A Day of Craft Beer in Nørrebro, Denmark

With the summer fleeting all too fast, I found myself spending a surprisingly warm day touring the tap houses of Nørrebro, a neighborhood that can best be described as the Brooklyn of greater Copenhagen, Denmark. My adventure began as I stepped off the S-train at the Nørreport station in the heart of the city. Coming up the stairs I turned right onto Fredericksborggade heading across the Dronning Louises Bro, a scenic bridge that separates the Peblinge Sø from its northern sister, the Sortedams Sø. Together with the Sankt Jørgens, these manmade lakes form the one of the most distinctive elements of Copenhagen’s topography, providing enticing promenades for pedestrians as well as an easily navigable cycling route for those on two wheels.

Crossing into Nørrebro, one notices a palpable change in atmosphere, if not necessarily architecture. One of ten official districts of Copenhagen, the borough is known for its bohemian ethos, ethnic diversity, and periodic bouts of social unrest, including a number of violent riots in recent decades. However, on this particularly pleasant Saturday afternoon, such worries were far from mind as I strolled along Nørrebrogade spying the kebab houses, electronic shops, and Islamic garment boutiques. Distracted by the bright colors and weekend conviviality, I soon came to my senses as I approached the high walls of Assistens Cemetery, the final resting place of such luminaries as the writer Hans Christian Andersen and the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. After reviewing the wares of the locals who gather along the promenade to sell family heirlooms and various baubles, I ducked into the cemetery, which seemed a world away from the teeming streets of Nørrebro. Traversing this quiet green space punctuated by the gravestones of Denmark’s most famous souls (one of which even sported Norse runes), I took a moment to gather my thoughts before pushing on to my first stop, Mikkeler and Friends (Stefansgade 35).

Situated on a corner abutting a park where neighborhood kids were playing soccer, this modest outpost of the growing empire of Mikkel Borg-Bjergsø did not disappoint. Having been to two of his other pubs, one in central Copenhagen and the other in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, I immediately felt at home (perhaps a bit too much so with the flat echoes of American accents all around).  I wasn’t surprised to see so many American beer-hounds here given that Mikkel is one half of the great Danish beer twins, the other being Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø whose Brooklyn watering hole Tørst serves as the NYC metro area’s most important beer mecca. I bellied up the bar and ordered one Mikkeler’s guest beers, the Twisted Verbena, a Berliner Weiss accented with that supernatural herb that purportedly wards off evil. A collaboration between Barcelona-based Edge Brewing and the British brewery Magic Rock, this otherworldly beer proved to be just the right way to start my hop-centric journey, particularly when offset by a slab of Danish hard cheese and some smoked pistachios. Having just flown in from Newcastle, Northumberland, a city famous for its chocolatey ales, I chose to follow the verbena beer with one of Mikkeler’s own, the Nørrebro Brown. As I downed this sweet and simple brew, I felt as if I was literally drinking in the environs. Rather than visiting Koelschip, Mikkeler’s Belgian-style adjunct next door, I decided to push on to new pastures.

After a fairly short walk through an area that was clearly undergoing a robust wave of gentrification, I found myself at just-opened Tapperiet Brus (Guldbergsgade 29F), a well-appointed brewery with extensive outdoor seating just opposite an organic pizzeria and a bustling bakery. While I considered ordering the Brettexit, a wild ale made with “non-European” hops, I instead settled on a curious hybrid entitled My Sour Pils from To Øl. Positioned in the sun on a park bench where I could watch the many passersby, I was able to properly appreciate the wonderful venue. Located in an old iron foundry and locomotive factory, Brus is a partnership with To Øl Brewing and the tony Copenhagen cocktail bar Mikropolis. Brus takes its name for the Danish word for the sparkling appearance of bubbling beverages, and with a baker’s dozen of fermentation tanks and 70-odd oak barrels, you know you are in the heart of a burgeoning brewing culture. Interestingly, the Danes are the only nation Scandinavian nation that prefers ales to aquavit, shifting from a spirits-based to a beer culture only in the last century.

Although I could have spent the rest of the day at Brus sunning myself and drinking tart pils, I pushed on to one of my favorite haunts in the Danish capital, Nørrebro Bryghus (Ryesgade 3). Heading down Guldbergsgade, I happened upon another, smaller cemetery cordoned off by those now-familiar walls. After stopping to purchase a few old maps of Scandinavia (including one sketched before World War I), I happened to overhear a local guide tell his charges to hop up on the bike racks and peer over the wall. I waited until they departed and discretely followed his advice to discover the (closed) Jewish Northern Cemetery. Seeing the overgrown headstones inscribed in Hebrew, my thoughts turned to the privations of the last war and how they afflicted this northern corner of Europe. However I shortly was drawn back to the here-and-now watching local youths in a skate park. One turn later and I was at the only brew house bold enough to take its name from the neighborhood.

Commanding a prime piece of real estate in a friendly corner of the borough, Nørrebro Brewery is a destination for any visiting beer-lover. With the good weather, I was lucky to score a seat at one of the few park benches outside (sunny days drawn Danes out into open air regardless of the temperature).  Departing from form, I ordered a bottled beer known as “The Good.” This refreshing Danish take on an American pale ale is in a new series from Nørrebro Brewing known as The Good Bad Evil. Its darker peers are a Belgian quadruple (the “Bad”) and a black imperial porter (the “Evil”). With the sky now totally blue, Nørrebro was teeming with Danes and international visitors alike seeking to drink in the waning days of summer, so I gave up my seat and headed south perusing a pop-up market on the wonderfully eclectic pedestrian lane known as Blågårdsgade, before turning right onto Rantzausgade towards my next destination, Kølsters Tolv Haner at No. 56.

As I approached this organic beer mecca, I noticed a heavy police presence on the streets despite the seemingly halcyon atmosphere of this brilliant Saturday. The experience immediately memories of watching the Danish-Swedish TV series Bron//Broen (known in the U.S. as “The Bridge”) and its foreboding depiction of the Nørrebro district in the episode on the “failure” of integration. But when I ordered a small glass of golden Højsommer, all thoughts of the oppressive grayness of The Bridge evaporated. Appropriately, I drank down that honey-flavored beer that smacked of the midsummer days after which it was named in the front garden (the back was only for residents of the surrounding apartment complex) staring at a Brorsons Church as the sun dipped reverently behind its red brick. While the setting was perfect, the beer—which is brewed by the owners’ father—proved to be the one disappointment of the day, lacking the effervescence (or “brus”) that had otherwise characterized the afternoon’s menu (perhaps knowing that organic beers are less bubbly, the pub only serves its libations in “half” portions, or 20cl).

Running short on time, I dashed back towards inner city intent on finding the newly-opened pub that had come highly recommended by a publican across the Baltic Sea in Malmö, Sweden. After one wrong turn, I located Himmeriget (Åboulevard 27), co-owned by Mikkel’s “evil twin” Jeppe. Small and serious, this little spot offered up ten craft drafts, of which almost half were American in origin, including one from my own hometown of Dunedin, Florida. Recognizing the value of this well-curated list, I settled on 25ml of a low-alcohol, cherry-laced sour from the California-based Lost Abbey brewery and purchased a “to-go” can of Evil Twin Mission Gose, an ale brewed with salt and coriander with a bit of eucalyptus thrown in for good measure.

With my memorable jaunt winding down, I meandered back across Queen Louise’s Bridge, smiling at the growing crowds of 20-somethings who were congregating on the span’s northern edge, filling the benches to catch the late-afternoon rays of a setting sun. There were more than a dozen little parties forming, each working up a good amount of hygge (that untranslatable Danish word for ‘making a cozy space’) with their six-packs of canned Tuborg, one of Denmark’s two mega brewers. While I was tempted to linger and let the Indian summer vibe overtake me, I decided to hurry back to my hosts in northern Copenhagen, knowing full well that a home-cooked meal awaited me, with plenty of hygge on offer.

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