12 May 2010

Beyond the elephants' glare

I'm back from four beery beery days in Copenhagen, based largely at the Danske Ølentusiaster Beer Festival at Tap1, a venue inside the Carlsberg complex, just down from the iconic Elephant Gate. It was, obviously, a smaller event than the 2008 European Beer Festival which was held just across the street. But it still offered an excellent mix of beers from Denmark and beyond. I think the number of new beers I had (and will now make you suffer through reading about) is still in mere double figures. But that's still plenty of notes to make sense of so, first up, the main news: the beers that struck me as particularly worthy of comment.

As in 2008, my favorite of the whole shebang was by Herslev: their customised Stjernebryg Christmas beer which they barrel-aged and then dried out with brettanomyces yeast. It's a big-flavoured beer, as you might expect from a seasonal ale, but instead of heavy pudding-like sugar it's mildly chocolatey, warmed by the oak and then given a palate-tingling sourness by the brett. Gorgeous complexity and extremely drinkable (and, fortunately, their asparagus-infused beer was also on and is still as crunchily brilliant as I remembered).

Herslev handle the brewing side of operations for Bryggeriet Djævlebryg. The guys in charge of the satanic-themed brewing company put the recipes together and do homebrew-sized test batches before handing it over to Herslev for scaling up. I was very impressed by their beers at the 2008 festival and enjoyed the opportunity to have a chat with metalhead-in-chief Per Olaf at the trade session last Friday. He claims, jokingly, that Herslev's current fascination with brettanomyces came from them, and there were two brett-based brews in the Djævlebryg line-up. Hjul & Stejle is another Christmas-themed one and is only mildly sour, an easy going pale ale designed to go with the delicatessen of a traditional Danish Christmas lunch. Mareridt ("nightmare") has much more of a kick to it, very dry and with supreme smoky notes from a generous dose of rauchmalt. Bizarrely, it's a bright pale yellow, which a heavy smoky beer like this has no right being. I skipped the stouts they had on and went for an unfamiliar pale ale called Darwin's OriginAle -- a strong spicy and warm pale ale with a good balance of toffee and hops.

Three paragraphs on Danish beer and no mention of Mikkeller: that's odd. I attended the event at Ølbutikken on Saturday morning where they were pouring a special edition of Beer Geek Brunch One-for-One, an already-special imperial coffee stout with added cherries and some time maturing in a calvados barrel. Oddly, it doesn't really taste of any of those many individual elements. It's sweet and almost sugary at the front of a massively thick body. Mellow vanilla wood was the main thing I noticed, with underlying milky coffee and just a touch of phenols. A lovely start to the day's drinking.

At the Mikkeller stand itself I enjoyed the super-orangey ("oniony", said Séan) Big Worst and the dry and chocolatey Barack stout, which featured a lovely zingy hop vibe at the finish. 1000 IBUs sounds like a pointless exercise in number-chasing, but however bitter it may technically be, it's very tasty, with lots of toffee to balance the citric hops, which provide a little bit of acid burn at the end, but don't really spoil it.

There was also a Mikkeller collaboration gracing the large Nørrebro Bryghus stall: Mikkel's Monster is a smoky, woody barley wine with lots of punchy hops -- a great sipper at 13% ABV. I got a massive kick from their Tripel de Lente too: this was aged in a sauternes barrel and rather than the sugary spice you'd expect from a tripel it's light and fruity and a bit sour, a bit like a lambic but even more like a good dessert wine. Other dessert options from Nørrebro included the immensely oaky porter Imperial Skärgaards: 9% ABV and run through Bordeaux barrels; and Seven, a heavy and dry imperial stout. For something dark but much more pedestrian there was their dry, quaffable, but unimaginatively-named Robust Porter, straight out of the BJCP manual.

And one last honorable mention for this post: Midtfyns Chili Tripel. It's about time the general messing-about-with-classic-Belgian-styles went in this direction. The result has all the spicy depth of a good tripel blended harmoniously with a totally different sort of spice from the peppers. Beautiful.

That's it for starters. More tomorrow.


  1. a 1000 IBU's sounds like chasing numbers, as you said. I wonder at what IBU level, does the bitterness reach a peak, could you tell the difference between a beer that had 500 IBU's versus one with 1000?

  2. Sometimes when I give people a beer I made they ask what the IBUs are, and I always say I have no idea. It's just not a number I pay attention to, the way I'd look at the gravity or even the carbonation level.

    I'm told humans cannot taste any difference above 100 IBUs or so. I'm also told that the theoretical IBUs, which is what most beers advertise, are a massive exaggeration of the real IBUs as calculated in a lab.

    We don't need IBUs. They're meaningless. Ignore them and they'll leave us alone.

    (One flameproof suit, please. Medium.)

  3. Good writeup so far. Good to hear that you're a fan of the Herslev stuff-I see their beer occasionally when I'm over there but haven't tried too much of it, will have to do so now. Will have to try the Barack when I get the chance.
    Did you have a heavy suitcase coming home?
    Look forward to reading more.

  4. I think I used up my 20kg all right.

  5. Yes I believe it is about 100 IBU. My Double IPA is supposed to be 106 but I doubt it will end up quite that hight.

    Though the unconditioned and un-dryhopped beer that went in to the keg at the weekend was... damn.... :D

  6. I think the biggest problem with the IBU scale is that it's an objective measure that tallies very poorly with the subjective perception of bitterness.

    Some people have started to use an IBU/FG ratio, which in theory should get closer to the subjective perception. I don't have enough experience with it to say if it really does.

    It strikes me that a subjective scale, like the Scoville scale for spiciness (think pepper), would work better. The challenge would be to give homebrewers a reliable way to estimate it from the ingredients the way you can with IBU, OG, and FG.