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Exploring Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark

Sour & Bitter, a festival of lettuce, spare ribs, cotton candy, tiny Scandanavian furniture and bean bag chairs. There happened to be lambic present as well. Sour & Bitter is not the first of it’s kind, not exactly. The name is taken letter-by-letter (in tribute, I’m sure), from a 2005 event held at Oliver Twist and Akkurat in Stockholm.

I prefer eating lettuce on comfortable beaned bag chairs.

This was different. Millennium Geuze, Malvasio Rosso, the release of the Armand and Tomme Oude Geuze blend, Golden Blend, a new bottling of 4 year Oude Lambik, the quadruplets Lente-Zomer-Herfst-Winter, and, as the world has already heard, Framboos. This lineup has to be considered one of the finest to be put together in the Ratebeer era.

new oude geuze

What is the Ratebeer era? Post-2000. That’s when the database began, and to this day it remains the single largest beer database in the world. The world of beer has changed drastically with internet socialization, and any event of this magnitude is heard about early and often. Half of Sour & Bitter attendees likely were Ratebeer.com members, and half as well were non-Danes, as this was an event featuring a lambic brewery with a worldwide fanbase. I was asked if I came to Copenhagen specifically for this event. I would have taken a visit to Denmark regardless; this gave me an excuse to do it now.

Lambic was consumed and lettuce was eaten. Everybody became best friends with everybody. Bottles were shared late into the night. A crowd gathered outside in the drizzle for bottle sales. Around midnight, painfully tired and jet-lagged, with a case of Framboos stuffed into my backpack, the girlfriend and I depart to walk the two miles back to the apartment. A half mile down the road there are snails littering the pavement. Snail shit everywhere. There are more snails in Denmark than you would guess. It was more fascinating than it sounds. Falling asleep walking on, a Danish girl with a case of Framboos buckled down and rattling loudly from the back fender passes us on her bike, inebriated and giggling. Awesome. I arrive home myself with 20 lbs of lambic and a dilema about how to get it to Colorado safely.

my precious...

The hesitation over shipping bottles from Copenhagen is due to the Danish Postal Service’s “return to sender or destroy” policy on undeliverable packages. If something breaks, or the box gets soggy, or somebody is having a bad day, it gets tossed. End of story. This was not an easy decision. I had no sending address, only a destination. Carrying the box with me for the next week was an option, but I decided that the discomfort and embarrassment of carrying a large box with strapping-tape handles around the city was not worth it. I accepted the small risk that Framboos ends up in a Zealand landfill, and shipped the box home just before leaving town. To minimize the grief should a tragedy occur, I kept one bottle in luggage for the remainder of the trip, hoping that I wouldn’t be using it to toast its fallen brothers.

The parcel arrived but not without casualty. The 2008 Oerbier Reserva, picked up last-minute at BarleyWine, took one for the team.

you served me well, old friend.

Friday was the first day for the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. I slept through the opening. It took a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and a slow walk through Rosenborg Castle and nearby parks to wake my head up and settle my stomach down for the events. 25 brewers from 9 countries pouring 120 beers for a crowd of one thousand.

The selection was excellent, which means the online folks took no time to disparage organizers for not booking the newest sexy Dark Lord flavor. To the outrage of many, the beer they selected was well-made and delicious. I took no notes save for a few that I found interesting: Evil Twin Low Life Pilsner, variants of The Kernel IPA and pale ale, Westbrook Mexican Coffee Cake imperial stout, and Struise Single Black, a 1.5% small beer from the Black Damnation series.

Friendly, fun and experienced fest-goers, many old friends, and a lot of new ones. Farmhouse ales, bruising high-gravity one-offs and gold-flaked hot dogs. The bottle of Samuel Adams Millennium I found in Wyoming made an appearance, in better shape this day than when opened the night before. Call me a food snob but it paired perfectly with the liquified and re-formed flesh of the pimped out frankfurter. I learned that it is customary in Denmark to coat your teeth Flavor Flav style with the gold as you consume the savory meat trimming sausage. They’re very into hot dogs over here.

high roller

That night at Mikkeller Bar was jammed with beer geeks. Think Falling Rock during GABF to understand the scene. Struggling to get the bartenders to respond to bottle requests, I came away with the 3 Fonteinen Straffe Winter faro (new to me), enjoyed and shared with friends outside on the street. A fellow Ratebeer Brit had good luck himself procuring bottles of 3 Fonteinen Vintage Geuze (2002 being superbly musty and aromatic, contrasted with a flappy, dirty and goopy 2006 vintage). At some point a tallboy of Heady Topper escaped a coat pocket and found our glasses. Time ran late, glassware started breaking, the proprietors closed up shop. A tiresome walk home across town was saved by 7-11 tallboys and kebabs.

Two more days of city exploration and a day-trip to Helsingor to visit Hamlet’s Castle (Kronborg Slot) followed. Helsingor is full of older tourist folk, and the rocks surrounding the castle grounds were lined by locals fishing the Øresund. The most memorable thing I did was use Hamlet’s toilet. Next time you see the movie, know that I peed inside the castle. The day-trip was a fun excursion and it was interesting to see some of Denmark outside of Copenhagen, but for beer exploration the city and area lacks anything worthwhile.

swilling ice cider from the bottle in front of Hamlet's Castle? check that one off the bucket list.

Back to town that night for a smørrebrød of gravlax and herring, I felt like quite a lucky shit around midnight walking into Ølbaren and seeing Gänstaller-Bräu Affumicator on tap. Fuck me. Having this rauchdoppelbock at the Zoiglstube in Strassgeich last Fall was a life-changing experience; the latest in a very small number of perfect 5.0 ratings that I will likely never lower or edit. Back then it was perfect setting, perfect beer, perfect season, perfect mood. I’ve been around enough to know these moments are not reproducible even in the exact same conditions. Batch variation, keg shipping, handling (to name only a few reasons); you should know not to expect the same experience. I don’t have enough space here to write all of what I think on objectivity in food and drink evaluation. The best thing you can do in this situation is lower your expectations and be surprised if you’re lucky. It was not another 5.0 moment, but having a glass of one of my personal favorites, stupid grin on my face, sitting outside on the streets of Copenhagen late at night, I couldn’t be happier.

I don't have a photo of Ølbaren, so here's a pigeon in a coffee cup instead.

The following day began with a rainy and goose-fraught walk through Kastellet and adjacent areas around eastern Copenhagen.

Every foreign visitor to town is required by law to visit the Little Mermaid statue located on the northeast side of Kastellet, otherwise you can’t leave. Surrounded by tourists posing for smiling photographs, the small statue is dedicated to the mermaid’s tragic suicide, a part of the fairy tale omitted from the Disney movie. It is a very photogenic statue and setting, difficult enough to shoot without the crowds in frame, and more difficult to make a shot your own.

And just as with Manneken Pis in Brussels, you can not pass up the opportunity to photograph the photographers. It presents a more authentic, street-level look at the scene. Or something.

you'd be grumpy too

The fourth and final night in Copenhagen was spent doing more of the same: stuffing our faces with gravlax and pickled herring. Plans were made to venture west to Ebeltoft but changed quickly the next morning due to uncertainly if Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri would be open for a visit. Instead we jumped a short train across the Øresund to spend two days in Malmö, the heart of Skåne county in southern Sweden. Malmö is the Chicago of Sweden. Corruption and thug life. Real, actual, street shootings, just like back home. But Malmö is where I found some of the best beer in Sweden, beginning an exploration of Närke Kulturbryggeri

Last thoughts on Denmark?

Efficient and clean public transportation systems.

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