Sunday, June 23, 2013

Copenhagen Beer Celebration

 On May 3rd, my friend Andrej and I departed for Copenhagen to attend the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, a beer festival organized by Danish brewer and beer freak Mikkeller.  They held the first version of this beer festival last year and I read about it last summer.  From what I read, Mikkeller had attended another larger beer festival in the area and had not been impressed.  Larger beer festivals can feature drunken folks partying like mad, imbibing massive quantities of industrial lager with no clue about the beer.  These can sometimes just be massive parties.  Which I suppose can be okay.  But for me, the least appealing aspect of beer festivals are the people who know nothing about beer, don't care and are just out to get hammered.  It's not like I stay sober, but I'm there to try the beer, to taste something new, to inspire myself as a brewer.

Bikes dominate Copenhagen, and, of course, bike shops!
Mikkeller seems to have decided that this other show was bullshit.  He decided to organize his own festival and have it feature world class craft brewers from around the world.  No big brewers.  No industrial lager.  He decided to limit the tickets to 1000 people.  He decided to get rid of paying for each beer and just have tickets for the door that weren't cheap (around 60 euros per session, three sessions total so 180 euros per person to attend the entire day and a half festival), then have the festival be all you can drink with no tickets, no tokens or money changing hands for beer.  This vastly sped up the process of getting a beer since the servers simply took the glass, filled it and handed it back.  He wanted the brewers to attend and be the ones pouring the beer.  Usually at a beer festival, it's a volunteer who knows nothing about the beer.  At this show, it was almost always someone from the brewery and most often the brewer themselves who poured the beer.  This meant we could ask them highly technical questions and not be met with a glazed look of uncertainty.  We got answers to every question we could think of to ask.

The glass was very, very small, but we could get it filled multiple times with the same beer if we wanted another sample.  We didn't do this, though.  Andrej and I made our way through 110 beers out of roughly 270 on offer at the festival.  There were around 29 brewers there, most of them from America.  There were many, many barrel aged beers, many Imperial Stouts (almost all barrel aged), many extremely strong beers, many Brett beers, many sours, many IPAs and Imperial IPAs.  A beer geek's paradise.  Simply put, it's the best beer festival I've ever attended and I've been to a few.

Andrej was on a mission to drink a lot of hoppy beers.  He loves hops and it was a real opportunity to drink some Imperial IPAs from many different brewers, to try a lot of single hop IPAs to try out some hops he hasn't tried and to enjoy trying a wide range of hoppy and bitter beers we simply don't have access to in Croatia.  For similar reasons, I went on a sort of Brett and sour rampage.  The only Brett beer I have access to here is Orval.  I tried most of the Brett beers available at the show, which was a pretty large number.  I think I only missed a few.  I also tried a number of sours.  I wanted to take the opportunity, like Andrej, to try beers that we cannot get where we live.  I wanted to try to figure out exactly what I do and don't like about wild or wild inspired beers.  I came away from the festival with a pretty good idea in that regard.  I found that I love Brett when it's at a certain level, and that level can be pretty high, but when it goes beyond a certain level of funkiness that it can be too much for me.  I would say I really liked more than 75% of the Brett beers I tried and I loved many of those.  Sour beers were a bit different story.  I found I only liked maybe 25% of those.  I just don't like a really strong sourness, so when they were really sour, I didn't enjoy them.  I had some lambics that I liked, though, and some other wild beers that I also liked.  I came away with the understanding that I like Brett more than I like sour, though, and that's a good thing to have determined as I move forward with my plans for brewing many more Brett beers.

Andrej at Mikkeler and Friends, a bar co owned by Mikkeller and To Ol.

There were a number of really great brewers at the festival.  I found that I had my favorites, of course, and I tried most, if not all of their beers.  The real standouts for me were Anchorage Brewing, Westbrook Brewing, Lervig Aktiebryggerri, Amager Bryghus and Jester King.  These guys were all doing a lot of Brett or wild inspired beers and had many good ones on offer.  My top 2 were Anchorage and Westbrook.  I kept going to them over and over and tried almost all of their beers.  I managed to buy a bottle of Anchorage's beer "Love Buzz Saison" to take home and shared with a friend and we loved it.  8% abv Saison with 40 ibus that uses a regular Belgian yeast for primary, then does a secondary in a wine barrel with Brett.  Amazing beer.  The Brett level is just right.  It's there, it's in your face, but it's also pleasant.

Some of the brewers were also disappointing, however.  Before the show, I had been looking forward to the brewers from more distant locales; China, Japan, Brazil, Australia.  The brewers from China and Japan were actually Americans.  And they seemed to me to be making mostly very mainstream American ales of various sorts, nothing too wild, nothing too experimental.  The brewers from Australia and Brazil had good beer, but nothing extreme, nothing very adventurous and I went to this festival for adventurous beers.

Here are a few beers that stood out as extra tasty or interesting to me:

From Amager Bryghus, a brewery from Denmark:

Showdown in Tourpes.  This is labelled as a US style Saison, but my notes indicate it was hoppy like an IPA.  Tomahawk, Citra and Amarillo hops in this one.

Hr. Papso in Black, a Black APA.  Extremely nice.  Very hoppy with some black grain character.  Dry but full bodied.

Godverdomme, a Flemish Red.  A lovely sour beer.

From Anchorage Brewing, an Alaskan brewery:

The Tides and its Takers Tripel, 9.0% abv, a barrel aged tripel with Brettanomyces.  Nice beer.  Some nice Brett funk here that reminded me of Orval.

Anadromous Black Sour, 8.5% abv.  Belgian Sacch. strain used for primary, Brett from wood aging and a pedio/lactic blend for souring.  Funky beer and a really nice sour.  Maybe the best sour I had at this festival.

Love Buzz Saison, 8% abv, a barrel aged Saison with Brettanomyces and rose hips and peppercorns.  Hugely complex.  Funky with tangy fruit.  Not only hugely interesting, but hugely tasty!

From Brewdog of Scotland:

Abstrakt 12, a Belgian Black Imperial IPA with Scottish berries.

Hello, My Name is Ingrid, a Double IPA that used cloudberries, a type of berry from Sweden.  Bramling Cross, Columbus, Centennial and Nelson Sauvin for the hops.  Some berry notes and some elderflower character from the Nelson Sauvin.  Those hops mixed well with the berries.  Fruit not overdone.  Nice balance.  Complex, interesting and tasty.

From Cigar City Brewing, a Florida brewery:

Dos Costas Saison aged on lemon wood with Brettanomyces.  Soft Brett character here.  A dry, well rounded beer with tangy notes.  Pretty soft and quite nice.

From Firestone Walker in California:

Parabola, a Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout, 12.5% abv.  Awesome RIS.  Very rich and full of character.

Sadly, I didn't care for any of their other beers and I tried a bunch.  Most were too sweet for me.

From The Kernel Brewery in the UK:

India Pale Ale Double Citra, 9.8% abv.  Wow!  Awesome!  Very hoppy, naturally.  Nice balance.  A touch sweet in the mouth but finishes dry.

From Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Norway:

Farmhouse Stout, 10.6% abv.  They used White Labs WLP670 American Farmhouse Blend in this, which has a Belgian Saison yeast and Brett.  The beer was very nice.  Loads of esters and a touch of Brett.

Chair Beer, 4.0%.  A 100% Brett Trois ale.  Fruity and dry with a slight funk.  Quite nice.

From Mikkeller himself:

Barrel Aged George, the cognac edition.  I just wrote "Oh my god!  Amazing!"

From Siren Brewing in the UK:

Oi! Zeus! An Imperial Stout with vanilla and chili peppers.  This one was amazing.  Peppers gave it some heat but it was very nicely balanced. 

Experiment 366, a Barleywine using a new hop noted to be "Citra on steroids".  Everything perfect in this beer.  Great balance.

From Surly Brewing in the US:

Cynic, a 6.5% abv Saison.  Columbus and Styrian Goldings.  Oats in the grist as well.  Very nice beer.  Good mouthfeel here, dry finish.

From Westbrook Brewing in the US:

Funky Old Time, an 11% abv Black Sour.  Amazing.  Pretty sour!  A lovely lingering grain aftertaste that I adored.

Bearded Farmer Thomas, a Saison with Brett.  Lovely.  Nice balance.  Fruity Brett character with some funk.

Comrade Appleseed, Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Imperial Stout.  Complex and tasty with a touch of apple character.

From Xbeeriment in Denmark:

Black Force One XO, a 10.4% abv Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout.  Very nice.  Full of flavor.  Rich with some wood and bourbon character.

Bretty Boop, a nice 100% Brett beer.  Typical Brett with sharp fruit and funk.  Lemony tartness.  I love it.

There were a LOT of other great beers and a lot of other interesting beers, but these ones were the tops for me of what I tried.

And, one brewer was a real disappointment.  Before the show, I saw that he had a lot of Saisons and such and was looking forward to them, but Stillwater Artisan Ales was a disappointment.  I went there early in the show and asked for his "A Saison Darkly".  I assumed it was just a black Saison of some sort.  He poured it for me and it smelled like sulfur.  Not a pleasant smell at all.  I took a drink and the beer was sweet.  It had literally NOTHING in common with a Saison.  It simply was not a Saison.  I am not a style Nazi or anything, but when you see something labelled a certain way, you expect a certain flavor profile.  He had a Biere De Garde on as well, so I thought maybe he just poured me the wrong beer, so I asked and he said that it was the Saison and something along the lines of "well, Saison, Biere De Garde, whatever, those styles are all the same anyway".  That's simply not true.  Saison is a hoppy, very dry pale beer with a ton of yeast character, generally, and Biere De Garde is almost the opposite; a darker, sweet beer with not much yeast character at all.  To add to my disappointment in the foul smelling and not so good tasting beer in front of me, the brewer had a sort of vibe to him that I didn't like.  I avoided his beers the rest of the day.  I tried one more of his beers the next day, another Saison but this one was a bit better if nothing spectacular.  After that, I just didn't bother.  Only tried two, but in a place filled with inspiring beers, his left me uninterested.  I think it's not worth seeking his beers out.

Another brewer that I think is worth mentioning is Jester King, from Austin, Texas.  This brewery uses a lot of Brett in their facility.  I didn't try any beers from them that didn't have Brett.  They had a lovely Imperial Stout called Black Metal.  The brewer said they didn't use Brett in it, but I picked up a touch of Brett there that was quite nice.  He said they use so much Brett that it's possible some got in there.  Not certain on that, but I *am* certain that it was a great beer.

Other than that, they had a lot of beers that were very interesting.  I didn't fully love any of them other than the Imperial Stout, though.  They were very strange, very adventurous and very interesting.  I emptied my glass on every occasion, but I wouldn't want to drink a full glass of any of them.  I would call these beers challenging.  They challenge you to try them, they dare you to accept them.  I did both, but I didn't really love them.  Perhaps they'd grow on me over time if I lived near them and could get their beers regularly.

One of their other beers worth noting was called Salt Lick.  This was a Pecan wood smoked Saison with Brett that was also a touch sour.  Very interesting, but the smoke dominated a strange mix of flavors and aromas that didn't really work well together.  Very interesting indeed, but did they pull it off?  I don't really think so but I would try it again to find out.  This brewery is worth seeking out even if it's only for their sheer balls on what they're brewing.

The festival was awesome, as I said.  They had gigantic water tanks, like a cubic meter plastic tank that they would refill.  We washed our glasses there, drank water throughout the day and stayed hydrated.  There were only two real bummers that weren't so bad.  When the show started, they had no map for the festival, so for the first hour or two, we had no idea which brewers were in what area.  And they also had no signs for the brewers up anywhere where you could see them.  After an hour or two, we figured out where everyone was, so that's not a huge deal.  And then they finally did put up maps on the water tanks so you could check them out while cleaning your glass.  The beers that were available at the stands were listed on a small piece of paper on the table in front of the taps, which was also sort of a bummer.  When there was a crowd or line, which was usually the case, we couldn't see what was available until we got to the front, and sometimes it wasn't something we wanted so we waited in that line for nothing.  We'd try to stick our head in there to see, but this wasn't always possible.  If there were anything I'd change about the show, it'd be that.  The brewers should have signs behind them, even if they're just simple print outs.  The signs should be up high enough so they can be seen and should list the brewery and what beers they have on tap.  That would have made life a bit easier at the show.

Andrej and I raise a glass of tasty beer at the festival.
That said, those are minor gripes.  Everything else was great.  I was concerned about the small glass before the show, but it was no problem.  It was actually enough beer to sample and allowed us to try a lot more beers than if we had had a larger glass.

Oh, and two key questions that beer festival attendees might find

The WCs set up at the show were actually okay.  They had them outside in a sort of trailer, two sets of them.  Inside each trailer was maybe 10 or 15 individual little toilet rooms.  They were decently clean and not disgusting and there were enough that the wait was never more than 5 minutes or so even when the festival was at its most crowded.

The food at the show was decent as well.  Some interesting fish cakes that were pretty tasty.  Towards the entrance was a sausage stand that was pretty good as well.  They had 3 or so types of sausages and you could order a mixed set with some sort of garnish, pickles, onions and whatnot.  I forget exactly, but we ate many of those.  There was other food as well, but not a huge selection.  Good enough for me.  I had some tasty food there.

We also hit a few local pubs, our favorite of which was Mikkeler and Friends, a new pub on Stefansgade with a bottle shop attached.  We hung out there for a long session on Sunday afternoon and evening.  Our favorite beer of that session was Mikkeller's 1000 ibu Imperial IPA.  It was quite tasty.  Strangely, the bitterness was not too much.  A very nice beer worth seeking out.  The bottle shop is also worth a visit.  They have a decent selection of eclectic beers.

Copenhagen, however, is very expensive.  So, be aware of this.

This beer festival receives my highest recommendation.  If you have the money and time, you should go.  It's the best beer festival I've ever attended.  If you like adventurous beers, beers with a lot of flavor, brewers taking huge risks, if you want to taste cutting edge beer then this festival is for you.

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