Text and photographs: The Lady Piemaker
A relative newcomer to the world of craft beer, I was treated one December evening to a glass of Black Hole by the gypsy brewer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø aka Mikkeller. I had been driven to the depths of despair by work that day, and a sympathetic Thirsty Boy, knowing of my new found love of a barrel-aged dark brew, sought to bring me cheer. At $38 a bottle, it was not a cheap pick-me-up, but it certainly did the trick. It literally was Christmas in a bottle.
When I announced to the Thirsties in February that I was being sent to Copenhagen for a conference, The Jesuit immediately assigned me the task of visiting Mikkeller’s Bar, which had been voted the best bar in Copenhagen by the Danish daily paper Politiken in 2012. Recalling the deliciousness of the Black Hole, it was a mission I was more than willing to accept.
Happily, the bar was only a mere 10 minutes walk from my space saver hotel, itself a harsh lesson in the fact that not all Danish design is stylish, and full to the gunnels with ‘Beliebers’.* Mikkeller’s Bar is in the Vesterbro district near the railway station, an area on ‘the up’ with the prerequisite red light history to give it a bit of an edge.
Setting out to create ‘a small, cool place for beer enthusiasts as well as novices to enjoy top quality micro brewed beer’, Mikkeller promised a bar with a difference.
‘Often beer drinking is something you connect with big, round tummies and sports on a flat screen. But at the Copenhagen based Mikkeller Bar the high quality of the beer goes hand in hand with the delicacy of the surroundings.’
What more could a member of the Thirsty Boys’ Ladies Auxiliary, with high aesthetic ideals and a loathing of sports, desire?
My first visit took place on a Saturday night in the company of a young colleague, a bit of a spirits man. When we arrived in the little side street around 9pm, the semi-basement bar was pumping, with punters happily spilling up and out onto the otherwise quiet street. Ranging from their 20s to early 50s, male and female, and speaking in multiple tongues, the crowd was friendly and upbeat. The menu of craft beers on tap was of candy store proportions.
Before even reading the menu, I knew what I wanted – another Black Hole. The bartender seemed impressed. Soon I had two in attendance as they scrabbled about to see what they had in stock. It only came bottled. Which one did I want? The bourbon, cognac or red wine? They’d have to go to the cellar. They seemed excited. I had obviously ordered well. Eventually one returned and presented me with a bourbon barrel aged Black Hole at 13.1%, offering me the bottle as a keepsake (I graciously declined, while quietly stealing a pile of beer mats). We ordered a hunk of cheese, some pickles and a strange dehydrated sausage, and settled outside. The beer and cheese were a winning combination – easily my best Danish food experience. The bartender reappeared to see if the Black Hole was up to satisfaction. It was. At 125,000 kroner, about $29 New Zealand – it was a bargain compared to home. Although Copenhagen has a reputation for being horribly expensive, I certainly wasn’t feeling the kroner pinch on the beer front.
For round two, Herbaceous B and I went our separate ways. As a chardonnay drinker, I opted for an Its Alive Mango Chardonnay, described by Mikkeller as a Belgian Pale Ale, and others as a sour or wild ale. It proved to be a delightfully crisp drop on an evening edging towards spring. Herbaceous B showed he had a hair on his chest, and ordered a Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. An imperial Oatmeal stout, it is brewed with one of the world’s most expensive coffees made from the droppings of weasel-like civet cats. Apparently, this fussy Southeast Asian creature only eats the best and ripest of coffee berries. At 45,000 kroner, it’s about $9 a glass.
My second visit to Mikkeller’s took place on a sunny Sunday evening sometime after 5pm, sans colleague. Having completed what must have been a 20km museum and shopathon around the city, I ordered a Women’s 10km, a dark ruby coloured fruit beer and took the weight off my feet. Beautiful in the glass, I desperately wanted to like it, but came to the sad conclusion that fruit beers are the rosés of the beer world, their prettiness often undermined by a medicinal taste. Each sip resulted in a kick at the back of the throat. I eventually gave it up for a delicious weasel-poo brew – coffee and oatmeal in one, a total meal in a glass. It was super dark and sticky. A bit like licking melting tar off the road on a super hot day, but yummy.
Comfortably solo, I perched on a high stool at a table made from drawers, to drink, write and observe my fellow patrons (including a couple in their 70s and alas a young American who loudly pronounced English to be the most superior of languages). In the less crowded daylight the ‘delicate’ nature of Mikkeller’s bar interior was revealed. Crisp white walls. A pale minty-green floor. Stylishly mis-matched chairs. A single stemmed flower on each table. It’s look more akin to a chic café than a beer bar.
With something of an understatement, Mikkeller notes ‘All in all the bar is not quite as ‘manly’ as most beer places’ (although the friendly, well-informed hipster bartenders certainly have the prerequisite number of tattoos and piercings for a cult beer establishment). While personally I’d describe the interior as ‘stylishly quirky’ rather than ‘solemn’, Caroline Hansens of the Femmes Regionales explains the rationale for their design approach:
“If there is something a bit solemn to a place, people won’t bang their fists in the tables and empty their glasses in one sip, but behave in a different manner. We like to demand something from our audience – beauty generates beauty.”
If only more bars in New Zealand sought to demand the same. Innovative beer in a beautiful environment is a wonderful thing. If you ever find yourself in Copenhagen, I would highly recommend dropping into Mikkeller’s Bar for a beer with a difference, a chunk of delicious cheese and a great vibe that won’t break the bank. And if Mikkeller’s Bar is a little too delicate for your sensibilities, you could always track them down at Copenhell, Denmark’s biggest Metal fest, for which they brew a little moonshine.
The Essentials: Mikkeller Bar, Viktoriagde 8BC, Vesterbro, Copenhagen, http://mikkeller.dk/the-bars/
* Common usage term for fans (primarily adolescent girls) of unfathomably popular American ‘singer’ Justin Bieber.