10 December 2018

Welcome to Mikkeller World

Mid-November landed me in Copenhagen for four days on EBCU business, and afforded the chance to see where this most vibrant of European beer scenes is at these days. It turns out there's a lot of Mikkeller. Last time I was in town, the brewer's retail outlets consisted solely of the little basement bar on Viktoriagade; now there are over a dozen premises in Copenhagen alone, with more worldwide. Where to start?

Mikkeller & Friends was the simple answer there, another basement pub, easily missed, in the Nørrebro district, a good hunting ground for specialist beer bars. John and I didn't even trouble ourselves with walking around the convex bar to read the full menu and just ordered from the first section we saw.

For me that was Riesling People, an IPA with grape juice. This is one of those beers where I formed a sensory image in my head of how it tasted and then got annoyed when it didn't live up to that. An opaque shade of yellow, it's savoury at first, showing gritty yeast and an odd saline twang. Then suddenly it turns sickly sweet, a concentrated and syrupy grape taste, like an artificially flavoured candy. I expected clean and floral and wine-like but that's not what I got.

John didn't do much better in my assessment, picking another Mikkeller IPA, called Deception. This was a dark and murky job, with more than a hint of wonky homebrew about it. There's an unfinished, under-attenuated, sugary quality, and a harsh over-bittered pithy burn, turning metallic in the aftertaste. There's probably a decent, old-fashioned, west coast IPA under here but it's in need of serious cleaning. Two dodgy IPAs into the trip and time for a change of tack.

Adjoining Mikkeller & Friends, forming part of the same premises, is Koelschip. I'd heard it was a Belgian theme bar but wasn't prepared for the dark-wood-and-tiles décor, doing a good job of channelling the rustic Belgian feel, and forming a marked contrast against the sparse Scandi stylings next door.

Sour is the principal stock in trade here, and it was the first place I'd ever seen beer from Den Herberg, a relative new addition to the lambic pantheon. Herberg Oude Lambiek, from a bag-in-a-box, was near perfect. A little more sparkle would have been nice, but there was no shortage of flavour: all the waxy, spicy mineral bitterness one would expect, given serious substance by 6% ABV. It's amazing how a strong and flat beer can still be refreshing.

John stayed local with Mikkeller's Spontanlingonberry, a whopper at 7.7% ABV. There's a lot of genuine lambic quality about this: the same sort of palate-drying nitre-crusted brick effect. This runs in parallel to the jammy berries which add an element of frivolity without compromising anything. This is a very classy sort of novelty beer.

Aside from this mini-complex, Mikkeller's other big footprint in Copenhagen is Warpigs, a barbecue-themed brewpub in a repurposed meat-packing warehouse, created in collaboration with Three Floyds brewery in Indiana. Its own wares make up most of the selection, with a smattering of guests and collaborators.

Sitting outside on a chilly Friday evening, I began with Smoldering Holes, a 12.1% ABV imperial stout brewed in-house. It proved as thick as might be expected, piling in rich dark chocolate and bitter liquorice with an edge of cola nut. No sooner had I adjusted to it than it started pushing a new wave of herbal flavours too, basil and thyme in particular. Despite the busyness of it all, it remains nicely sippable all the way down; none of its myriad components coming to dominate or unbalance it.

John joined me in darkness with Warpigs Rain of Terror, chalked on the blackboard as a "black hoppy ale" and 5.5% ABV. It's a simple little number but hits black IPA's good points bang on. There's a sharply bitter dark chocolate and red cabbage foretaste, mellowing quickly to an effervescent and citric lemon sherbet. The two elements are nicely balanced and helped by a chewy malt base which isn't too heavy. Nothing fancy or outré, just understated quality.