpubs in Berlin, and I was particularly taken with Brauhaus Mitte (Karl Leibknecht Str. 13). Sat out on its first floor terrace, with my tasting tray of the four draught beers, I couldn’t have been happier. The Pilsener, Weizen, Dunkel and Bock all went down a treat as the trains trundled by, and after ten minutes my delicious freshly-baked pretzel arrived. All four beers were well-crafted, but pick of the bunch for me was the Dunkel, with its spicy toffee palate, and long satisfying caramel finish.

Hidden Gem

‘Hard to find’ was how my pre-trip research described Eschenbrau (Triftstr. 67), and how accurate this proved to be! You have to take a tree-lined pedestrian avenue off Triftstrasse, and look out for the brewery sign on your left. All looks highly unlikely, but keep on and you’ll find the pub in a cellar down some steps, with the brewkit above on the ground floor. And well worth the effort. The cellar bar is extensive, with lots of beery artefacts, and compartmentalised to provide nooks and crannies. The Pils was cloudy yellow, soft and gentle, with little
bitterness or carbonation. More like a helles, I would have said, but none the worse for that. The seasonal offering was Bayerischen Hell, which I found to be very similar to the Pils – could I have been served the same beer twice by mistake? Both lovely, mind. The Dunkel was a hazy light brown, with a spicy malt palate balanced by a hoppy bitter finish. As with Hops and Barley (above), Eschenbrau make their own Cider. Theirs was a hazy yellow, with a pleasant green apples aroma and flavour, medium dry with assertive carbonation. A good example of a dessert apple cider. I went up the steps to the beer garden to eat my flammkuchen topped with bacon and onions. Despite being in a modern courtyard surrounded by flats and offices, the presence of traditional tables and benches, plus the protective canopy of a huge Turkish Oak, made it a peaceful and relaxing place to eat and drink.

Vicky, Eschenbrau’s helpful and friendly barmaid, recommended that I visit the Rollbergbrauerei (Werbellinstr. 47). Knowing how well hidden it is, she showed me the way on her phone using Google Streetview. Just as well! You walk up Werbellinstrasse, looking out for the Rewe supermarket on the left. Cross the store’s carpark, and look for the old abandoned Kindl brewery
ahead of you. Don’t go to the left (I did, and found myself amongst some unsavoury-looking characters), but at the right side, on the ground floor, you’ll find the brewery tap. There’s no sign, and when I asked why not they explained that ‘we don’t want to attract any drunks’, ‘or customers’ I thought, looking around at the one other customer at 8pm on a Thursday night. To be fair, trade picked up over the next hour. The interior is all rock music, dark wood and metal girders, and the brew house is visible through a glass wall at the far end. Outside they’ve made a valiant attempt at a beer garden, but it still looks like a picnic area in B&Q’s carpark. The 100% organic Hell (4.8% abv) was pale yellow with a good bitter finish, and cost me 2.40 euros for 0.3litres. The Rot was a hazy copper colour, and the Weizen had a pleasing lemony wheat aroma. Best of all was the seasonal Meibock, dark hazy gold, a medium dry balance of malt, alcohol and hops. Good, strong and moreish.


The clean and comfortable Insor (Samariterstr. 15) was a snip at 22 euros per night. It’s walking distance from Hops and Barley, and an easy U-bahn ride into Alexanderplatz. Just around the corner is Schalander (Baenschstr. 91), a laid-back suburban brewpub that’s perfect for a relaxing last drink before bed.