It's very easy, upon arriving in Copenhagen, to just go nuts and drink oneself into an inadvertent stupor on some of the finest beers available to humanity. Fortunately, the ever-sensible Danish government (and drinks industry) have taken steps to ensure the damage by impressionable southerners is kept to a minimum via the means of high taxes and outrageous pricing. You won't get much for under €7 a pint here, so you'd best make it good.
That said, curiosity had got the better of me when Séan and I rolled into town a couple of weeks back, and while we waited for access to our hotel I eschewed the inevitable delights of the Mikkeller bar and brought us for a sensible lunch in a brewpub I'd never been to before: Vesterbro, opposite the Tivoli. Vesterbro IPA was procured, arriving in a generously filled goblet if somewhat headless. It's quite thin and rather lagerish: "IPA made by an Austrian," said Séan, in reference to the shiny copper Salm brewkit gleaming by the doorway. There's a vaguely floral aroma and a bitterness like tasted perfume on the foretaste. It finishes sweet, like foam banana candy. Not an auspicious start and not one of the finest beers available to humanity.
Still with a few minutes to spare before hotel time we nipped across the street to Apollo. I was expecting even less of a wow factor here, based on past experience of this touristy brewpub built into the main entrance of Tivoli, but it surprised me. The waiter all but forced an Apollo Jule Bryg down us. This was the Thursday before the first Friday of November: a day etched on the Danish beer calendar as the launch of all the independent breweries' Christmas beers (the following night belongs to Tuborg's). Apollo's is a wholesome and balanced affair, an appropriate dark mahogany with caramel at the beginning, a little bit of bitterness later on and infused with warming banana esters, wrapped up in a reasonable 5.8% ABV.
Apollo's other offerings were a little less traditional. The American Brown Ale was more of a porter, I thought: lots of brown malt for some major milky coffee flavours and aromas but finishing with a crisp, dry roast barley bite. Not sweet enough to be a brown ale, I reckon, and certainly too few hops for the American angle, but spot-on as a porter. Funnily enough I met something just like it on coming home: Galway Bay brewery's Brown Ale currently pouring from the Strange Brew tap in the Cottage Group pubs strikes lots of very similar notes. I'm a fan.
The last one from Apollo was their Mango Weissbier. And sure why not? It presents quite dark: brownish-orange, like Schneider-Weisse. The aroma offers a sweet fruit sorbet effect and the flavour wrongfoots you immediately by kicking off with a big bitter hop tang. The mango follows quickly afterwards: full and sticky, more like mango flavoured bubblegum than fresh fruit. I got a twang of copper just at the finish. It could get a bit difficult after a while, but just a small glass was interesting and very different from the usual.
We caught up with our European colleagues later in Café Globen, more a travellers' club house than a proper bar, but with a damn decent selection of Danish beer. First up for me was Lupulus from Beer Here. A straight-up no-messing IPA, though light at just 4.7% ABV and a bright, clear orange colour. Spicy sherbet on the nose, super zingy citrus flavours and a kind of interesting Belgian funk just at the end to keep things interesting. The same brewing company had a Jul IPA too, another bright orange one but definitely fuller and more warming with a good dose of toffee amongst the pithy citrus. It's a winter beer first, given just a bit of a pale 'n' 'oppy twist. Before moving on, a swift No. 16 from Refsvindinge: red and sweet with lots of toffee. It hits a lot of the notes that good Irish red ale does, though at 5.7% ABV packs more of a wallop.
This is where it starts to get a little heated. We followed the crowd to Fermentoren, a pub owned by the people behind Croocked Moon brewery and which opened a little over a year ago. It's a sparse place, in that slightly canteenish Nordic way, though sufficiently comfortable and atmospheric. And the beer selection is top notch. I had two from Flying Couch, a company which shares its brewing load between Herslev and Nørrebro. Pillow Fight is a 4.6% ABV American amber lager, though quite a full-bodied and ale-ish one with some delicious fruity hop perfume amongst the caramel sweetness. Green Velvet is a 7% ABV IPA, heavily bitter with touches of boozy golden syrup and a dry tannic finish. Quite a a workout. But I really struck gold with Mikkeller's Christmas porter To Via From. It's stoutishly dry with just enough central heating from the 8% ABV. But on top of this there's just a subtle dusting of Christmas spices which accentuate the other elements and make the whole into this wonderful buttery bready pudding of a beer, creamy and bitter and spicy simultaneously and completely harmoniously. It's a supreme achievement and really restored my faith in Mikkeller as one of Europe's top beer brands.
So you know what comes next: up the street to the Mikkeller bar. It's gone midnight now and I need an eye-opener. The blackboard shows Girardin 1882 white label: that'll do. I had the black one recently and it's a powerhouse. This seemed altogether more smooth and rounded, though still every inch a sour lambic. Then just something hoppy to go out on: 8 Wired's Superconductor, an IPA that travelled all the way from New Zealand to the old one. At 8.88% ABV and 88 IBUs one suspects that this may be more of a gimmick than a beer, but it's a pretty straight clone of good US IPA: that slightly unctuous bit of toffee followed by a hop one-two of bitter pith and sweet mandarin. I've seen this many times before but it's no hardship at all to meet it again.
And that's where evening one ended. On to Carlsberg next. Would the beer be as good there?