“If you like beer, you should try the Cockney Pub.”
This statement caught me off guard for two reasons: first, because I was still trying to understand how it happened that I was able to buy a bottle of alcohol in Den Gamle By, Denmark’s largest and most popular museum, and second, because the tall, aproned man smiling at me from his merchant’s stall wasn’t talking about another exhibit elsewhere within the Old City’s limits. On the contrary, he had just offered the name of a local bar to an out-of-towner. A tourist who apparently looked like he could use a drink. And just like that this stranger—David, as he later introduced himself—became my teacher, launching into a quick lesson on Danish beer.
“They’re having a sort of mini beer festival this weekend,” he continued in excellent English.
“Inside the pub?” I asked with a hint of incredulity.
“Yes, they have many good beers on tap.”
My next question practically asked itself: “Well where is it then?”
On a whim last fall I had decided to travel to Aarhus, the second largest city in the country. Flights from London were short and inexpensive, providing I didn’t mind landing at a yawn-inducing hour, and something intrigued me about the small peninsula between the North and Baltic Seas. It wasn’t until after I arrived for my brief three-day visit that I learned Denmark is currently in the middle of what might be best described as a small revolution. However, the changes involve drinking habits, not politics. According to the organization of Danish Beer Enthusiasts, a mere 13 breweries were in business as recently as 1998, while more than 50 brewpubs and microbreweries now dot the low-lying Danish landscape, the majority of which began operation after 2000.
In Copenhagen, Carlsberg and Tuborg remain the two biggest and best-known producers, and yet dozens of interesting types of beer (besides their ubiquitous pilsner) can be found outside of the capital—many of them in and around Aarhus.
There’s Hvitøl, a somewhat sweet “white beer” that’s also Denmark’s oldest known style; stronger, darker lagers that resemble German styles; various stouts and porters made by smaller companies like Ceres and Albani; as well as a celebrated Christmas beer commonly served during the colder months.