23 November 2012

To the sea

Day two of the EBCU meeting brought us south out of Copenhagen to the port suburb of Køge. Amongst the anonymous warehouses on the quiet wharfs sits the Braunstein brewery. It was set up with the sole intention of acquiring the legal right to distill spirits, which they now have and do, but the brewery remains in place.

While our meeting was on upstairs, the brewery was having one of its open days, with troops of visitors being brought around the kit and given tasters at the bar. Pride of place there was given to Braunstein Heritage 2011, a red-brown winter warmer that pours quite flat. The 10%+ ABV strength is very apparent in its aroma, with lots of sticky dark treacle smells, and it's unsurprisingly warming when tasted: a rush of smooth molten caramel down the gullet, spiced with a little hop-tang. I found it somewhat one-dimensional, but enjoyable to sip. Their misnomered White Christmas is along similar lines. The hops aren't as pronounced here, coming through a little cabbagey, but otherwise it's a decent sweet dark winter ale.

Braunstein's brewer and distiller is a fellow phenol fanatic and the whisky collection available in the on-site shop runs heavily towards the peated scotch variety. The only Irish bottle I saw in the place was, inevitably, Connemara. Unfortunately I didn't get to try any of the homemade whiskies, but there was a definite atmosphere of peaty smoke in the brewhouse. So much so that on trying Braunstein Porter I was left wondering if it was made with a smoked malt. Turns out it isn't, but it does have lots of lovely roast coffee notes and a generous herbal vibe from the hops.

My last Braunstein sample, chugged on the way out the door, was their Økologisk Pilsner: neither pilsners nor organic beers tend to excite me, with only a handful of exceptions. This was one of those: an utter tour de force, possessed of an assertive weightiness, almost a creamy texture, while still remaining sparkly and fresh. The hops are bursting with life, delivering huge doses of fresh mown grass. The result is a ridiculously drinkable beer that I immediately wanted loads more of.

But we were off to the pub. Down a hobbithole just off main street Køge is Hugo's Vinkælder. The name is deceptive: I'm not sure if they even sell wine. The poky low-ceilinged basement bar does, however, boast a huge selection of beers from Denmark and beyond. Most of it is bottled but there are a dozen or so draught taps too. Hugo's Achilles heel is its cavalier approaching to labelling. Several taps are marked "Hemmelig Hane", which sounded like a perfectly respectable name for a brew until one of the locals pointed out that this means "Secret Tap" in Danish. I like many things in my beer, but mystery isn't one of them.

The first one I had, from Hugo's green mystery tap, was Hornbeer Jul Øl. The barman introduced it as a stout and it's definitely properly dark: deep brown without any of the reddish shades more typical of Danish Christmas beers. Treacle is the first hit, but there's a gradual build-up of fresh and fruity mandarin as it goes down, making this strong winter warmer actually quite refreshing, without reducing any of its warming qualities.

Kloster Jul Øl was much more typical: definitely red amber and predominantly sweet but not in an overpowering way. There's some gentle spicing but what really caught my attention was the hopping: pulling some odd savoury tricks and giving out herb garden flavours like fennel and oregano. As with most of this style you get a relatively understated, very drinkable, dark sweet beer, but this one has more to say for itself than most.

And that brings us to the end of the trip. A big thanks to all the members of Danske Ølentusiaster who put together a great programme in this, one of Europe's most consistently interesting beer cities. The next EBCU meeting is in Brussels next Spring. I wonder if there'll be any good beer at that...

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