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Monday, 01 September 2008

Beer Today, More Tomorrow: Aarhus, Denmark

Written by Ben Keene
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“If you like beer, you should try the Cockney Pub.”

ceresThis 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.cathedral

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.

horsesArmed with the information I collected from David, I decided that a short beer tour might actually be a fun way to explore my destination. Planning to sample the numerous local brews on tap in this lively and youthful university town, I met my Norwegian friend Cathrine the next day to begin our evening in the Latin Quarter. In order to make it to last call I knew we would need some food, so we stopped at the Saint Clemens Brewery to fill up with a warm, hearty meal.

Stepping into the spacious interior of the Bryggeriet, Cathrine and I joined a boisterous Friday night crowd milling around the brass counter in front as we waited for an open table. Twenty minutes later a waiter in a spruce colored shirt and black pants seated us in a well-lit corner occupied by several other couples and a number of potted plants. Choosing from a list of four beers brewed on the premises (honey ale, pilsner, dark lager, and ginger beer) we each elected to sample a half-liter of two different varieties, and weren’t the least bit disappointed.

My favorite was the smooth and slightly sweet honey ale, while Cathrine opted for the crisp, refreshing ginger beer. In fact, she left with a 2-liter growler (about half a gallon) heavy with the fermented beverage. Thirsty trekkers take note: Saint Clemens doesn’t skimp on the menu either—we found the food exceptional, with many of the entrees transcending pub fare to distinguish themselves as gourmet dishes.

With dinner finished, we continued to the Cockney Pub. It wasn’t much later than 10pm, nevertheless the tiny space was already packed: passage to the bar itself was obstructed by nearly a dozen beer connoisseurs, and no one looked as if they would be moving anytime soon. Wriggling my way between two large mustachioed men, I managed to get the busy bartender’s attention long enough to order a Viborg Imperial Stout for myself and a Skands Ein Bock for my friend to the tune of 80 Kroner, or about $14 at the current exchange rate. Not a cheap purchase for the traveler on a budget.

Each pint brimmed with a range of complex flavors that quickly pushed away any concerns about expense. Although we only stayed for one more round before wandering off to find another watering hole; I could have returned to the Cockney Pub every night for a week before I’d tried their entire selection. Not only is it extensive, they also feature “guest beers” on a regular basis.flag

Looking back on those three days, I realized that there had really only been enough time to scratch the foamy surface of the thriving Danish beer culture. Sure I’d lingered over lagers and smiled sipping many a stout, and yet I still had much to learn before I could think of myself as someone who had acquired any kind of authoritative knowledge on the subject. Even if I never become an expert on Scandinavian brews, I can say with confidence that Aarhus is a city worth visiting. It hardly matters if it’s shopping or nightlife, art or music, or perhaps your inner tippler that provides the motivation. Just go. And while you’re there you should try the Cockney Pub.

Where to Go for Good Danish Beer:

Saint Clemens Brewery

Kannikegade 10-12 /engelsk/default.asp

Cockney Pub

Maren Smeds Gyde 8 & Sct. Clemens Stræde

Sherlock Holmes Pub

Frederiksgade 76d RAINBOW

Ris Ras filliongongong

Mejlgade 24

©Ben Keene

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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