Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2012

This is my highly subjective report of the venue, the atmosphere, the beers and the overall experience of the first Copenhagen Beer Celebration beer festival, arranged by Mikkeller in Copenhagen, on May 11 and 12, 2012.

The background

Until 2011, Mikkeller used to have a very popular stand at the annual Copenhagen Beer Festival, one of the largest and most popular beer festivals in Europe. But Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the man behind Mikkeller, was getting impatient with the large festival, he felt it was becoming too bland, focused on big brands instead of all the exciting things taking place in the craft brewing world. So, he decided to pull out and create his own beer festival. It would be a lot smaller and more focused on creativity and novelty in brewing. Copenhagen Beer Celebration was born.

Beer fans lining up for Day 1 of Copenhagen Beer Celebration
In the fall of 2011, Mikkeller established a group to work out the logistics of the festival and set the most important parameters: CBC would be a 2-day festival with top quality craft breweries from America and Europe, Mielcke & Hurtigkarl were invited to create a beer dinner for the festival and only a thousand tickets  would be sold per day to avoid overcrowding. When the news of the festival broke, beer geeks from around the world immediately marked May 11-12, 2012, in their calendars. The tickets were released for sale at 11:11 am on 11-11-2011, with hundreds if not thousands pushing the reload button in their browsers to find the link that would take them to the web page for purchasing tickets. Most of the tickets sold out in a matter of hours.

Six months later I anxiously waited in line outside the entrance to the Sparta Hallen.

The venue

Sparta Hallen is a big indoor sports arena located at Gunnar Nu Hansens Plads 11 in Østerport, Copenhagen, not far from Parken - the national football stadium in Denmark. Inside Sparta Hallen, the organizers had set up a number of tables and benches for the dinner guests, these could be used by all guests until dinner started at 5 pm but from then on only for the dinner guests. The beer booths were placed along the walls and on an island in the middle of the room. 

To obtain a beer sample, a visitor needed special orange plastic tokens, some samples cost 1 token, most 2 and a few expensive beers as much as 3 tokens. The tokens could be bought at Mikkeller Ølbar before the festival opened or at a special booth next to the entrance after the festival started. You would then typically buy a bag of 15 tokens for DKK 200. The token system is well proven and worked really well here too.

Copenhagen Beer Celebration in Sparta Hallen, Copenhagen

As for toilets, the organizer had placed special urinals and booths just outside the arena, next to another exit than the main one, which made it easy for guests to get to them when nature called.

Each ticket included dinner at a certain time, to ensure that everyone was served, and dinners were served at 5 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm and 8 pm on both days. In addition to the official beer dinner food was sold in the form of hot dogs at a central stand. The idea was good, but the execution poor - by default hot mustard was added to the sausages, which is not such a smart thing when you're trying to taste complex flavors in beer - hot mustard basically stuns the taste buds, rendering them useless for minutes.

Breweries

More than twenty breweries were represented at the festival, many of them with their own brewers behind the taps. From the US, Hoppin' Frog founder and headbrewer Fred Karm manned his own stand, while Three Floyds were represented by Nick Floyd - pouring beer with his massively tattooed arms. At the stand of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Brian Strumke pulled the taps, while brewmaster Terry Hawbaker manned the stand of Cabinet Artisanal Brewhouse. Finally, Westbrook Brewing was represented by its young founder and brewer, Edward Westbrook.
Headbrewer Urbain Coutteau and his De Struise Taptrailer

From Europe, Nøgne Ø was well represented as both brewer Ingrid Elisabeth Skistad and the new general manager, Tore Nybø, were present.

De Struise Brouwers brought their entire brewery staff along from Belgium, led by founder Urbain Coutteau who was very proud to present their latest invention: The Taptrailer, an amazing 30 tap line mobile beer cooler and bar! Because they couldn't get the Taptrailer into Sparta Hallen, it was parked outside by the entrance.

And, of course, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø could be seen at the Mikkeller stand while his brother, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, would hang around at the Evil Twin or the Drikkeriget stand. The latter also served beer for breweries that didn't send people to the festival, such as Cigar City.

The following breweries had their own stands at the festival:
  1. BrewDog (Scotland)
  2. Uncommon Brewers (USA)
  3. Fanø Bryghus (Denmark)
  4. Evil Twin Brewing (Denmark)
  5. To Øl (Denmark)
  6. Three Floyds Brewing Company (USA)
  7. Mikkeller (Denmark)
  8. Brodies (England)
  9. Brouwerij de Molen (Netherlands)
  10. Hoppin' Frog Brewery (USA)
  11. Stillwater Artisanal Ales (USA)
  12. Croocked Moon (Denmark)
  13. Xbeeriment (Denmark)
  14. The Kernel (England)
  15. Dieu du Ciel! (Canada)
  16. Nøgne Ø (Norway)
  17. Amager Bryghus (Denmark)
  18. De Struise Brouwers (Belgium)

In addition to these, beers from Cigar City Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin Artisanal Ales and The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing were served at the Drikkeriget stand.

The Nøgne Ø at Copenhagen Beer Celebration

Beer highlights

Even though I had two days at my disposal, it was impossible to taste all of the beers available at the festival. It didn't help if I only focused on new beers, skipping those I had tried before, the selection was just too vast. So I had to make some hard priorities, like all the other guests.

The beers that stood our for me at the festival were
  • Hoppin' Frog BORIS the Crusher Oatmeal Stout (9.4%)
  • Hoppin' Frog Hop Masters Abbey Belgian-Style Double IPA (8.5%)
  • The Farmer's Cabinet Marry Me In Goslar (4.4% gose)
  • The Farmer's Cabinet Layover in Berlin (3% berliner weisse)
  • De Molen Bakker wort Brouwer Bunnahabhain (13.9% imperial stout)
  • De Molen Hemel & Aarde (10% imperial stout)
  • De Sruise Dirty Horse 1983 (7% sour ale)
  • De Struise Tsjeeses Reserva 2009  (10% abbey tripel)
  • De Struise Black Damnation XI - Special K (22% imperial stout)
  • To Øl Sort Mælk (13% imperial stout, aged in whisky barrels)
  • Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf (9% double ipa) 
  • Three Floyds Behemoth (12% barley wine)
  • Evil Twin Sour Barrel #1 (5% sour ale)

All of these were on draft and awesome, but the highlight of the festival was actually a bottled beer - Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing, an intense but well balanced beer that had my taste buds tingling for minutes after each sip. Awesome!

Cigar City Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout
- a world class beer

Though most stands saw their share of visitors, it seems pretty clear to me that De Struise Brouwers' clever Taptrailer stand was by far the most popular at the festival. According to what De Struise wrote after the festival, they did impressingly well - in two days they sold 700 liters of beer in 7,000 servings of 10 cl - which means that each of the roughly 2,500 visitors had at least 3 tasters from De Struise!

Conclusion

All in all, Copenhagen Beer Celebration was a massive success and a great start for a new festival tradition in Copenhagen. The main positive things to point out are: 

  • The awesome beer selection, many world class and rare beers.
  • Revival of rare styles, such as Gose, Grisette and Berliner Weisse.
  • The friendly atmosphere, even as guests started to feel the influence of the high ABV beers.

Personally, I found the 4.4% ABV Gose-style Marry Me In Goslar from Cabinet Artisanal Brewhouse to be  one of the big surprises of the festival, it was crisp, refreshing and delicious.

The Farmer's Cabinet Marry Me in Goslar
- a great rendering of a German Gose.

On the negative side, things the organizer will have to address to make it a better festival next year:

  • Not enough seats or tables, especially after dinner was served at 5 pm.
    • Tables and seats are essential while taking notes as well as for getting some rest during a long festival. Not everyone finds comfort in sitting on the floor. 
  • The food part was a bit disappointing:
    • Hot mustard by default on hot dogs is a bad idea at beer festivals, it stuns the taste buds.
    • The beer dinner pairing didn't work, lambic and pork was a poor combination. Consult a master cicerone next time.
    • Queueing up for "group dining" created chaos and stress, this doesn't work well at festivals. For how food should be served at beer festivals, look at Borefts.
  • The available beers were poorly advertised on many stands.
    • Provide blackboards and chalk for listing beer, information is King!

So, will I come back next year? Probably not. The festival is slightly too big for my preferences, I'm more of a Borefts and Alvinne kind of guy - with 500-600 guests at most. But this was still a great beer festival and I highly recommend going next year - you won't find a beer selection like this anywhere!

Westbrook  Brewing Mourvèdre
- a delicious barrel aged quadrupel

Photos from Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2012 can be found at: Flickr 

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