01 September 2010

Danish paradox

Recent visits to Denmark have somewhat skewed my perceptions of the beer scene there. From the big festivals hosted on the Carlsberg grounds I've come away with the impression that the Danish beer market consists of 21st-century microbreweries (from literal backyard operations up to fairly large American-inspired craft brewing) and then nothing until you come to megalithic multinational Carlsberg. It had never really occurred to me that there would be something in between: large national independent breweries, smaller than Carlsberg but around for just as long. But they exist and, this being Denmark, they produce much more than six types of identical lager.

Vestfyen are perhaps best known for the Willemoes range, but they also make a stylishly-labelled Schwarzbier. It's an appropriate brownish-red shade, with the sort of alluring tan head you just do not see on enough lagers. On the nose there's a very clear indication of the muscovado molasses, laced with a nice herbal hop complexity. First impressions on tasting are smooth and dry, quite like an Irish stout, but with that warm chocolate and caramel character again -- the muscovado adjunct at work. The milk chocolate notes are accentuated by the full and silky texture, and finishes with a comforting warming buzz brought on by a quite hefty 6.5% ABV. In a German version of the same I might expect some unpleasant metallic or saccharine flavours, but there's none of that here. Good all the way through.

I can't say the same for Skælskør Original Stout, though. It's from another venerable brewery -- Harboe, dating back to 1883 -- and claims an Irish influence but I really can't see from where. It's 8% ABV, for one thing, and a very pale shade of ruby. Not much of an aroma comes from the short-lived head, but the foretaste offers a powerful blast of mocha -- a second of pleasure followed by an overpowering wave of chocolatey cough syrup, finishing on a galvanic metal twang. A bit of an assualt on the tastebuds, all-in-all, though the light texture keeps it drinkable while it's cool. The more it warms, however, the tougher it gets. While it's not an offensive beer, or possessed of any off-flavours per se, it is one I found myself fighting with rather than relaxing into -- definitely not what I'm after in a strong stout.

Looks like it's back to the Danish micros for me...


  1. Anonymous12:55 pm

    There's a lot in between. Regional breweries with boring lagers and discount breweries. But you are right. Stick to the micros.

  2. Actually, the Skælskør beers are brewed by Harboe, one of the big Danish industrial brewers. There is no separate Skælskør, although that's the name of the town where Harboe is located, so I guess you could say the naming is fair enough.

    And the brewery founded in 1883 is of course Harboe.

    And I very much agree on the stout. It's rubbish, like all the other Harboe products.

  3. I did my research and knew I'd have got something mixed up somewhere. Cheers. It'd be so much easier if Carlsberg and Royal Unibrew would just buy them all, like in any normal country.

  4. Is Carlsberg as cheap in Denmark as it is in Tesco?

  5. Dunno. I think Carlsberg costs about €2 a can in Tesco, so probably cheaper.

  6. "Looks like it's back to the Danish micros for me..." = Not really a bad place to be in all honesty.

    "Is Carlsberg as cheap in Denmark as it is in Tesco?" = 30 pack of 330mL bottles for 100DKK (or 13.50 euro) when on sale (not including refundable bottle & case deposit) in the big supermarkets.

  7. Thanks slainte34: a fair bit cheaper than Tesco then, Cookie.