With an event the size of the European Beer Festival in Copenhagen last weekend, I had no idea that any of the hundreds of breweries would stand out. According to my notes I sampled 112 different beers -- and over the next while you'll get to hear about every damn one of them, you lucky people -- but reflecting on the whole event I've realised that one brewery in particular really stepped up to the mark beerwise and were offering an especially wide range of superb products.
Granted, Nørrebro Bryghus were on their home turf, being sited just across town from the festival grounds. But I visited the place last time I was in Copenhagen and I've some idea of the size of their operation. That they were able to sustain a constant supply of over two dozen beers for three days is nothing short of amazing.
And there was nary a dud among them, though more than a touch of cheekiness in some cases. Take New York Lager for instance: a pale orange hue with more hops than one might expect if it were anything other than an obvious knock-off of Brooklyn Lager. Ron says that Carlsberg is Brooklyn's import agent in Denmark, so I guess that makes them fair game. Anyway, the end result is an easy drinker with a well-honed toffee/hops balance. Believe it or not, there's a similar sensation with their North Bridge Extreme, a 9.6% IPA which managed to avoid any burning or cloying and remained chewy, hoppy but perfectly balanaced with it.
Their mild, Berufsverbot, was one of the first I went for. It's surprisingly pale red but has a lovely fruit-and-nut chocoloate character to it. I was expecting something darker and coffeeish, but still enjoyed this. Staying sweet but getting darker was the house stout La Granja. This is a creamy, woody affair, tempered with long-lasting roasty notes. Tasty, filling and satisfying. The woodiness goes off the scale with their barrel-aged Imperial Porter. In fact, it introduces a kind of solvent flavour (phenols?) which almost spoiled the experience for me. It's something I encountered in several of the barrel-aged beers I had at the festival, so there's more on that to come. A much more balanced wood experience came from Oak Wise, a sweet/sour lambic-esque "wild-fermented wheat beer". Apparently there's apricots in here too, but all I was getting was the extra tang from the oak chips.
When tanginess goes awry you end up with something like their approach to Oud Bruin. It was brown, anyway, but tasted acetic rather than sweet. I couldn't shake the notion that I was drinking HP Sauce with a head on it. I like HP Sauce, however, so I wouldn't call this a failure; more like an endearing attempt at a style that's silly to begin with. Despite all of these sour delights, my Nørrebro prize for tanginess goes to a very strange aged kriek they were serving, called Stevns CCC. The cherries are quite hard to identify under thick layers of warming cinnamon and tartness. Refreshing, complex and very delicious.
And my favourite out of this lot? Why, the one with basically no hops, of course. Helene Heather is spiced with all manner of botanicals and just a teensy sprinkling of hops in there. It's gorgeous, carrying a rich and warming mince-pie effect in a surprisingly pale blonde ale. There's more than a hint of floral honey flavours as well, and a little bit of tartness in with the cinnamon on the end. A truly sublime beer and one of the best I had all weekend.
While Nørrebro was my top brewery just for beer, one of the other locals really put the effort in to turn drinking-in-a-shed into a proper festive festival, while turning out some amazing beers as well. More anon.
(And yes, if I'd known I was going to start by enthusing about Nørrebro, I probably would have taken a photo of their stall -- the image left is used with kind permission of Knut Albert.)