17 September 2008

Mikkeller, su keller

Day two of the European Beer Festival, like the first and third ones, dawned bright and breezy. After a hearty breakfast I walked around the corner from the hotel to find a queue outside the local beer specialist Ølbutikken. We were there for the launch of several new special edition beers from Mikkeller, a gypsy brewer situated just next to Carlsberg's headquarters where the festival was happening.

Judging from some of the labels I saw in the shop, Mikkeller and Ølbutikken have a very close working relationship, making for what I suspect are some of the tastiest shop-branded beers in the world.

A few minutes after my arrival, the Mikkeller funk soul brothers appeared from the nondescript shopfront and began filling punters' glasses with Jackie Brown. I really enjoyed this when I picked up a bottle recently and was quite prepared to make a second breakfast of it at 10am on a chilly Copenhagen morning.

Next, I noticed that customers coming out with their six-packs were holding something different: deep purple and interesting. Chris_O from RateBeer told me it was Blåbær Lambik, Mikkeller's blueberry lambic. Inside, a tap had been set up on the counter and free samples were being generously dispensed. This stuff, I'm told, is aged two years in Cantillon barrels. It's absolutely wonderful, beautifully tart yet still full of blueberry sweetness. Amazing harmony and a really nice shade of purple too.

So there we were, basking in the cool sunshine on a Copenhagen sidestreet, about fifty of us, inspecting our purchases, sipping lambic and chatting about beer, all to the bemusement of passers-by. Events like this, I thought, are what makes this a festival rather than just drinking in a warehouse for three days.

My fascination with Mikkeller had begun early, as I perused the beer list on the plane over. Inside the venue, their banner was a handy meeting point, even though the bar around it was always thronged. And with good reason. Two cask festival specials were my starting point on the first two days. On Friday it was "Beer Geek Breakfast Pooh Coffee Cask Festival Edition", marked simply on the cask as Breakfast Pooh. It's an aged stout laced with kopi luwak, fresh from the arseholes of Vietnamese civets. This is a surprisingly mellow vanilla flavoured stout, smooth and creamy with just a hint of bitter chocolate. Dunno if it's worth the poop-scooping, but still delicious. Bizarrely, this didn't appeal to everyone, and the cask was still there on Saturday when it was joined by Beer Geek Breakfast Chilli/Chocolate. This provides a low-level full-mouth long chilli buzz, but the taste is dominated by strong coffee and chocolate notes. Tasty, though I think I'd have upped the chilli quotient to something sharper. But that's just me -- I'm not complaining.

I mentioned yesterday the solvent sensation engendered by one of Nørrebro's beers. I got this from Mikkeller's Monk's Elixir as well; only the strong chocolate flavours saved this beer for me. A much better proposition was their Black: an imperial stout alleged, at 17.5% ABV, to be Denmark's strongest draught beer. There's a sharp bitter kick up front followed by a long dark chocolate and rum flavour -- very tasty indeed.

There was only one Mikkeller beer I didn't actively enjoy, though I think I may have been alone in that: Simcoe IPA. There's a mild hoppy aroma which left me totally unprepared for the harsh acidic sting of the hops. With nothing else going on, this ended up tasting like the smell of a brewery floor -- hops and boiled water. Too unbalanced for me, but clearly one for the hopheads.

And that brings us back to the fruit lambics. In the festival they were selling Redcurrant Lambic, another sharp and tasty one from Cantillon's barrels, but easier on the fruit, making it outstandingly refreshing.

I barely scratched the surface of what Mikkeller were up to, but I'm not singling them out just because of their beer. It was their bells and whistles, like the countdown timer before the launch of the various limited editions, the Ølbutikken event, and lots of blokes in silly wigs, that gave the impression of a bunch of people having fun making beer for a receptive market. That kind of enthusiasm is what beer festivals should be all about.