Beer and bars in Copenhagen
Think of Copenhagen, arguably Scandinavia’s coolest and most cosmopolitan city and several images spring to mind; cutting-edge design, fabulous fashion, tall, good-looking locals and perhaps the famed Tivoli antique amusement park. But, it’s also here that beer rules supreme, and alongside a rich brewing tradition is a new wave of microbreweries and brewpubs popping up around the city.
A taste of tradition
“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, which exhibits 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, carbon-dated 1370BC.
During the tour, I pass the world’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles (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 specialty beers, ales and pilsners. Before leaving, it’s well worth checking out the four giant Bornholm granite elephants (Elephant Gates) that guard the brewery grounds—a fine example of world-class industrial architecture.
Beer by the waterfront
After my brewery tour, I wander back towards the city center through a tangle of cobbled streets to the picturesque Nyhavn district, with its showcase century canal dug in the 17th century to let traders bring their wares into the heart of the city. Today, traditional sailing craft crowd the canal lined with colorful gabled townhouses, and although it’s mid-September, people are out in numbers enjoying a drink at the many trendy side cafés and bars while 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, perhaps at one of the traditional Nyhavn pub favorites such as Cap Horn or Nyhavn 17.
Modern and classic bars
A short walk from the Nyhavn district you’ll find Strøget, billed as the world’s longest pedestrian street. Running right through the city center, it is crammed with shops, eateries, bars and cafés, and the continental-style Café Europa 1989 and Café Norden, 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 cosmopolitan-style 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 cozy 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 Lord Nelson with a great range of Danish draught 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 brewmaster Anders Kissmeyer, who had the 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 amid brewing kettles and tanks,” says Anders. “The beer is a primary source of inspiration for our head chef, and it is used as both an ingredient and seasoning, and finally in the glass accompanying the food.”
Another good brewpub option in Nørrebro is uber-cool Brus honored 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 a 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.
In addition to its microbreweries, bars and pubs, Copenhagen boasts a plethora of other exciting possibilities for the visitor—the free-thinking Christiania community, Museum Erotica, Danish Design Center and the Viking Ship Museum. But it will be beer aficionados especially, who will think they have arrived in paradise here. Cheers, or as they say in Copenhagen, “Skol.”
A tall mug of beer awaits you in Copenhagen. We’ll drink to Denmark and cheap flights to Scandinavia. WOW air offers cheap flights to Copenhagen from USA, Canada and Iceland every day of the week all year round.
Text and photos: Andrew Marshall