Mikkeller & Friends, Copenhagen

Mikkeller & Friends
I’m a huge beer geek. Over the past 4 or 5 years hunting down craft beer has become one of the things I try to fit into every trip to a new place. Luckily in London it’s getting much easier to find the stuff. There are some truly top drawer craft beer bars popping up, serving the finest beers from around the world and it’s an exciting time for anyone looking to explore what beer has to offer beyond Stella, Guinness and their like.

Outside of the US, where the scene is decades older than our own, top of my craft beer places to go list for some time has been Copenhagen, and the Mikkeller bar in Vesterbro specifically. Owner and renowned brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has been making boundary-pushing beers under the Mikkeller name for about 8 years now, often collaborating with other notable brewers around the world and exporting his creations to more than 40 countries. His bar has become something of a mecca for beer freaks passing through Europe (or indeed making a special pilgrimage) and one look at the outstanding tap list and rare bottle list is enough to see why.

I’d heard he was opening a new, much bigger bar called Mikkeller & Friends down the road from the existing bar, with a whopping 40 taps, and an adjoining bottle shop, but I figured I’d have to just get there when I could at some unknown, possibly non-existent point in the future. It was the nicest of surprises then when on the last day of our holiday in Berlin recently the wife let it slip that we’d be going to the new bar’s opening party the following weekend as a special birthday treat, sans child and with everything paid for already (apart from the bar tab).  Cue that Christmas Eve when you’re 6 feeling…

A couple of days before the opening of what promised to be one of the World’s best craft beer bars, the on tap list was announced on the Mikkeller website, and it was the stuff that a beer geek’s dreams are made of, boasting among other things Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial  Stout aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla beans and Westvleteren XII, two of the world’s most sought after brews, both of which are generally unavailable outside of their respective breweries in Munster, Indiana and Belgium respectively, unless you’re willing to part with serious cash on eBay. Coupled with that came the news that the bar would be offering 1000 litres of its regular house beers for free once the doors were open, and when that was gone they’d be serving the crazy stuff until closing time.  With 1500+ people saying they would be attending on Facebook it became abundantly clear that this was going to be some party.

We turned up an hour or so before the scheduled opening time of 3pm to find about 40 or 50 people already queuing outside the basement bar in the bitter cold with a palpable buzz building. I’d experienced this kind of queue at plenty of gigs before, but this was definitely a first. Opening time eventually arrived and the throng poured in. By some miracle we got seats, picking up some free beer from the bar on the way. The place is very open, but cosy with a clean and sophisticated Scandinavian feel, lots of light wooden furniture and shiny turquoise floors.

Free beer is always nice, and the three different brews on offer all slipped down very nicely, warming up the crowd like a support act before the headliner (the insanely brilliant list of amazing beer) came on. The Nørrebro Wit was the best of the bunch, with a classic wheaty citrus flavour and a little bit of bitterness, balancing nicely with honey sweetness.

Mikkeller

We got chatting to some Aussie law students studying in Copenhagen and after a couple of free beers the bar started serving all the rare and hard to find stuff and people started to swarm. Battling my way through to the bar, there was a bit of a crush going on, and I realised that the level of beer geekery I was immersed in was higher than I had ever experienced. This was beer mania. I felt like a loser for half a second before hearing a guy next to me order 4 measures of Dark Lord. At 150dk for 20cl (getting on for £20) that was an expensive round even by Danish standards, and he was clearly taking things at least as seriously as me.

And then it was my turn. It felt a bit surreal ordering a Dark Lord, like finding a copy of The Quarrymen acetate and having the money on me to buy it, but I went for it, along with a Zombie Dust American Pale Ale (also from the Three Floyds brewery) and Mikkeller’s Spontandoubleblueberry lambic fruit beer. The Dark Lord was poured first and popping my schnozz in the top of the glass to get a whiff of what was going on in there was a truly memorable experience. The powerful vanilla and bourbon aromas immediately blew me away, and were complimented with a strong hit of espresso. Chatting to the guy next to me as the barman poured the rest of my order, I let him have a noseful as well and it seemed to have the same effect on him.

Back at our table I was more than ready for a taste of this much revered drop of thick black stuff, and if I’ve built this up too much it’s because the sampling of this beer was a real event for me. With the wife and the Aussies all having had a quick sniff I took a big sip, and my word what a beer it is. It’s like a dessert and a coffee rolled into one (and a beer obviously), really rich and viscous, with the vanilla even stronger than I expected, and the 14% alcohol not noticeable at all, making it dangerously drinkable for such a strong beer. It has all the classic imperial stout flavours: coffee, chocolate, roasted malts, and dark fruits, but with a nice sweet vanilla and burnt sugar note, a bit of bourbon, and a slight sour note in the finish (possibly from the barrel aging). I’m a big believer that the best things in life are meant to be shared and I must have let 4 or 5 people have a sip. It was a good conversation starter: “here, have a taste of one of the best beers in the world”. Well you’d talk to someone who said that too, right?

Whilst Dark Lord was the best beer we had there, the selection on offer was impeccable. The Spontandoubleblueberry was refreshing and bursting with blueberry flavour and that tartness you get with lambics. We also sampled a lychee version which was absolutely delicious, along with Daybreak, an Imperial Stout brewed by Mikkeller in collaboration with US brewery Hill Farmstead. Unfortunately Westvleteren XII, the number one rated beer in the world, never came on – which must have been a disappointment for some. It wasn’t pulling through the tap for some reason. Luckily a friend shared a bottle with me last year (thanks James) and they were selling it in bottles in the adjoining bottle shop for anyone desperate to try it.

Eventually of course when you’re drinking high strength beers you have to stop – too much of a good thing and all that. I had to have a quick look at the bottle shop before we left and I could have filled both of our suitcases with amazing beers that would prove very difficult to find in the UK. The beers in the bar and bottle shop aren’t cheap, but I came away with bottles of Three Floyds Alpha King and Zombie Dust for about £6.50 each, which is fairly reasonable given the distance they’d travelled and their rarity in Europe. We drank them in the apartment we rented for the weekend the following day and both were outstanding. As we left one of the staff handed us each a small glass of barley wine brewed by To Øl (another Danish brewery, with whom the bar is apparently a joint venture). He’d poured it from a giant Nebuchadnezzar bottle which I’d have struggled to lift I think. One for the road? Don’t mind if I do…

Back into the cold, where there were still plenty of revellers spilling onto the street, we stopped by the hot dog van parked outside only to discover they were serving hot dogs with condiments made with Mikkeller beers. I can’t say I could taste beer as I ate it, but the sausage was good and spicy and I’d gladly have polished off another. Nice touch.

kernel London Sour

By rights, the next morning should have been horrific, but a good night’s sleep and plenty of water before bed kept our hangovers to a minimum. We spent the day exploring and ate at Mother, which is something of a Copenhagen institution, serving great sourdough pizza and an Italian buffet brunch I’d recommend to anyone paying the city a visit. After a look around the Museum of Copenhagen and a nice walk by an icy canal, we ended up back in Mikkeller & Friends, and the vibe was entirely different to the previous evening, with just a few people there and the staff able to stop and chat. The guy I spoke to was friendly, knew his stuff about beer, and even remembered serving me the Dark Lord, asking what I’d thought of it and letting me know that they’d sold all they had of it within 40 minutes. Not surprising really, given its reputation and deliciousness. I tried a Kernel London Sour (only 2.3% – good hangover beer) with a dried gourmet sausage and cornichons, recommended by the barman and it all slipped down rather nicely, just as everything had the night before.

Mikkeller and To Øl have raised the bar with Mikkeller & Friends. I honestly can’t fault it. It’s a great place to go and enjoy the best that craft beer has to offer, and probably the best bar for beer I’ve ever been to. If only it were in London. Interestingly, there are rumours that Mikkeller will soon be joining forces with Brewdog (who already have several bars in the UK) to open a game-changing bar in Clerkenwell. With the fantastic Craft beer Co already offering a top notch craft beer experience in the same area, it could make Clerkenwell the best place to go for a beer in London. Exciting times indeed.

Auchentoshan Presents at The Wardrobe, Leeds

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Last Sunday D and I went to a whisky tasting event promoting the Auchentoshan Classic and 3 Wood whiskies at The Wardrobe Leeds. We were welcomed by the PR lady DK with a free Classic whilst we waited for an eclectic mix of bloggers and barmen/women to join us.
When everyone had arrived we were given background details by Zoran the Brand Ambassador who explained that the Auchentoshan was a small boutique distillery based in lowland region of Scotland and the only one with 3 stills for triple distillation The Classic was younger at 6 years old, light pale gold colour and matured in American Bourbon oak casks giving it a lovely woody smoked flavour. The 3 Wood is matured in three different cask types, American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso and finally Pedro Ximenez (I think 10 years min) giving it a rich golden bronze colour like a good cognac. The flavour is warmer with toffee, sherry, butterscocth flavours and far more complex than the classic.
We were then entertained by Mike from Soulshakers Ltd who must be one of the most knowledgable and skilled cocktail makers we have ever met. Mike showed us how to make both classic Old Fashioned and some with a twist as well as Whisky Sours after which some of us had a go ourselves. We had great fun and the Wardrobe is a top place for such events.

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G&D

Pin

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In Leeds there’s a local brewery that I think is taking the city by a very quiet storm. I first came across the Leeds Brewery in The Victoria or I think The Adelphi a year or so ago (it may be longer) with their excellent Leeds Best Bitter and their sublime Leeds Pale Ale.

Quite quickly, it seemed, they had a foothold in the competitive Leeds bar market with great bars/pubs The Midnight Bell, The Brewery Tap and Pin. Each place has its own ‘USP’-  apologies for the marketing terminology (unique selling proposition, if you’d like to know) – and they have firmly established themselves on the scene.

Good food and drink in cool surroundings seem to be the bare minimum and fair play to them I say. In Holbeck, The Midnight Bell does everything right and is part of a scene which includes The Cross Keys that helps to keep people down that part of town. The Brewery Tap is a bit odd, but it works. Huge plate glass windows aren’t conducive to a quiet drink in daylight hours at least.

That brings me to Pin. Tucked away on Dock Street, just around the corner from The Adelphi, it’s laid back and has something about it. I had lunch there today. Just a simple sandwich with a glass of Rose but the ambience and the quality of the food, drink and service made me want to spend more time in its modern/eclectic vibe.

I like the fact that these places take as much care with their food as they do with their beer. They deserve to be successful because there’s a care being taken with pretty much the whole operation that is sadly lacking in many of the city’s bars and restaurants.

But that’s OK, because I won’t be going there – I’ll be going to Pin, Midnight Bell and Brewery tap because at the end of the day, I like places that care about their customers and what they do.

T&K’s Inaugural Barbecue

Saturday evening was spent celebrating Tim and Karen’s new addition to the family –  no, there hasn’t been the patter of tiny feet – but there certainly is a new bad boy in the Thomson household. And it’s a barbecue.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that Tim has promised at the end of a long and refreshing evening around the Dean barbecue that he was building his own version…but after all these years, he’s finally gone and done it. And we were invited over on Saturday to give it the Troffers once-over. 

I can report that Tim has done a superb job, with all fixtures and fittings of the highest order and although the kit is only on its  third official outing, Tim is already a steady hand at the BBQ tiller. Vast quantities of food were prepared by Karen (I know what you’ll be eating today) and it was all excellent.

By the end of the evening, Tim’s arms looked like he’d just had two weeks in Lanzarote (goes with the territory, after 15 years of fire cooking, it’s par for the course) and his contact lenses had shrivelled up into pea sized plastic marbles. Still, the evening was hugely enjoyable and it was great fun. Thanks to all for a brilliant evening.

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Tea

I’m not sure that I agree with the general view on strong tea. The brown stuff is often referred as builders tea, but I don’t know about you I know plenty of people who aren’t builders who like strong tea. In fact in my experience most builders like it milky with lots of sugar. I digress.

When somebody makes me a brew at work, I usually request two tea bags (I know) because the tea they make is too thin for my liking – I blame my dad – and the amount of milk in it is just another tricky thing to manage.

Gurdev and John will be familiar with the Pantone colour specification used in printing to make sure colours get printed properly. Well our designers use this rather piss takingly to work out the colour of my tea from time to time. If you don’t believe me, check it out…

ps  Great to see some good entries this week from Tess and John. Look forward to seeing the Feversham contingent report back!