Probably the most expensive beer in the world
Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 9:00 pm. #
The price of beer in Denmark, just like other Scandinavian countries, is madness incarnate. A couple of pints will cost anything from £11 to £13, and that’s before you add a fairly all-pervasive credit-card charge of 3.5%.
The casual beer drinker, apart from being blinded by the eye-wincing prices, would also think to themselves that there wasn’t much variety. Carlsberg appears to be all-conquering, with a few varieties (Carls Special, Carlsberg Dark) as well as the well-known pilsner lager beloved of Liverpool fans. It’s not even the best lager in the world, in spite of its rather clever advertising.
Salvation appears to be at hand with a visit to the bar – in many places, there’s also a range of beers from Tuborg. Whether it’s Tuborg Special, or the standard Tuborg Green, at least there’s a choice of company to pay. Hurray for competition, you’d think. Until you discover that Carlsberg, um, owns Tuborg (and has done since 1970). Mind, you won’t normally find Tuborg in the UK (though it’s a big name in Israel, apparently).
If you’re really lucky, you’ll find another brand name at the bar. JC Jacobsen produce some splendidly nice beer; the Dark Ale is in many bars, but they produce a pretty full range, including Belgian-type strong blonde beers, wheat beer, helles, amber, and more. The beers are splendid. So splendid, in fact, that you almost feel that you can overlook the fact that these beers are named after the founder of, yes, Carlsberg, and they’re yet another brand of the brewery.
Paying all your money (and I mean all your money) to Carlsberg seems almost inevitable, therefore, given that they have a virtual monopoly on beer in Denmark. 92% of all of the 870 million litres of beer drunk by the Danish comes from Denmark, so I’ve no idea how they get past the EU Commission, but, as the fifth largest brewery company in the world, they’re clearly doing something right. They also own Tetley, and Scottish & Newcastle.
However, look a little further, and there’s a surprising microbrewery scene in Denmark; particularly in the centre of Copenhagen.
Start at the dowdy end of the Stroget, the Copenhagen shopping ‘street’, and next to the town hall square you’ll find not just one but three brew pubs; all of which brew their own beer on the premises.
First, there’s the nattily entitled Brewpub, which is in an otherwise quiet road that you’d probably not wander down. Don’t make that mistake; on my visit, Brewpub was selling six of their own brews, including Cole Porter (which is a deeply lovely porter), a wheat beer, a fabulous IPA, a lager (well, you know, if you can’t beat them, etc), an odd blended beer which I didn’t really understand made from a few different beers mixed together, and something with elderflower. The Brewpub also does rather good pub meals as well as a fancy restaurant which I’ve never eaten in, though it looks rather good. Everything’s cooked with beer, naturally.
The other side of the town hall square, on the short road to the train station, contains a number of pubs and restaurants, including Copenhagen’s Hard Rock Cafe, an Irish pub, and various other eateries. Among the McDonalds and chicken shops you’ll also find Vesterbro Bryghus which sells, at the time of my visit, five beers – each with their own beer mat (so you can match the beer to the mat). Their IPA was cloudy (presumably unfiltered) and not as fully-flavoured as the Brewpub’s; however, my drinking companion found the Brewpub’s IPA too bitter for his taste, so there’s no pleasing everyone, I suppose.
A few doors away is The Old English Pub, above, which sounds dreadful but is actually rather a pleasant place to pass the time. It’s not a brew pub, but sells quite a variety of beer, including the Carlsberg range as well as at least one other Danish beer from one of the smaller producers. I enjoyed a wheat beer from said brewer – it was darker and less sweet than the Franziskaner weisse that my friend went for.
Over the road (not for this visit) is another brewpub – the Bryggeriet Apollo; actually, more of a brew-restaurant. You always know you’re going somewhere proper when there is a sign, proudly displayed inside, from CAMRA – saying something like “On 28 November 2006, some blokes from Camra decided to have a drink here and quite enjoyed it”. Nicer beer, though I remember it as being rather more intimidating than any of the other places I mention here.
And around twenty minutes walk away is the Nørrebro Bryghus which once more sells wonderful home-brewed beer in a rather industrial surroundings – a 19th century metal factory. Nørrebro is apparently the cool place where it’s all at; it served a really nice lunch too, when I went a while ago.
So, the moral of the story is: if you’ve the money for a drink in Copenhagen, there are plenty of places where you can avoid the all-pervasive Carlsberg Group. And I secretly hope that while 92% of the beer drunk in Denmark might continue to be Danish, at least the proportion of Carlsberg beer in that number might start going down: competition’s good for everyone.