“Don’t forget your tickets for some complimentary beers,” says the attendant inside the world-famous Carlsberg Brewery as I begin my introduction into Copenhagen’s beer and bar culture. Visit Carlsberg offers a self-guided tour of the first Carlsberg Brewery from 1847, with exhibits showing beer production and its history. In fact, Danish beer dates back further than imagined, after a girl was discovered in a peat bog clutching a jug of well-aged brew and was carbon-dated to 1370BC.
During the tour, I pass the world’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles (it was 16,384 when counted in 2006), a steam engine that revolutionized early industrial beer production, and antique copper vats used in the brewing process. The tour ends rather appropriately at the adjoining second floor Jacobsen Brewery where there’s a choice of two drinks from the range of speciality beers, ales and pilsners. Before leaving it’s well worth checking out the four giant Bornholm granite elephants that guard the brewery grounds – a fine example of world-class industrial architecture.
After my brewery tour I wander back towards the city centre through a tangle of cobbled streets to the picturesque Nyhavn district, with its showcase canal dug in the 17th century to allow traders to bring their wares into the heart of the city. Today, traditional sailing craft crowd the canal lined with colourful gabled townhouses, and although its mid-September, people are out in numbers enjoying a drink at the many trendy side cafés and bars soaking in the last bursts of autumn sunshine.
Danes are among the greatest beer drinkers worldwide, and there are scores of beers to choose from, the most popular being pilsners or lagers (around 4.6% alcohol content) especially from Carlsberg or Tuborg, but there are also dark lagers, draught beers and hearty stouts. The most popular spirit is aquavit, better known as snaps, and for a thoroughly Danish experience, try it with herring.
A short walk from the Nyhavn district is Strøget, billed as the world’s longest pedestrian street. Running right through the city centre, it is crammed with shops, eateries, and Europa 1989 and other European-international style café/bar examples with their outdoor tables in the heart of Strøget provide ideal vantage points for watching the ever-changing mishmash of musicians, street performers, office workers and tourists.
Although these types of cafés serve coffee, beer and wine, I’m keen to check out some more authentic Danish taverns. A great example is the Hvide Lam (dating from 1807) and as I enter the small doorway of this popular local hangout, a warm glow is cast over a cosy bar with a three-man jazz band performing a snappy number in the corner by the billiard table. Other traditional watering holes worth checking out include Copenhagen’s oldest, Hviids Vinstue founded in 1723 and the Lord Nelson with a great range of Danish draught and craft beers.
Brew pubs and microbreweries
The Nørrebro Bryghus a combined microbrewery, bar and restaurant located in a former metal goods factory in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district is a dream come true for prize-winning brew master Anders Kissmeyer, who had a vision to help rejuvenate Danish beer culture. “The inspiration for our restaurant came from the American brewpubs, where food and beer are enjoyed in an informal atmosphere amidst brewing kettles and tanks,” says Anders. “The beer is a primary source of inspiration for our head chef and it is used as both ingredients, seasoning and finally in the glass accompanying the food.”
Another good brewpub option in Nørrebro, housed in a former iron foundry and locomotive factory is uber-cool Brus honoured in the 2017 RateBeer Best awards, and over in Copenhagen’s upcoming meatpacking district is WarPigs, a hip microbrewery offering American-Danish style craft beers alongside authentic Texas barbecue.
For an interesting side excursion pay a visit to Bryggeri Skovlyst, a brewpub and restaurant set in picturesque woodland north of Copenhagen, where the unique concept is to utilize natural products from the forest such as maple syrup, birch sap and woodruff in the brewing process. With its plethora of bars, pubs and microbreweries, beer aficionados will think they have arrived in paradise.
Cheers….or as they say in Copenhagen… ‘Skol.’
Here for more than the beer
Between bar and brewpub hopping, Copenhagen boasts plenty of other interesting things to see and do.
Here’s a few suggestions to get you started…
• Tivoli Gardens, an antique amusement park in the centre of Copenhagen, is the world’s second oldest (the top gong goes to another Danish leisure relic, Dyrehavsbakken in Klampenborg), and was opened in 1843. Still very popular with visitors and local fun seekers alike, the two jewels in its crown are its wooden roller coaster and its carousel, the tallest in the world.
• One of Copenhagen’s biggest tourist attractions is Christiana, a collectively run ‘alternative’ village within the city. Christiana’s history dates to 1971, when a group of hippies and socialists occupied the old military barracks of the Christianshavn area. Today, many of the original inhabitants still live here, and the area has a definite 1970s feel to it. Lots of creatively built houses adorn the area along with workshops, organic eateries, galleries and music venues that are all alternative and often run by grassroots organizations.
• See the remains of Viking ships at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde around 30 minutes from the city centre. The Viking Ship Hall, the oldest part of the museum, was opened in 1969. It was designed as a large showcase to display the five Viking ships found at Skuldelev. The hall also houses special temporary exhibitions and a cinema, where a film about the excavation of the ships is shown. www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk
• Copenhagen is a great city for exploring by bike. The terrain is flat and easy to navigate, the roads are set up with dedicated bike lanes for greater cycling safety, and it’s a cheap and green alternative for getting around the city. This is where the public bike share, Bycyklen, comes in handy. Their electric bikes are stationed all over the city and are available 24/7, 365 days a year and can be rented straight from the street. To use the bikes, just create a user account in the Bycyklen app.