Imbibe Hour


Friday, January 23, 2015

Imbibing through Europe again. Traveling Denmark and Germany and the drinks in between Part 4 of ?

Cantillon Blåbær Lambic at Ølbutikken
I awake once again,  It's the morning and the jet lag is at this point gone with the trials and pains subsided of sleep deprivation, but I feel my place of time is lost.  I look outside.  The sky is gray... the pavement is ... gray... the rain comes down again.. it is... gray... the colors are.... gray... where in the HELL is the sun I ask myself in this country?  I turn to my wife... "are we in Seattle or something?"

"What are you doing in bed?!  Get UP!  We have plans to take care of!" she said to me.

Ah yes I said to myself, for today was the day I almost forgot.  Today was the day to go search for that elusive beer, the one that is seemingly on the mind of many beer fans. One that is quite obscure and one that deserves special attention, sold only once a year in Copenhagen, from Belgian brewery Cantillon.  It is simply... Blåbær.

"Yes today we go get Blåbær!"  I said with big satisfaction. "It was like I dreamt of it!" I remarked with a shit eating grin bigger than a Chesire cat.

"No actually you didn't dream of it" my wife said with an annoying look, hands on her hips and poised as to why I still hadn't gotten out of bed.

"What? What do you mean I didn't dream of it?  I had dreamed I tasted it, then we went to some other places like Mikkeller along the way too, and it was great!"

"Yeah you did that yesterday remember?!" at this point she was getting frustrated.

"I did?! you mean this was real?!"  I sat up in bed stunned while Magnus flummoxed his lego pieces and tossed them around with reckless abandon.  "Oh my god this really happened!".

It turns out, when I sat up I realized I had already slayed the dragon the previous night.  In between times, we managed to make our way down to Ølbutikken and also the passing Mikkeller bar to partake in the glorious beer suds that this city and country offered.

"You were right!  Absolutely right! Wow I remember the journey like it was yesterday."

* - *- *

Somewhere between our cavorting and travelling we made an effort to make our way down to Ølbutikken where Cantillon Blåbær was to be sold.  There were a few things that were also on the radar though that got taken care of first.

"Where's the licorice!?" I said to myself.  It was a food item I really wanted to explore here while we visited.

I remember reading about how there were really good licorice shops and that it was very popular in Denmark.  A quick Google search popped up one maker who had a series of shops of what one might even call "artisan" crafted licorice.  His name was Johan Bulow and he makes a product simply called Lakrids.

We set out to try and find his store, and discovered after getting easily lost that we had to actually go underground, into a basement department area to find it.

The result was incredibly satisfying, if not a big hit on the wallet.  Licorice here is not what you think it is back in the United States.  Forget about Twizzlers and ropes of over sweet plastic.  The items here are of a completely different vein.  Chocolate coated, numerous fruit flavors, dustings with other sweet confections, and of course an old classic that is quite jarring to many North Americans which he made that I fell in love with, simply black and salted.

Licorice seemed to be everywhere we looked as well and we picked up several different makers.  So far after having tried many others in various price ranges, the Johan Bulow items were becoming favorites of ours but they were all really good. We did seem to prefer them over the other cheaper brands.

Licorice didn't just seem to be candy, it was also in other products and most surprisingly, it was in beer.

I found quite a few local breweries, and lots of beer that had licorice as an ingredient.  Most of them were stouts, and to some extent darker beers such as brown ales.

You can actually see me review a licorice beer here along with some Blåbær and Copenhagen highlights below.

Getting back on course though was needed.  The plan of attack was set in motion.  We headed to the Vesterbro neighborhood which was also home to the Mikkeller bar.  The path to be traveled would take us past Mikkeller but we would definitely have to go to find Blåbær first.  There was one address though on Vesterbrogade street which was along the way for Mikkeller that had me a little confused.  They do have a bottle shop in Norrbero, but this address was not the bar on Viktoriagade.  I wondered if this might be another bottle shop and it could be worth checking out some goodies.

I arrived in a staircase apartment like entrance completely confused after I got buzzed in.  Still I figured I was here so I might as well check it out.  I opened a door to what was obviously an office situated in a loft, beer posters on the wall, benched tables, and lots of neck bearded workers sitting behind laptops.

It was one of those situations of awkwardness, the one where you think you are making probably the wrong decision, but think that a slim chance is worth checking out.  Then you open the door, and you have the error of your ways staring you back in your face, and then you have to explain yourself.

"Can I help you?"  a nice gentlemen said in very good English.

"Uh... hey... I was looking for a possible Mikkeller bottle shop?"  in which I knew I was already at the wrong place and interrupting a bunch of people who had work to do, than to deal with some beer guy who at times wasn't aware of how to get around Copenhagen sometimes.  

I had actually stumbled upon what appeared to be one of the companies corporate offices.  The staff was actually very nice, and they mentioned that there was no beer here to be sold, but that the bar was just around the corner.  Uh I knew that.... just not and smile I said to myself,,,

"Oh thanks!  I'll be on my way, I'll probably see you there too!", to which they replied with much thanks.  Turns out I would run into these group of merry workers again, but more on that story later.  The hunt for Cantillon Blåbær would now continue.

The store that sells it is not far from the Mikkeller bar, but the plan now was a full on hit for the bottle shop Ølbutikken where the item is sold.  One thing I had to keep myself aware of was there was a "very" good chance though, that the beer may not even be there.

The beer is released once a year at the shop, and sold as a special release with lots of demand for beer fans.  That release happened about 2-3 months before I had arrived.  I had sent a couple of emails to the store owner before the trip, and was told that he did keep some bottles for future customers who could not attend the release in person and take a bottle home.  There was though some very important stipulations about purchasing this beer from the store.  First, only one bottle could be sold to a customer, and secondly, the bottle had to be consumed on the premises when you bought it. You were not allowed to leave the store with a full bottle.

I had no issue with this at all, in fact it's a great way to make sure that the beer is available to more people who want it.

Finally, the destination was staring me in the face.  A giant black letter sign lead me to the basement of a store, with a nice thick wooden bench and rows of bottles on shelves and coolers sitting around.  Inside I was already loving the variety and the availability of beers I normally can't get my hands on.  Still I had to stay focused... FOCUS ... look for Cantillon!

A cooler off to the corner contained some decent Belgian beers, and there was a particular top shelf filled with various Cantillon bottles.  Classic Gueuze, Kriek, Brucosella, Iris, and a few others.

But I didn't see any Blåbær.

So damn close I thought.  But I wasn't going to give up so easily.  It was time to introduce myself to the shop owner and inquire about this mysterious beast.  I spoke with the proprietor of the store, a younger guy who seemed like a very enthusiastic beer fan.  We had chatted a few times in email, but he said he actually had some problems setting up email and his Internet connection in the store.  "You're actually lucky I just got this setup today! It's actually working!!"  he said with a huge excitement under his breath.

"Well that's great, but do you have any Blåbær?"  I nervously asked.

"Of course it's in the cooler over there!"

"Huh?!"  I swear I looked it up and down, but then he pointed to the bottom far right corner of the rectangular door, the spot where discerning beer hunting eyes often fail to look over and over again, the place that disappears often in the recesses of the mind of a beer shopper like me, barely lurching over the tips of your feet where your eyes don't reach.

There it was.  In the corner were about a dozen maybe 16-18 bottles.  Their dark blue and almost gray like appearance almost made them invisible, and they were not close to the glass.  It was almost as if they were hiding from me.  The beer came in two sizes, a large 750ml and a smaller 375ml.  This was a great option, I would have killed a larger bottle but I knew it would cost more and I had more beer to drink at the Mikkeller bar I wanted to check out as well.

When beer hunting and slaying, know your plans, and stick to your guns.

My wife is also a big Belgian lambic fan.  She is often not a fan of beer in general but really likes these styles of beers having spent a semester in Brussels during college.  To her the beer doesn't taste like regular "beer-beer" as she likes to refer to it.  I would buy a small bottle and we would share it.  It would allow me enough to judge it, and leave room for more beer to consume down the street at Mikkeller, and save a little bit more money as the bigger bottle was more expensive.

Speaking of price, this was not cheap either.  Once again things in Copenhagen were not just an easy pinching, and this 375ml beer cost me with conversion rate close to $28 US dollars.

The sale was rung and it was going to happen.  Two glasses were given, the proprietor popped the cork, a perfect sound not excessive, and no gushing, a great start.  I slowly carried everything, sat myself at the table and readied myself to document the experience.  Before I even tasted this beer, first giving it a look and examining it's bouquet, I realized I probably made my first mistake.

I should have bought the bigger bottle....

One sip confirmed it...

I REALLLLLY... should have bought the bigger bottle...

People like to hype up rare beers, and to some extent it is justified and other times it isn't.  This of course also had me concerned about whether this beer would live up to expectations.  Still I've had several of Cantillon's products luckily and they are wonderful brews, so I was looking for some of that magic, but had also read that other people didn't care for this beer either.  

Even with all these thoughts in my mind, I always go into a new beer with no expectations.  It could be amazing, or it could be ordinary, or it could be downright terrible.  Luckily for me, the experience was the former.

The first thing that struck me about the beer was it's appearance.  A slow decant and simple pour showed off one of the most impressive colors on any lambic I've seen.  It was a perfect ruby gem red.  Shiny.  Virtually no hues and just a little bit of pink fizzy head that dissolved to of course nothing, to let the beauty of this color shine.  It literally looks like you are cradling a ruby gem in your hands.

The aroma and bouquet provides a plethora of fruit experiences.  Classic earth funky tones come with blueberry, cherries, raspberries, even a peach like fuzz note on the nose.  

Then there is the taste.  Drizzled lightly sweet balsamic vinegar over fresh fruit in a glass, poured over peaches and blueberries, with big earthy notes of fresh tiled soil and almost fungus mushroom quality.  Great sweet acidic like tones, complex flavors but wonderfully balanced.  Light mouthfeel with some playful carbonation.

It's easily the best blueberry beer I've ever had to date.  

My wife who grew up in Maine around wild blueberries was enjoying herself as well.  She really enjoyed it too, as she got caught up on the free WiFi in the store over her email.

It was at this point I wish I could drink more of this, but the die was cast.  The hardest part about drinking a brew that is amazing is the experience comes to an end.  There is a pathos knowing that this experience will never again happen, amongst the joy of having an amazing drink.

We then made our way to the Mikkeller bar down the street.  A fantastic spot, with a downstairs like entrance, subway tiles that cling to the wall, and a giant chalk board with the latest menu beer items ready to be slayed.

Mikkeller - AK Alive
Oh yes this is going to be good.  Interesting saisons and wilds given were ripe for the taking, and then they even serve beers from 3 Floyds here.  Dear lord this is like nirvana.  There was even more than just that, as I glanced over a bunch of silver dollar sized rye bread pieces for sale, their green watercress tops licking at my face and attention.  "Hello there!" said a young familiar Dane, a guy who I had already met earlier who finally got away from his desk, and was now off his shift.  "Yeah this guy came in earlier!  Hope he likes the beers!"  Guess I was making a name for myself already, as a big tattooed bloke poured me a saison.  I didn't take long while glancing around that the ambience here was different from many of the other spots we had visited in Copenhagen,

This place is filled with Americans.  It was hard not to notice.  So this is where they all end up huh?  Why can't I escape these people when I travel?  But then it again it was a fun familiarity as well all recounted our trial and tribulations adjusting to a new place.  "I can't figure out how much money I took out of the ATM!"  bellowed this hilarious guy from Kentucky, wads of Krone bursting from his hands eager to be spent.  Another bearded young bloke, who wouldn't be out of place at any craft beer bar, neck beard included then asked me, "HEY have you ever had any Two Hearted!?"

why yes young man... yes I have.... oh boy have I ever had lots of that excellent brew.

This was all taken in as the staff free of charge poured us a bottle of AK Alive, suds and brett funk enveloping the room in a hazy cloud, passed hand in hand, glasses clink at the ready, merriment unleashed.

Another great treat about this bar is the giant chemistry flask the size of a watermelon, filled with a cherry like wine, that was cheap, simple, and easily devour-able..  one that my wife enjoyed and partook in while the conversation ebbed and flowed all late afternoon, Danes still stuck at work... us tourists drinking and plundering their wares...

This ... is ... so awesome...

"Yeah that was really cool! wasn't it!?"  I remarked to my wife who was probably wondering about my sanity at this point.

"And oh yeah we also went to that really cool bar, ya know!  The oldest one in the country!"  Katrine had taken us their as I recalled with much vigor.  Founded in 1723, it's interior is warm, inviting, filled with love and stories that I wish the walls could tell us.  The beer selection though was rather pedestrian, but was served with care, and what did look like locals who were very old who had been coming here for ages.  Simple Tuborg Classic was offered, it might have been even from a beer engine (cask), and simply hit the spot.  Even Katrine's pram fit in the place, with Magnus fitting in well.  

"That was so AWESOME!! when we did that too!!"

By this point my wife had that look on her face, the one that was hovering over me as I was still nestled between the sheets in rapture of beer and drink bliss.

"Can I ask you a question?" she said matter of factly...

"Why yes darling... say... anything..."

"ARE YOU STILL FUCKING DRUNK?!  Cause we went to that bar on the FIRST day we arrived DON'T YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS?!?"

Oh.... .. I guess when you put it that way... I uh... kinda remember it a little differently.

It's one thing when memory is so detailed... but the days go by and times seem to be a blur...

She was right though.  Cantillon and Mikkeller was the previous night.  Our first evening we arrived, Katerine took us to a real cool bar spot, and there I was awake, luckily with no hangover, but with a sense of completeness, and heavenly in rapture of the memories while still nestled and nuzzling the bed sheets.

"Yup that was great".

"Good I am glad you enjoyed it."  At this point my wife seemed at least content with my memories.  But before I could hit the pillow and take in another great morning of coffee and tasty wares, she had one more thing to belt out.

"Now get your ass out of bed we got 15 minutes to catch the train to go to Helsingnør!"



* - * - *

POST NOTE:  The above events did occur, but not in the exact times as the blog chronicled (which is mentioned).  Also my wife didn't really yell at me... but believe me she can...  also we really were late for that dam train...  more on that later...

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