22 August 2005

Poles apart

After being let down by a much-hyped Polish beer recently, I was a little wary of trying out the competition, but I'm glad I did. At the weekend I discovered Tyskie, which is a decent, though not very special, Polish pilsner. My real find, however, was Okocim. It's another Polish lager and has a wonderful appley tartness which is very unusual. As well as the standard lager, Okocim make strong beer called Okocim Mocne, which is even more laden with apple flavours - sweeter and fuller.

I think I need to continue my research into the beers of Poland, but it seems we have a running champion for the moment.

08 August 2005

Danish addendum

The last of my Danish kroner were spent at the airport shop on a six-pack of Carlsberg Elephant beer. Lots of European breweries make a strong (7-8%) lager of this sort, though a lot of them are almost undrinkable. Elephant is an exception, however. It is crisp and sweet, beautifully golden in colour and quite flat. I reckon more than 330ml would be tough going, but in this kind of quantity it makes for a wonderful dessert beer.

02 August 2005

Dispatch from Denmark

I spent the long weekend in Copenhagen and managed to pack quite a range of beers into it. The brewery scene is unsurprisingly dominated by Carlsberg and its subsidiary Tuborg, and another big brewery, Royal Unibrew. They each produce a number of lagers and red ales. Bog-standard Carlsberg pilsner, I found, is largely the same product as is brewed under licence abroad. I was expecting it to be different the way Heineken is different in the Netherlands, but I guess Carlsberg take better care of their global identity. On the ale side, Carlsberg make Carl's Special which I found quite vapid and flavourless, much like the American Killian's Red. Slightly better is Carlsberg Dark, which has a sweeter, more caramelly flavour. Both of these suffered from being served very very cold. I had to let them stand several minutes before I could taste anything.

Another surprise was that Tuborg, the lesser brand in the Carlsberg stable, is more prevalent in restaurants and bars than the flagship product. The basic Tuborg Green is very dull and tasteless, reminding me of Budweiser. Tuborg Classic is a fuller pilsner, reminiscent of Carlsberg in taste, though somewhat darker coloured. Finally, Tuborg Gold is a deliciously sweet lager and very easy to drink. Probably the best lager in Denmark, in fact.

Royal Pilsner brings us back down to the Tuborg-Green-level: nothing to write home about. Royal Export is a lager with a bit more oomph. It weighs in at 5.6% and feels every bit of it. Stella is probably the closest approximation. Finally, Royal Classic is a red ale and the best of the genre in Denmark. Even though it is also served too cold, the sweet, rich taste comes through it. Royal Classic is one of the best mass-produced draught red ales I've tasted.

On then to the microbreweries, and I managed to squeeze in visits to three in Copenhagen. BrewPub is one of the newest and seems to be still finding its feet. I didn't see any signs of any brewing apparatus, for instance. I tried the William Wallace 80/- and rather enjoyed it. It's much less fizzy than any of the mass-produced 80/- I've had in Scotland from the likes of Tennant's or McEwan's. I also had BrewPub's IPA which turned out to be really light and I reckon rather good as an accompaniment for curry.

The Apollo microbrewery is next to the main entrance to the Tivoli gardens. There is a distinct Austrian character to both the pub and the beers. Only two were available on Saturday night: a dark and cloudy pilsner with a quite sharp taste, and another IPA: cloudier and tastier than BrewPub's, but still lighter than any of the IPAs I know from England.

The best microbrewery of the three, in my opinion, is Nørrebro Bryghus. It's a bit further out of the city centre than the other two but well worth the journey. It is in a cellar which is divided between the bar and the brewery, giving the clearest insight into the brewer at work of any brewpub I've been to. There's even a small but select library on beers and brewing. Like the other two microbreweries, it only sells its own produce, and there is a substantial variety. Of course, not everything on the menu was available at the time. What was on tap had a Belgian theme running through it. The Abbey-style golden beer did a very good impression of Westmalle tripel: very full-flavoured. The S:t Hans Dubbel was also a worthy imitation: dark and sweet and sticky as a dubbel should be. They also, uniquely for a microbrewery of my experience, did a framboise beer. Belgian brewers add fruit (raspberries in this case) to gueze beer to take away the worst of the sudden dryness that some find unpalatable. However, this version doesn't seem to be based on gueze, and instead there is just the raspberry flavour and not much beyond it. An interesting novelty, but not something I'd make a habit of drinking, and I don't think it's part of the regular house beer selection. Nørrebro Bryghus is somewhere I look forward to going back to when I next happen to be in Copenhagen.

But there are plenty of other places to go without covering my tracks. I took advantage of Copenhagen's rail link to Sweden and scooted across to Malmö to try out the beers of another country for an afternoon. Åbro Original is another one of the plain, bog-standard lagers, though better than Tuborg's effort described above. Åbro also make a premium lager called Bryggmästarens which is deliciously sweet and fruity, similar to Tuborg Gold and to another Swedish lager called Spendrups. The Spendrups brewery also makes Mariestads lager. I found this to have an unpleasant dryness that hits the back of the throat, a bit like Red Stripe.

Just one more beer completes the Scandanavian experience, although it's German. No trip to Copenhagen would have been complete without a visit to Christiania. In the Nemoland bar I discovered a German hemp beer called Turn. It certainly has the green vegetable taste I'd expect, and was quite enjoyable, but having already tried the hemp beer they make in 7 Stern in Vienna I know it can be done better.

So there we have 21 new beers, which is not bad for a trip that lasted less than three days. They say that Copenhagen is an up-and-coming destination for beer tourism, and it certainly seems to be heading that way. I suppose if you're bored with the usual places (how anyone could get bored of beer in Brussels is beyond me) it's worth a quick look, though beware of the prices: in this the cheapest Scandanvian capital you'd be lucky to get a pint for less than €6, and for the microbrewed stuff it's possible to sail towards €8-9 for 40cl. Priced for the connoisseur, I suppose...