A couple of years ago, I took a long train journey to Copenhagen in Denmark. What’s that you say? To get to Denmark you have to cross the Baltic sea, you can’t possibly get a train all the way there. Well, the train went on a boat, so you’re wrong, ha! We stopped off in Brussels to sample all the magnificent beer they have to offer, including a trip to the Delirium bar. The German trains had Franziskaner on tap, quite a revelation when you’re used to £3.50 cans of Fosters on FGW trains, although you will inevitably end up spending most journeys in the bar. So far, so good. Copenhagen on the other hand, whilst a marvellously welcoming city, turned out to be quite disappointing in terms of alcohol. Much like Amsterdam with its prevalence of home grown Heineken, we found largely Carlsberg in the bars of Copenhagen. I recall one place near the bizarre Tivoli city theme park that appeared to brew on site, but the beer was prohibitively expensive (something like £6 a half) and I don’t recall it setting the world on fire. It seems, however, that along with a blossoming culinary scene that includes the “Best Restaurant in the World”, Copenhagen have also been blazing a trail in the craft beer market since 2006, a fact that sadly passed me by when we visited.
I’ve mentioned Evil Twin on these pages before and when someone actually manages to ship some of their beer to a shop in the UK I’ve no doubt I will sample it. In the mean time I’ll just have to make do with buying their t-shirts. Mikkeller, however, is far more widely available. Set up by “phantom” Danish home brewers Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, Mikkeller use other people’s breweries to create a huge range of craft beers mostly based on the American model of brewing (you know, major hops and all that, we’ve talked about it before). Unless you’re a wealthy individual, Mikkeller is a special occasion beer (£4.25 a bottle in the terrific Corks of Cotham) but that’s fine because this beer should be appreciated like a fine wine, not swilled like a cheap Belgian lager. Perfect for a “New Brew Thursday” which, incidentally, I’ve concluded is a far better idea than my own “New Brew Tuesday” because, you know, no one does much on Fridays anyway.
So, enough rambling, to the beer. I tasted the Green Gold IPA (pilsner, munich and caramunich malts, simcoe, cascade and amarillo hops), and two of the single hop IPA series (Nelson Sauvin and Simco). The latter two are both made with the same malt base (pilsner, cara-crystal and munich) and have the same ABV but, as is obvious from the name, use only one type of hop which make them very instructive for learning about hop flavours. Because this is brewing American style, tons of hops are added after the main boil once the wort has cooled (a process called dry hopping which I am sure most readers will be more than familiar with) to add aroma and taste, instead of just bitterness like a lot of English Real Ale.
Mikkeller Simcoe Single Hop IPA
The Simcoe IPA is a cloudy unfiltered amber colour, perhaps slightly apricot in appearance, the nose is pineapple and pink grapefruit as you would expect but also, somewhat bizarrely smells of salted peanuts and air freshener. The taste reminds me largely of tonic water just after smoking a cigarette, there are also hints of raspberry and play-do (don’t tell me you didn’t used to eat play-do). This is a very bold IPA and will appeal to those who like particularly bitter beer. There isn’t enough underlying sweetness for my tastes unfortunately and you can see why Simcoe is generally mixed with cascade and other hops with lower alpha acid content (the bit that’s good for bittering).
Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA
The Nelson Sauvin IPA is very similar in appearance but the nose is much sweeter, zinging with rose petals and honey. Likewise, the taste is a mile away from the Simcoe, with elements of strawberry bubblegum, marzipan, jam on toast, grape and passion fruit. Because this has the IPA taste you’d expect but with that added element of jammy sweetness, I like this. I like this a lot!
Mikkeller Green Gold IPA
Finally, the green gold IPA which uses simcoe, cascade and amarillo hops. It’s a darker amber than the two single hop beers and the smell is pure IPA (grapefruit, watermelon, that kind of thing). The taste is an interesting mix of soda bread, blackjacks and parma violet sweets. It’s very bitter again, presumably from the Simcoe, and quite spicey with quite a lingering mouth feel. It’s definitely a good beer (which goes well with chicken chow mein as you can see) but my least favourite of the three.
If anyone doesn’t “get” IPA and craft beer generally, do them a favour and present them with a nice gift wrapped pack of these three beers. I can’t think of a better way to showcase just how interesting this style of beer is and, fundamentally, how different the flavours can be. If they’re not converted after drinking them then they’re idiots and you shouldn’t be friends with them.