Friday, February 18, 2011

Nørrebro Bryghus Roundup - Denmark FTW!

Up until this point, my experiences with Danish beer have been minimal at best, ranging from painfully average, but pro-footballish (Carlberg), to the Devil's Urine Tract Infection (Faxe).  But, like always, I defer to the logic that we in North America are only going to see the lamest and most corporate brews from most of the world's brewing nations, which is a poor method indeed.  Judging the entire Australian beer scene from Fosters or VB alone is simply unfair; for Canadians, this would be akin to basing one's opinion on our entire three hundred year brewing heritage on Molson Canadian.  Carlsberg and Faxe are just the biggest and best-distributed brews Denmark has been able to send over the pond.  Well, at least in Ontario, the wait is over, but at a bit of a price.  Last month, the LCBO announced that five brews from Nørrebro Bryghus, a Danish microbrewery, would hit Ontario shelves in early February.  These five brews, sporting logos reminiscent of something from an Ikea store based in Pennsylvania Dutch country, would represent the first real Danish craft brews to be sold in Ontario, and the result has been spectacular.

One of the benefits of the LCBO is that because its shelves are literally the only game in town for a market of some 8 million drinkers (one of the five largest markets in North America), liquor and beer distributors are forced to play ball.  Because of this, our import prices are remarkably low: what usually markets for 7 bucks and up for a single bottle in other jurisdictions only sells for 3 dollars or less here.  While our 24s may be ludicrously pricey, our single bottles of foreign favorites are dirt cheap.  Thus Ontarians are able to get a better experience with the world's brews at a lower price.  Recently, the LCBO has been testing the limits of this low-price threshold by offering rare, limited edition brews at higher prices than ever before.  You may have noticed some singles that looked like mini-Scotch bottles - these are Scotland's Harviestoun's Ola Dubh barrel-aged series, which sold at prices that are head and shoulders above the rest, pushing 18 bucks for their 40 year-old edition (MBD review coming soon!).  And they sold out.  Southern Tier's Choklat marketed at around 9 bucks, as did their Pumking Pumpkin Ale; both were big hits.  These bottles have been flying off the shelves, especially the Nørrebro series, which also ranges from seven to twenty dollars apiece.   Does this bode well for bringing in more expensive local Canadian and American craft brews at slightly higher prices?  I certainly hope so! 

Nørrebro Bryghus is one of Denmark's newer microbrewers, but has quickly made a reputation for itself among beer-drinking circles.  Founded in 2001 by former Carlsberg man Anders Kissmeyer, Nørrebro has dedicated itself to "broadening the Danish beer culture" beyond the usual Carlsberg-Faxe-macro brewing fare.  Nørrebro is named after a central borough of Copenhagen, which is the home of the company's flagship brewpub/restaurant, which opened in 2003.  Kissmeyer's brewing vision demands both variety and experimentation - his brews could not afford to be the pedestrian fare Danes had grown accustomed two over the years.  Thus, Nørrebro's lineup is certainly diverse; the Ontario release alone includes a Belgian Tripel, a Barleywine, an English Pale Ale, a Winter Warmer and a Coffee Stout.  Kissmeyer is also passionate about pairing his brews with food, a growing trend in the craft beer movement.  Basically, Nørrebro is everything I like about an up and coming craft brewery, and thus I was thrilled to hear of their impending LCBO arrival.  So far, I've picked up three brews - the Winter Warmer, the English Pale Ale and the Milk Stout, the latter being a collaboration between Nørrebro and Ontario maple syrup producers, whose wares have been incorporated into the standard espresso stout recipe to produce a truly unique experience for Ontarians.  Clearly, Nørrebro is privileged to be here, and naturally, I'm excited too!  

Starting with the Winter Warmer (Julebryg), here's the Nørrebro lineup!

Beer: Nørrebros Julebryg
Type: Winter Warmer:
ABV: 7.0%

Poured into a nonic glass.  A hazy, russet-chestnut brew, murky and intriguing.  Leaves a thin layer of sticky foam, a few flakes of lacing, but generally the whole thing collapses after about ten minutes.

Nose is pleasant and winter warmery. Clove, ginger, cranberry, fresh brown sugar, caramel, malt, assorted other spices.

Malty, and with a tasty spicy finish that hearkens back to the Juletide season. The spices do an admirable job of making the brew interesting, but aren't potent enough to completely run away with things. That's pretty much what I'm looking for in every winter warmer.

Slightly thick, easy to drink, and with a body that reminds me of a bock or thin barleywine. Mild carbonation.

At 7 bucks a pop, not something I would get a whole lot of (I picked up two), but certainly worth trying once. Definitely among the better winter brews I've sampled thus far this season, spicy but not oppressively so. Like many a winter warmer, one is enough for an evening. (Grade: B)

Beer: Nørrebro Bombay Pale Ale
Type: English Pale Ale or English India Pale Ale (I lean towards the former)
ABV: 6.5%

Poured into a nonic Wellington glass.  Light amber, certainly on the pale end of the pale ale spectrum. Leaves a decent amount of frothy head that settles into a thin layer, and leaves behind loads of lacing sheets. Looks quite nice.

Nose is pale malts, light citrus hops, orange and tangerine (marmalade?), a touch of caramel.  Really digging it.

This brew reminds me a great deal of Fullers (which is a good thing in my books), with a lovely orange-marmalade fruit character that I really enjoy in my pale ales. Mild earthy bitterness to the finish - some nice flavors working here. I agree with the general consensus online that this brew has much more in common with an English pale than an English IPA, other than the high ABV.  Nothing wrong with this beer, however - soft, fruity and very easy to drink.  Medium bodied for a pale, creamy, easy carbonation. A great sipper.

This a great little beer; their Bombay Pale is different enough to distinguish itself from other pale ales of the type with its big fruit flavors and mild earthy hops. While I understand the reasons (somewhat) behind high import prices, at 7ish bucks a pop in Ontario, I might only be back for one more, if not more.  (Grade: B+)
Beer: Nørrebro La Granja Espresso Stout (Ontario Maple Syrup Edition)
Type: Coffee Stout
ABV: 7.5%

This is the last of my Nørrebro Bryghus roundup, saved for a slightly warm February day - perfect maple syrup production weather!

Poured into a Duvel tulip. Inky black, only the faintest chestnut hues around the edges. Leaves a thin head that quickly recedes into nothingness, leaving neither a ring nor more than a few flecks of lacing.

Huge roasted coffee aroma, just like my espresso machine smells in the morning when I get my daily caffeine jolt.  And yes, I do detect the sweetness of maple syrup lingering in the back, along with caramel and cream. A great nose indeed.

The first few sips were a bit abrasive, but once my tastebuds acclimatized, I was hooked. This is a rich, luxurious coffee stout - packed with coffee flavor and lightly accompanied by maple syrup sweetness. The alcohol content is catching up with me, but dammit, I don't care.  This beer is great!

Thick mouthfeel, zippy carbonation that lasts throughout the bottle.

Great stuff from Nørrebro, and certainly worth the investment. The collaboration with Ontario maple syrup folks has been worthwhile, providing a nice sweet counterbalance to the bold coffee flavors. Glad I picked up a bottle, might snag one more to hold onto for later! (Grade: B+)


All in all, a terrific lineup from Nørrebro Bryghus.  Though they may seem pricey, most of their bottles are approximately the same as a cheap bottle of wine or a pint from a local pub, so splurge a little and support a fine Danish craft brewery.  Though it might cost a little more, bringing in foreign craft breweries is a fantastic way to introduce yourself to the world's brewing traditions that otherwise might get neglected in favor of corporate fare.  If the reception of Nørrebro by LCBO consumers is any indication, the Ontario market is ripe for the introduction of more craft breweries from around the globe.  Keep em coming!


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