Lessons Learnt At Copenhagen Beer Celebration
Oh Copenhagen, with your bicycle lanes, your tall beautiful people, your swanky Scandinavian flats, your delicious food, and of course, incredibly delicious beer. I’ve sure missed you. We were back in the Danish capital to attend this year’s beer festival of beer festivals, the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Hosted by the Sultans Of Beer at Mikkeller, this year’s festivities saw 40 of the best breweries from around the globe come together to give the beer freaks what they crave the most. It’s taken us a few weeks to recover, and mull over what the hell happened. Below you’ll find what we consider to be the most valuable lessons we learnt there this year. Enjoy.
1. Beer is delicious.
We all know this, of course, but it was thoroughly, and unquestionably, reaffirmed in Sparta Hallen, where Copenhagen Beer Celebration took place. Every session featured at least 80 different brews, of all styles, strengths, colours and flavours. You want a blueberry beer? No problem, there were at least three different ones. You want a doughnut? Have it in the shape of a stout, courtesy of Evil Twin. You want a caramel, marshmallow, grape, coffee, peanut butter, raspberry or apple beer? Whatever you want. And that’s just on top of the saisons, stouts, IPAs and sours, which each and every one of had the power to melt your brain with their unadulterated deliciousness. It also seemed like no brewer wanted to be seen there without at least a couple of solid barrel aged beers. What I’m trying to say is that we were spoilt for choice.
With so many outrageously good beers it’s hard to pick any favourites. It’s all more or less a blur of bliss. One standout was the Mad Sour – a beer made to go with food, but that I would happily drink a bottle of, by myself, in a corner, and not share with anyone. It tasted like a whole new type of drink. Very citrusy, and immensely refreshing. Another blinder was Jester King’s Cerveza de Tempranillo – also a sour beer, this one matured in barrels with tempranillo grapes. Other brews that shines through the fog of Amazing are Alpha State’s smoked saison, Omnipollo’s Hypnopompa cognac barrel aged Imperial Stout, Mikkeller’s big badass X Imperial Stout and everything from Firestone Walker. The guys at To Øl even put up a vending machine dispensing free bottles for all to abuse in whatever way they wanted. I’ve said it before, but it stands to be repeated, Copenhagen Beer Celebration takes you to the very edge of how delicious beer can be. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
2. Judging beer objectively is probably impossible.
Walking around the big festival hall, chugging beer after beer, the next one more crazy and/or delicious than the last one, it crept up on me that I’d lost all ability to properly judge what I was drinking. I’m a firm believer that you taste with you entire brain, and seeing that I was in some sort of screwed up surreal beer fantasy world, where all my favourite brewers were walking around offering me their best brews, it was hard to stay objective. And to be honest, I had no desire to be objective, I just wanted to enjoy the sheer amount of great beer. This realisation made me take notice of a large congregation of men huddled together on the tables in the middle of the festival hall – The Beer Raters. This is a group of beer fans who spend their drinking time taking notes on each beer – on aroma, head retention, flavour, aftertaste, viscosity, all of that jazz. They post their judgement and rating of the beer on websites such as RateBeer. They are hardcore fans and they take this very seriously. But in light of my recent realisation their actions seemed so redundant. Unless they’re all professional tasters, so seasoned that they can shut out the reality of where they are, and just focus on the beer in front of them, regardless of all the other amazing beers they had just before it. Some of the best beers I had was in direct contrast to the one prior, like a light and refreshing sour just after a big and heavy imperial stout. Maybe they’re not under the illusion that they’re being objective. Maybe they just like taking notes. Everyone should enjoy beer in whatever way they want, so if you get pleasure out of taking notes and rating everything you drink, go ahead. I’ll be the drunk fool pouring all the good beer directly into my mouth.
3. Brewers are nice people.
One of the highlights of Copenhagen Beer Celebration, apart from the onslaught of world class beer, is that you get to meet the brewers face to face. Most of them were manning their own tapping stations, allowing fans to stop by for a quick chat. It must be quite gratifying for the brewers to meet the people who drink their stuff, and get reaffirmed that they’re making something people go bananas for. It might also be immensely annoying after a while, when the fifteenth dude in a Three Floyd’s t-shirt rocks up to you to ask what your favourite mash temperature is. Still, they kept on smiling, and seemed to enjoy themselves as much as everyone else. The brewers I talked to were all genuinely excited to be there. Brewers are notoriously busy and they all seemed pretty chuffed to get to catch up with each other and have a nosey on what their fellow colleagues were brewing up .
4. Drinking strategies are useless.
We had tickets to go to two sessions. The list of beers had been released a few days before the doors opened and I’d been pouring over it, trying to figure out what to prioritise and what to ignore. My thinking was that I needed to be organised in order to get the most out of it. Man was I wrong. The moment I set foot inside the hall my masterplan left left my brain in a flash and I found myself swimming in the aether of great beer. I just grabbed a glass and headed towards whatever was the closest to me. Beautiful beer was everywhere. The only strategy I needed was to remember that if something was just amazing, and not a life-altering taste revolution, all I had to do was to pour it into the swill bucket, use one of the fancy glass-rinsing stations, and go hunting for another delightful tipple. On the subject of rinsing stations, they felt like such a treat. It was one of those they’ve got in bars that shoots a jet of water into the glass when you press it down. I want one at home.
5. Beaver glands should stay in beavers and not be used in beer.
Närke is a Swedish brewery that’s gained reputation for making a range of great beers. When we visited their stand we got to try some of these brews first hand, and true enough, most of them were grand indeed. We noticed a special tap on their stand, encased in a small urinal, and when we asked what it was the brewer grinned and told us it was a beer made with the gland from a beaver. A gland from the ass of a beaver to be specific. Its secretion is called Castoreum and the beaver will spray it around to mark its territory. Unfortunately we were dumb enough to try it. It tasted like urinal dregs. And while I applaud them for trying to be innovative, I think all beaver glands should safely be left in the ass of the beaver and never be used for human consumption.
6. There’s more to a beer festival than just beer.
Although the beer is the life and soul of any beer festival, it also needs other bits to make it a complete experience. Like food, for example. Throughout the hall were stands serving anything from pork belly buns and classic Danish smørrebrød to hotdogs and cheeses made with various beers by Mikkeller. There was also a stall serving cotton candy in plastic cups, and you could have an apple with it, or some dried fish. Very bizarre. Much more satisfying was the cocktails from Mikropolis Bar. I had a spanking yuzu and Mikkeller Black spirit concoction, and a tequila and grapefruit cocktail, both of which served as a refreshing interlude to all the beers. Another amazing liquid we got to try was a cherry wine from Frederiksdal. It blew my mind, and I’m keen to get my filthy paws on some bottles to have at home.
7. Key Kegs can break your arm.
This is something we luckily learnt second hand, from one of the volunteers at the festival. They were responsible for the disposal of the Key Kegs the brewers poured the beers from. When they’re empty they’re filled with gas and need to be vented before they can be thrown away. One of the volunteers, obviously some sort of over-excited brute, discovered that the quickest way to do this was to stab it with a knife. He also discovered that some Key Kegs will explode when you do this, very violently. The result was an explosion that ended up breaking the arm of one of the guys standing next to him, who in turn retold the story to us. Remember kids, never stab a Key Keg with a knife.
8. Copenhagen is a great city.
If you go to Copenhagen Beer Celebration you should remember to enjoy the rest of the city. It’s got plenty to offer and it’s definitely worth taking some time to go exploring. We spent an evening with Christian Skovdal from Beer Here, who was kind enough to show us what a good night out in Copenhagen looks like. It involved eating great food at a restaurant called Nose2Tail and drinking the night away at Fermentoren, a bar in the meatpacking district. I remember laughs and warmth and alcohol and a general feeling of extreme contentment. An obvious destination for all beer fans are the two different Mikkeller bars. Mikkeller & Friends in Nørrebro was a hyperactive hive of drunk and happy people after the Friday session. We got ourselves a few glasses of beer and sat at the pizza restaurant across the road to get away from the big crowds. Also, if you brought a suitcase, you should go and empty your bank account in one of the city’s many bottle shops. After a weekend of pouring a vast amount of beer into our heads we spent a day just wandering around Copenhagen, through the city, along the harbour and around Christiania, to find our balance again and give our brain and liver some peace and quiet to try and cope with what just happened.
So there you go, that’s what we learnt this year. It’s safe to say that Copenhagen Beer Celebration never fails to disappoint. It’s the highlight of the beer calendar in my book. I think the guys at Mikkeller should all stand around in a circle and pat each other on the back for having pulled it off yet again. I’ll definitely go back next year, eager to indulge in yet another sensory overload and to overwhelm my taste buds once more. Hope to see you there.
See a lot more photos from the event here
Photos by Josh Smith
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