Copenhagen’s Beer Week is probably the best craft beer festival in the world
Alan Wooding travelled to Denmark's iconic Carlsberg City District in May 2022 to sample some of the tasty amber liquid being produced by the city's exciting new microbreweries
Above left: Blue Moon was one of 30-plus talented microbreweries showcasing the best of Danish craft beers at Copenhagen Beer Week held on ØlTorvet, better known as Beer Square. All pictures by Alan Wooding
open’ in Danish – while its Suffolk-born masterbrewer Jack Delany showed us around. He intends to brew a different series of craft beers and explained that when the new equipment is up and running, his first batches will sadly have to be poured away to make sure there is no contamination.
A visit to Restaurant Møntergade took our lunchtime dining experience to a whole different level. Comprising seven amazing courses accompanied by four different beers, Møntergade was founded by Michelin-starred restaurant Formel B and is regarded as one of the best open-faced sandwich places to eat in Copenhagen.
Specialising in fish – herring, plaice, salmon and cod – by adding sea buckthorn, eggs, chicken and all manner of herbs and dressings on rye bread, it was truly a real banquet… and especially the delicious strawberry, rhubarb and vanilla ice cream dessert!
With free time in the afternoon from a busy itinerary, I opted for a one hour canal and harbour cruise from Ved Stranden using my Copenhagen Card as I knew time would be limited. It also gave me the chance to see the new Opera House, the Amalienborg Palace the Black Diamond, ‘BLOX’ and a back view of the city’s best known statue, The Little Mermaid.
That evening we met at Nørrebro Bryghus brewhouse, a small local brewery in Ryesgade, where we had another stunning meal accompanied by more tasty craft beers. Opened in 2003, like many of Denmark’s microbreweries, Nørrebro specialises in organic and natural tasting brews but unlike the others, it uses the brewed barley and hops to make tasty puffy-style crisps.
Our final day saw us drive out of the city some 40 kilometres and into the province of Zealand and the village of Herslev. Being close to Roskilde Fjord, first we visited Herslev Brewery which produces 40 different types of natural organic beers in IPA and Pilsner styles using only ingredients grown in the surrounding area.
With low alcohol beers on the increase worldwide, Herslev Brewery has created a delicious number called ‘Under The Sun’ which has proven very popular. Last year alone, this small brewery produced more than 600,000 litres of ‘nature beer’ which was supplied to local shops and supermarkets.
When lockdown was imposed on the country, like so many restaurants worldwide, Denmark’s hospitality providers suffered as a result but now with the craft beer movement is once again gaining in popularity, linking different beers instead of wine with different food types, it’s becoming big business.
Just across from the brewery we visited a quite remarkable chocolate factory which has swept the board when comes worldwide competition. Picking up four World Gold Medals last year alone, Mikkel Friis-Holm is a true chocolatier. His Friis-Holm Chokolade company uses the finest beans from around the world yet some of the equipment he uses is more than 100 years old.
“In the end it all comes down to experience and taste,” said Mikkel as we worked our way through the different stages of chocolate production, naturally tasting as many samples as we could along the way. All were so delicious that it’s no wonder that one wall of the factory entrance was covered in prize-winning diplomas.
He explained that all competitions are based on ‘blind tasting’ alone and with some of the big chocolate producers also involved, Mikkel’s success rate is even more remarkable. The Danish word ‘Hygge’ is surely never more suited – he’s certainly comfortable and contented with his lot!
This July, the medieval city of Roskilde in the Fjordlandet area of Denmark will host the The Grand Depart, the opening stage of the annual Tour de France cycle race while the second stage will be a wind-blown coastal route taking in the picturesque landscape and challenging hills.
Our final afternoon saw us return to the city for a guided tour of ØlTorvet (roughly translated as Beer Square) and as it was a nationwide Bank Holiday, the place was heaving. ØlTorvet is the signature event of Copenhagen Beer Week and with 30 microbreweries showcasing the best of Danish craft beers, the atmosphere was electric.
I was also delighted to meet up again with Jan Paul, a top brewmaster from the mid-Baltic island of Bornholm. Having visited Svaneke Bryghus four years earlier when I'd been invited to attend the annual Sol Over Gudhjem cookery competition, Jan had taken us around his brewery and he was very proud of his products. At ØlTorvet his beer was again well received and he knows that all feedback is important to future plans.
My official Copenhagen Beer Week trip ended mid-afternoon but it still gave me time for a brief visit to the Tivoli Gardens before heading back to the airport as my 72-hour Copenhagen Card was just about. to expire.
We had lunch at Carl’s Beer & Eatery accompanied by beer historian Bjarke Bundgaard in the heart of the Carlsberg District which boasts more than 100 different beers, three of which accompanied our traditional tasty smorgasbord open sandwiches on rye bread. The 'filling' comprised of shrimps, fish and various meats while I also loved the after-lunch hibiscus sour liqueur!
Bjarke also the joined us for an afternoon visit to Carlsberg’s 145-year-old scientific centre which proved extremely interesting with the company's director of brewing, microbiologist Zoran Gojkovic calling it his ‘Inner Sanctum’. Originally from the former Yugoslavia where he worked on cancer treatment for sick children, he explained that in the early years Carlsberg had recruited many top scientists in a bid to discover how to purify yeast, a discovery that finally changed the beer industry for good.
The original scientists were all professors and members of the Royal Society and today Zoran has experimented with many different beers, one having been brewed from 150-year-old yeast. It made just 30 bottles, one of which was given to Denmark's crown prince while another was sent to the late British scientist, Stephen Hawking.
The official opening of Copenhagen Beer Week took place on Wednesday afternoon at Anarkist, a Danish beer bar close to Tivoli Garden – the city’s top tourist attraction – but unfortunately for me, the actual presentation was all in Danish!
That evening we enjoyed a Nordic-style dinner at Barr, a restaurant specialising in Baltic and North Sea cuisine. The historic building was once the gastronomic mecca of Noma and top chef Rene Redzepi which was named as the world’s best restaurant between 2010 and 2014.
Pairing food and beer, the four courses were excellent and comprised sea bass, a stunning steak tartar, cod with seasoned mushrooms and to finish, a delicious rhubarb dessert.
The following morning we had a brisk walk from the hotel to Copenhagen’s industrial Meatpacking District where we visited ÅBEN which had been named 'Brewery of the Year' in 2019. It was a remarkable feat indeed as it had only been in existence for two years after owner Philip Hulgaard turned his childhood family farm into a brewery.
Still under construction behind what looked like a temporary pop-up bar is the brand new ÅBEN brewery – it means ‘to be
Having received an offer to visit Copenhagen’s Beer Week, I simply jumped at the chance as my previous visit to Denmark’s capital four years ago was purely to make an airport transfer on my way to the island of Bornholm.
Although this time I was on an organised trip, I was determined to make the most of any free time and equipped with a 72-hour Copenhagen Card, I hoped to see as much as possible. The 72-hour card – which costs £92/€108 euros for adults – allows entry into 88 different visitor attractions as well as allowing unlimited travel on the city's Metro, S-train or buses.
Top of the attractions is Tivioli Gardens, said to be the world’s oldest amusement park offering everything from adrenaline rushes to big concerts and unique dining experiences, dazzling lights and beautiful flowers... but more of that later.
Following a short 75 minute flight from London-Stansted Airport into Copenhagen Kastrup International, the Danish capital’s efficient Metro system takes you directly into the city centre. An easy switch to an S-train and two stops later I was in the Carlsberg City District, location of Brøchner Hotels’ boutique Hotel Ottilia where I would spend three nights on a bed and breakfast basis, courtesy of VisitCopenhagen.
With 155 comfortable bedrooms, the 4+ star Hotel Ottilia is named after the wife of Carlsberg Brewery founder Carl Jacobsen while the iconic building itself retains an authentic industrial charm, despite having once been two separate brewery buildings.
All rooms and suites have a cool industrial look with very high ceilings and some spectacular lighting. The rooms are well sound-proofed which, considering all the redevelopment building work going on in the area, was much appreciated!
Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to use the hotel’s spa and wellness facilities in the basement but I did enjoy a decent glass of wine or two in the Lobby Bar which is free every day between 5-6pm to guests.
The Ottilia has a superb fifth floor terrace and Italian restaurant – where I enjoyed a sensational breakfast – while it also allows you great views over the former Carlsberg Brewery site which retains many of its historic rooftop statues as well as some truly stunning architecture.
Meeting up with tour guides Ida-Maj Fiskbaek and Agnete Malene Boye from The Food Organisation of Denmark the following morning, we set off on foot around the Carlsberg City District accompanied by architectural student Peter who enthusiastically described the many different styles being incorporated into the newly-constructed buildings.
The Carlsberg brand is named after Carl Jacobsen while ‘berg’ is the Danish name for a hill. The brewery was originally built in 1847 on the only high ground in Copenhagen which also had a natural spring, having moved there after the earlier small brewhouse failed to keep up with demand for what was deemed to be the first proper Danish beer.
Today the whole area is being completely transformed and by 2024 the district will comprise a mix of homes, shops, cafés, restaurants, schools, kindergartens, cultural institutions as well as nine high-rise tower blocks.
Four enormous elephant statues stand back-to-back and form an impressive arched gateways into Bryggernes Plads, the cobbled square with a fountain which backs onto Hotel Ottilia. The elephants are representive of the four young children of brewery founder Carl Jacobsen and his wife Ottilia, all of whom tragically died in early childhood.