Copenhagen Beer Festival 2011: Micros and More in the Giant’s Den

“So, the festival glasses?” I asked. “Are they just behind that stack of whisky tumblers? What do you mean those are the festival glasses?” A voice in my head pipes up. It is late great jazz club owner Ronnie Scott intoning “You’re not here to enjoy yourselves!” It dissipates, the krone dropped; we are here to sample. It was 2009 and my intro to the Copenhagen Beer Festival had me smitten. I knew I would be back. Hope they still have poletts.

Jump-cut to May 2011, a changed flight, altered venue, and here I was again: Copengagen, the third stop on my journey Around theYear in Beer Festivals. The venue is Tap 1 Exhibition Hall at (sharp intake of breath) the Carlsberg Brewery?! Shurely shome mishtake, as Lord Gnome of Private Eye magazine might have it. Is this not some kind of sell-out? No! This must be one of the least sold-out beer festivals there is. Apart from in the sense of ticket sales. 


The festival sample glass and holder with the festival programme.

It does make some kind of sense holding a beer enthusiasts’ festival at the home of a giant industrial brewer. At least Carlsberg has their own micro: Jacobsen, with their own stand at the festival. They make some varied and pretty tasty beers. And it’s variety that makes the Copenhagen festival.  The festival organisers are the Danske Ølentusiaster (Danish Beer Enthusiasts) Association; by enthusiasts for enthusiasts.  In its own way, Carlsberg has its place in spreading the word of the craft beer revolution.

If we are not exactly rejoicing to see the biggest brewery is here, then it is thrilling to see some of the two-man, five-barrel operations – not to forget the breweries where women take a central role, such as at Wintercoat, where Disa Fink with her husband Nils Thomsen comprise the workforce at this English-inspired brewery near Aarhus. Some might look down their pint glasses at handpumps dispensing non-cask ale, but they did have two genuine cask-conditioned beers: the Cockney Imperial Stout at 8% ABV and the Wintercoat Old Ale. Both were great, and the Old Ale, even if the programme notes said it wasn’t fully matured, already tasted delicious.

There was at least one other old ale to be had, also in cask form: Gales Prize Old Ale, imported by the One Pint specialist importers of British, Belgian, US, German, Czech and that other legendary brewing nation, India. Even though we are here to celebrate and sample Danish craft beer, it’s hard to resist the Prize Old Ale, so hard to find in the UK. It was the best I’ve tried: a complex meld of sweet, bitter and sour, satisfying and refreshing. Well worth a polett.

A what, sorry? You said that before? A polett (or possibly polet) is a token in Danish, and you get ten as part of the price of entry (200 kr) along with your sample glass. The deal is, you swap a token for a sample, which is usually 10 cl, but there is a line for 5 cl for very strong beers. It’s a very sensible system – I’ve seen similar at some CAMRA festivals – it saves all that rummaging around for change while juggling your glass and festival programme.

You might think 10 krone (about £1.20) for 10 cl of beer is steep, but the Danish craft beer scene is inspired by the US, so there are some big beers. The likes of Amager, Croocked Moon (sic), Hornbeer, NØrrebro, Kissmeyer, and of course, Mikkeller parade their 8.5% Rye Porters, their Extreme Imperial IPAs at 9%, and their Black Hole Barrel Aged Imperial Stout series – at gone 13%.

And on the more usual side of the ABV tracks, you get American-style style variety: dry-single-hopped Bitters, Doppelbocks, Red Rye IPAs, Coffee Porters, Saisons, Bieres de Garde, as well as IPAs sporting the new hops on the block from the Pacific, such as Citra and Nelson Sauvin.

Even if the website’s list of “exhibitors” is a couple of scrolls long, it still feels like a manageable festival; the enthusiasts know what enthusiasts want. The feel is like a local festival. There are plenty of guests from foreign climes too; it is more than local beer for local people. The Dogs are here: BrewDog and Flying Dog, there’s Italian beer brewed to rival wine for its food matching capabilities, and some Swedish micros – after all, Sweden is a short train journey across the Öresund bridge.

Of course it would be impossible to try everything you came for, even by sharing 10 cl samples. So the sensible thing is to come along more than once. In fact, why don’t you come back for Part 2, for more on those foreigners, pump-action shotgun, smuggled contraband, how to avoid Mikkeller and nearly not get home.

Copenhagen Beer Festival website
(in English) with Exhibitors list (Danish)
Wintercoat Bryggeriet (English)
One Pint Importers range of imported bottled beers

Previously on Around the Year in Beer Festivals…

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