Copenhagen is a city of just over half a million people. Yet its cultural significance is much more in line with a metropolis ten times that population. Consider its beer scene as a prime example. As of 2017, the Danish capital is home to 217 breweries – including some of the biggest names in the industry, both commercial (Carlsberg) and craft (Mikkeller). London, by comparison, holds only 74 such operations.
As impressive as disproportionate quantity might be, it’s the unwavering quality, across the board, which really sets Copenhagen apart. And as an added bonus, a competitive market for suds ensures that the beer, at least, remains accessibly priced even as Scandinavia as a whole becomes increasingly expensive. All these factors collide into one triumphant truth: Copenhagen is beer-drinking bliss.
“There are plenty of places to drink cheap beer in a retro, cool environment,” advises Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, founder of Evil Twin Brewing, and his own local pub – Himmeriget. “We call them ‘bodega.’ They are often dark, sometimes you can smoke, and heavy drinkers and locals like to go there, but also hipsters. Good examples of such places are Mc. Kluud and Cafe Blomsten.”
These local hangs are heavily clustered in the Vesterbro neighborhood, a former industrial section of town which has slowly morphed into the ‘Brooklyn of Copenhagen.’
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Elsewhere in Vesterbro is a facade of old factory space, converted into boisterous hubs for suds and sausages. Check out Warpigs, a lively brewpub promising authentic Texas BBQ and American style beer – with 22 selections on draft. A collaborative effort between Mikkeller and Indiana-based Three Floyds Brewing, it’s a fun and flavorful look at U.S. drinking culture as viewed through the reductive lens of Danish precision.
Next door is John’s Hotdog Deli, a local landmark, showcasing the city’s irrational obsession with encased meats. Rolling off the griddle here are some of the best examples in town, but perhaps even more impressive is the selection of bottled brews glowing behind the counter. A colorful assortment of more than two dozen craft labels are priced between $6-12 each. Well-informed staff are prepared to suggest the ideal pairing in accordance with your particular order.
Part of Copenhagen’s charm is its willingness to incorporate outside influence into the fold. This is on full display at Tivoli Gardens, Europe’s oldest amusement park – a prototypical Epcot Center – situated in the center of the city. Traditional lager lovers take refuge at Biergarten, a massive-yet-charming Austrian beer hall, the most faithful appropriation of the style this side of Vienna.
The Nørrebro neighborhood, along the western edge of the city, is another notable layover for beer lovers. “For dive-type bars, Kronborggade 3 is by far the best,” recommends Jarnit-Bjergsø. “It has it all! Good beer, cheap beer, locals, hipsters, etc.”
It’s a prime example of the bodega vibe: an effortlessly retro throwback – for better or worse (smoking is still permitted, inside). Those preferring bougie over bohemian will gravitate towards Koelschip, a sour-focused drinking den dedicated to the traditional Belgian style of lambic beer.
Want something even more elegant? Wander over the river to the former Noma space, bounding the canal-crossed streets of Christiana. The brick-facade building which once held the world’s most famous restaurant is now home to Barr, a distinctly Danish gastropub with 20 speciality beers on tap, divided by category. Although the interior still exudes Michelin-level sophistication (and the associated expenses) of its predecessor, the beers here – many brewed for the restaurant, under contract – hover around $9 a pour.
A cursory survey of these bustling streets provides ample evidence that Copenhagen’s beer scene is in full bloom. Yet it arrives with a caveat, and a bit of underlying drama. “While it’s blooming it has also been pretty one-sided for many years,” warns Jarnit-Bjergsø. As the famously estranged twin of Mikkeller, he can’t resist the opportunity to pull a jab in his brother’s direction. “[He] has so many places that are pretty much all the same, and rather generic. That, luckily, is changing.”
Proof is percolating alongside the pavement. Copenhagen’s old-world charm and modern brew culture is best viewed by foot. So get out there and explore this boomtown of beer. Even on a stereotypically damp, Danish afternoon, Europe’s finest pints provide shelter from any storm.