Copenhagen Beer Celebration – A Memory
Over two weeks has passed since the delicious onslaught of alcohol happened in Copenhagen. The memory of what took place is still fairly fresh in my mind. It’s a delirious haze of tiny tasting glasses, different shades of amber, beards, smiles, sunshine, big buckets of dregs and a torn off arm, giving me the finger, in the jaw of the yellow wolf.
Copenhagen was bathed in sunshine when we arrived. It invited us with a Scandinavian cleanliness of the type that makes three jaded runts from London really feel like they’re on holiday. We’d packed light and brought an empty suitcase to bring back as many bottles of beer as the weight limit allowed. The plan was simple. Find the AirBnB, get some food inside us and go drink some of the best beers in the world. Then do it all over again the next day. To add extra excitement to it all we’d been in touch with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Mr Mikkeller himself, and there was a small possibility that we’d be able to have a chat to him.
After finding the flat we had to take a couple of minutes to get to grips with how swanky Danish homes are compared to your average London dwelling. On several occasions during the weekend I had the distinct feeling of walking around in a Wallpaper article. We headed out in the sun and located a food market. The task now was to fight back the urge to start drinking immediately. Everything was right for it, yet if we started now it would take up precious liver space that would be better utilised a bit later. Instead we opted for coffee from Coffee Collective. Josh, who’s very particular about how he takes his coffee, struck up a we’re-here-for-the-beer-festival conversation with the Scandinavian coffee man behind the counter. At the mention of Mikkeller the coffee man looked Josh dead straight in the eye and said, without any trace of irony, “that man is the coolest man in the universe”. Now all we had to do was to wait for the best beer festival in the world, arranged by the coolest man in the universe, to kick off.
“Un-fucking believable”. These were the only words ringing through my brain as we were stress walking down some random side street, hopefully in the direction of the festival. We were late. How the hell did this happen? The answer was simple. We should’ve checked the time on the ticket. I was sweating and cursing my lack of attention while imaging all the beer we were missing out on. After some frantic walking past a lot of people who were happy to be lazily drinking shitty lager in the sun, we found it. Beer Mecca. The reason we’d traversed the sea. Copenhagen Beer Celebration. The desire to get beer inside me was now bordering on desperation. We got our wristbands and tasting glasses. It was time to drink. “Just find something you like and stand next to it, getting your glass refilled” the ticket man advised with a wry smile.
Laid out in front of us was a scene that would make any beer fan weak at the knees. An enormous hall filled with some of the most illustrious brewing giants the world of beer had to offer, proudly pouring their beers for a starstruck audience. If this place were to suddenly go up in flames it would make a lot of mediocre breweries around the world very happy.
One of the first people I saw inside the gigantic hall of beer was the coolest man in the universe. He was wearing a red jumper with a print of a hand giving everyone the middle finger. I said hi, I’m the guy who wants to have a chat, and he said we could probably sort something out later, probably tomorrow. Turns out that the coolest man in the universe is a very nice guy. He then recommended that I head over to the bearded chaps at Surly Brewing to try some of their brews before they ran out. I was still feeling like I was seriously behind on my drinking. There were beers to be had. Mikkel was not wrong. I’d never sampled anything from Surly before in my life, and now I lie awake at night thinking about them. In quick succession I tried their imperial stout, Darkness, and the double IPA, Abrasive. Both of them easily up there with some of the best beer I’ve ever had. And yet, it would only get better.
After that I found myself walking quickly from stall to stall, peeking around people to see what was on offer, thrusting out my glass to be filled and quickly walking on to the next stall, throwing the ambrosial liquid down my throat. It was excessive and amazing. After half an hour I was giddy and exhausted. I needed to calm down. It was around this time I discovered the massive buckets of dregs. People walked up to them and emptied their glasses. The thought of pouring out beer hadn’t even entered my mind, but it struck me as a good idea. It allowed me to focus solely on the most amazing stuff. From then on, if something wasn’t incredible, or just ok, it would be poured into the bucket of dead beer.
It’s difficult to put into words how amazing some of the beers were. The experience of drinking here was so far removed from any normal drinking session. It was a machine gun of flavour. Little hits of amazingness, one after another. Anchorage was high on my list of breweries I wanted to sample. It’s a two man outfit running an all barrel-aged, high brettanomyces, operation up in Alaska. Their beer is incredible – complex, deep and funky as hell. The memory of what I drank are dotted with highlights. These peaks of flavour pulled me out of the moment, making it possible to recount what I experienced. There was Jester King, and especially their El Cedro, which smelled like the forest and was a refreshing break from all the imperial stouts and barley wines. There was Westbrook’s Brandy Old Time, a strong ale aged in brandy barrels. There was the imperial stout from 8Wired, and all the crazy ass high alcohol madness from DeMolen. There was Boxing Cat, who’d brought a glamorous line up of amazing brews all the way from China. There was Against The Grain, Stillwater, Hoppin’ Frog and Cigar City, all of them serving beers that well and truly blew my mind.
And then there was the George!. Yes, it has an exclamation mark at the end of it. And it bloody well deserves it. This imperial stout by Mikkeller is exceptional. At the festival it was available in three different versions – aged in either bourbon, calvados or cognac barrels. I had a sip of the cognac version and went silent. Time stopped. I just looked at my friends, lost for words. That’s how you know you’ve hit on something truly phenomenal. The feeling is almost bordering on sadness. It’s equal to listening to a beautiful piece of music, or watching a spectacular sunset. There’s no desire for explanation. Just silent contemplation.
Before long people started filing out of the massive beer hall. Day one was over. Despite the late start I felt sufficiently beered up. The night was still young and we hunted down a burger before heading to the Mikkeller bar. Being back in the real world, paying for beer again, felt strange. We bumped into a fanatic Swede who proclaimed that he would sample all 90 beers at tomorrow’s session. We applauded him, finished our drinks and headed home to our trendy abode.
The next morning I felt surprisingly full of spirit. Not nearly as dead and defeated as I’d been dreading. I’d told my friends I might not make it back alive. But I was fine and it was time to hit the bottle shops. We walked across town, past daytime hookers and bewildered tourists, to find the first one – Ølbutikken. The proprietor offered us a glass of beer the moment we set foot inside. He had a good selection of bottles. The plan was to get some Evil Twin but nothing he had tickled my fancy. Instead I came out of there with an Omnipollo Brygd and a Darkhorse Plead The Fifth, both epic makers of tasty brews that were missing from the beer fest. The second bottle shop we hunted down was a part of the new Mikkeller bar in Viktoriagade. It had a very fresh plywood finish and felt box fresh and shiny. I’ve heard that it has a keg room that’s so beautiful it can make bar staff cry. The shop was stocked with the most outstanding beers. I came away from there with a Westverleven XII and a bottle of the new Mikkeller French Oak series.
We had to stop buying bottles. The quota was reached and it was time to get back to the massive beer hall for round two of drinking. I’d missed out on trying anything from Xbeeriment, To Øl and Three Floyds the day before so they were the first to seek out. If serving beer was a race then Three Floyds would win every time. The queue to sample their Dark Lord imperial stout was immense. Their stall was also inconveniently placed right next to Mikkeller’s, which didn’t help to keep the crowds organised. Refusing to queue I headed off to Xbeeriment. I’d heard reports that their Agent Orange, a fruit beer made with peaches and brett and aged in moscatel barrels, was one of the big surprises the previous day. I tried an imperial stout and a sour ale made with elderberries, both of which was good, but not the best. You quickly become an overly critical asshole when you’ve got access to so much amazing beer. Behind me the crazy screwballs at To Øl had cracked open one of their Mine’s Bigger Than Yours XXXL, the most gigantic bottle of barrel aged barley wine you’ve ever seen. It looks like something the most die-hard beer geeks would worship at an altar. There’s only 12 bottles available, but each of them has 15 liters of the most amazing high octane beverage in it.
I had decided to try to stay away from the British brewers at the festival. The exceptions came in the form of the most refreshing and almost ephemeral Sour Damson Berliner wiesse from Kernel. At 2.3% it was by far the weakest beer I had all weekend. I also had to try the Brodie’s and Mikkeller Big Mofo Stout collaboration, with blueberries and licorice. It didn’t disappoint. All the luscious liquids had made me feel very calm and cool as I was meandering around the hall. It was a blissful happiness – I was the satisfied king of beer and I could have whatever my corrupt and shameless mind wanted. All I had to do was to point at someone with my magic glass and it would be filled. Around me I noticed the other people partaking in the same activity. Some of them were furiously taking notes, methodically going through each brewery. There were also a good few big lads with serious drinking agendas who looked like they almost floated around. One of these balloon people was our friend from the night before. Judging by his gait and the psychotic smile on his face he was making good progress on sampling all 90 brews.
Copenhagen Beer Celebration was almost too good to be true. It’s close to perfection. If I ever decided to stop drinking beer this would be a good ending point. I just had the best beer in the world. Where do I go from here? It blows any other beer festival I’ve ever been to clean out of the water. It’s also the most well behaved collection of drunkards I’ve seen in my life. Show me any other alcohol related festivity serving an endless amount of super strong brews and I would expect to see the Big Boy Security Service Inc ready to use whatever level of violence they’d deemed necessary to keep the crowds calm. Not here. There were no blood and no fights. I didn’t even see a little bit of puke. Just smiles and a lot of beards.
Throughout the last session I’d bumped into Mr Borg Bjergsø a couple of times, harassing him to talk to me. Every time he kindly told me to come back later. I then saw him wearing his jacket and talking on the phone, which is the international sign for “I’m-outta-here”. I might have missed my chance to interview the coolest man in the universe, but I will keep on trying. I drowned my sorrows in a last couple of samples of ultra strong and delicious beer. A couple of weeks later, as I suffer myself through a much more mundane and unpleasant existence, I get the occasional phantom flavour popping up in my memory. It takes the shape of a serious malty imperial stout or a funky and complex brett concoction. It feels like Copenhagen Beer Celebration has rewired my brain. I can’t wait for it to do it to me again next year.