If Carlsberg were in charge of tourism for the city of Copenhagen, “Probably Eastern Denmark’s Best Beer Destination” might be the slogan that they would choose to advertise to the rest of the world. Even though Carlsberg (and Tuborg) may be one of the first things that comes to people’s minds when the city of Copenhagen comes up, luckily there is a lot more than Danish lager to offer a beer tourist on a trip to the capital of Denmark. I should issue this disclaimer before I go any further though: although I’ve spent the last five years living in Dublin, I grew up in western Michigan drinking Midwest craft beers such as Bell’s and Founder’s, am married to a Danish woman, and have studied, visited and worked in Copenhagen here and there over the past ten years. So basically, in this article, I’ll compare Copenhagen to Dublin and I’m partial to hoppy Indian/American Pale Ales that are fairly popular among Danish craft breweries.
An introduction into my understanding of Danish culture and drinking is also probably important to enjoying a trip to Copenhagen. Drinking at home with friends and family (“hygge” in Danish) is very popular with Danes, so you won’t find the pub culture and ‘craic’ as prominent in Denmark as it is in Ireland or England. Traditional bodegas, which usually feature the least amount of beer variety in their selection, are the closest thing that you’ll find to pub culture (other than the Oirish pubs which you can find along the main walking street, Strøget.) The majority of drinking establishments are just normal bars where you wouldn’t necessarily go for a trad session or to watch Premier League games. It should also be noted that socially Danes can also be a bit introverted at first but in general are fairly laid-back and open; so if you’re interested in getting to know some of the locals when you’re visiting don’t be shy about breaking the ice, particularly since the language barrier isn’t much of an issue.
Copenhagen’s appeal as a beer destination is something of relatively recent development. Denmark has seen a resurgence in its beer culture in the last 15 years and the compact walkable capital city has benefited greatly from this change. Similar to Ireland and the USA in the early part of the 20th century, the large national breweries held the lion’s share of the national market and bullied out many of the local breweries, but unlike the Irish market many Danish brewing traditions were maintained in smaller breweries and have recently resurfaced in the new form of popular craft breweries. According to the Danish Beer Enthusiasts and the Danish Brewers' Association, Denmark has the most breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world, with more than 80 microbreweries and 12 traditional breweries for a population of 5.5 million.
These Danish craft breweries such as Amager Bryghus, Nørrebro Bryghus, Ørbæk, Brøckhouse, Mikkeller, Svaneke Bryghuset, Bryggeri Skovlyst, and GourmetBryggeriet among others have been producing some great beers that are favorites around Denmark and Scandinavia and are starting to make waves elsewhere too. Most of the craft breweries have a varied lineup including some sort of light ale or lager, an IPA/APA type ale, a stout and/or porter, and then an Easter and Christmas beer so there is lots of different choices on offer all times of the year. Inspiration for these beers comes from traditional Danish beers, Belgian/German styles, and also eclectic recent American craft brews.
These Danish craft offerings can be found alongside taps of traditional Carlsberg, traditional Tuborg, Carl’s Best and other European beers such as Erdinger, Budvar, etc. at many bars around the town. Traditional bodegas won’t have much of selection other than the Danish favorites, but your average bar/cafe will usually have more than a few beers on tap (fadøl) or in bottle format. But this range of choices can cost you dearly in Scandinavia, even though it is not as expensive for drinking as other Scandinavian cities (as evident by the throngs of Swedes coming over every weekend), Copenhagen is quite dear. Beer (øl) is usually offered in lille (small 330mL), mellem (medium 500mL), and stor (large 600mL+) sizes so there are choices other than traditional pints if you want to try something different without blowing the budget. Beer prices can range from 30kr (€4) to 75kr (€10) based on where you’re drinking and size and type of beer.
Other than typical bars, a popular place to try some Danish beer with food is in some of the brewpubs Copenhagen has to offer such as Nørrebro Bryghus, BrewPub København, Bryggeriet Apollo at Tivoli, and Vesterbro Bryghus. The latter three are all within walking distance of the Central Train Station (Københavns Hovedbanegård) and although a bit touristy, are not bad. I should also note that the BrewPub København usually has some really nice other beers on tap from around the world and occasionally has some nice specials. Nørrebro Bryghus, within walking distance of Nørreport Train Station, is less touristy, more trendy and has a more upscale food menu tailored to their brews. Their New York Lager and Bombay Pale Ale are great and they usually have some freshly brewed beers on offer. Quite often they will have some specialty beers on tap that they are trying out, including some of their beers that recently took three medals at the 2010 World Beer Cup. This brewery hit the market right at the beginning of the past decade and in my opinion their success story is similar to Brooklyn Brewery’s combination of openness to variety, marketing savvy, and most of all a commitment to great beer, and holds some lessons for potential future beer entrepreneurs.
If you’re looking for beer specialty bars in Copenhagen then you are also in luck as there are a few which cater to draught and bottle choices -- I’ll focus on three of the many. Ølbaren is not far from Nørrebro Bryghus and, although small, packs quite a punch in the form of a large bottle selection as well as some great tap offerings. They are open from around 16:00 to 1:00 and their “Hoppy Hour” runs until 20:00 which means that you can get a large beer for the price of a small beer. Be careful what you’re drinking though as this can get dangerous pretty fast with some of the high-alcohol stuff that they have! Charlie’s Bar is just a short walk from the eastern end of Strøget and specializes in traditional English ales and cask ales. They have a great selection of stuff with at least 20 taps, and English seems to be the popular language there if you want to fit in. Plan B is more like a café (with a DJ sometimes) which specializes in a large selection of bottled beer. It is also near Nørreport Train Station and serves sandwiches, salads, cakes, etc. with some eclectic beer at some decent prices-their hours are limited as well though so best to go in the late afternoon/early evening. Den Tatoverede Enke, Lord Nelson, and Ørsted are also popular bars specializing in beer selection, but I haven’t spent as much time at those places.
If you want to pick up a few bottles of Danish beer to bring home (or drink in the park at a picnic or in your hotel room) then there is no better place than Ølbutikken. Although it is a small shop with limited opening hours, it is a must-visit for any beer enthusiasts as its bottle selection is amazing. It is only a 15 minute walk west on Vesterbrogade from the Central Train Station and I highly recommend a visit if you can make it. Many supermarkets in Copenhagen will have a decent selection of European and Danish beers, including a fair amount of the craft brews mentioned above. Fotex, Irma, and Superbest usually all carry some nice selection at decent prices. Discount supermarket Netto can sometimes stock a nice beer find too at a decent price.
The gourmet craft-brewer Mikkeller has become quite popular in beer circles worldwide and quite often operates guest-brewing around Europe and USA teaming up with the likes of Brewdog, Nøgne Ø, Three Floyds, and Alesmith. They are rumored to be opening a beer bar near the end of April 2010 serving some of their own beers along with some other top-notch brews, but I don’t know much else about that. If you can get your hands on some of their stuff, I recommend giving it a shot. They have lots of styles, most of them quite daring, and are definitely worth trying if you can afford the stuff as some of it can be a bit on the pricey side.
It’s best to visit Copenhagen during Christmas to enjoy the festive atmosphere (if you can stand the cold) or during the summer when the Danes come out to enjoy the sun while the city becomes quite photogenic too. It can be reached by plane from Dublin in less than two hours via Norwegian Air or Scandinavian Airlines. Accommodation and food isn’t particularly cheap in Copenhagen, but there are loads of hotels in the city center; hotels just west of the Central Train Station may sometimes not be in the best of shape as it isn’t the best part of town. And if you’ve spent most of your money drinking during the day and night and need something to eat, then you can also do what the locals do and pick up a Danish specialty sausage from one the mobile vendor carts that you see around town called pølsevogns.
There is loads of more information on Copenhagen and Danish beer available online and I’ll leave some links below, but if you do have any questions then feel free to ask in the forum bia the link below.