Previously: 30 years ago today: Copenhagen, and the calm before the Clash of the Titans.
Day 118 … Wednesday, August 12 (Part One)
Copenhagen. Altercation in Copenhagen. Classic evening
Kim was at work on Wednesday, and I knew the way to Carlsberg, so there was no doubt that Barrie’s limited amount of time on the ground in Copenhagen would include a brewery tour.
It wasn’t necessary to twist his arm.
Carlsberg would be a return visit for me, and this passage from the 1985 travel narrative sets the scene as well as reiterating what led us to beers of the world in the first place. I’ve inserted the 1987 photos into 1985 commentary.
In 1985, the performer Michael Jackson’s (1958 – 2009) savvy pop music was ubiquitous throughout Europe – also in America, unoccupied islands off the coast of Antarctica, and the remainder of the planet.
It’s no surprise. After all, Jackson’s Thriller album already was timelessly epochal a mere two years after its release, and today, years after his death, it has sold 65 million copies worldwide.
This astounding quantity is considerably more than the total number of books sold by Michael Jackson, the beer writer (1942 – 2007), although three million units is no small achievement in itself.
Honestly, Michael Jackson the entertainer’s music never did much for me, apart from his “Willard” theme. To this day I refuse to accept “King of Pop” as his honorific. Maybe it applies to Hoboken’s Frank Sinatra, but not to Gary’s Moonwalker, though this is a matter of personal taste.
Conversely, a compelling case can be made that Michael Jackson the Yorkshireman fully deserves to be remembered as “King of Beer,” far more so than A-B InBev’s classically insipid American Lager.
Jackson’s book The World Guide to Beer (1977) almost singlehandedly elevated beer to the status of a topic important enough to discuss in mixed company, although ironically, it probably didn’t achieve critical mass in America until long after the initial publication, when it could be found remaindered on the discount tables of chain bookstores in malls across the country.
That’s where I found The World Guide to Beer, and I wasn’t the only one. A whole first generation of “beer geeks” took its cues from Jackson’s classic survey of world beer history.
It was a big, heavy, coffee-table book, and I didn’t haul it to Europe in my gym bag, but it was every bit as important to me in 1985 as budget travel guidebooks like Let’s Go: Europe and Europe on 25 Dollars A Day.
It’s all about the power of words.
While the canon of pop music has been enriched by the singer Michael Jackson’s output, its everyday vocabulary is not directly referential to his body of work. However, the language of beer indisputably passes directly through Michael Jackson, the writer.
He was among the first to systematically consider and explain beer styles, and to show how aspects of the brewing process, historical practice, geography, chemistry and myriad other human experiences pertained to them, demonstrating that our enjoyment of the genre is enhanced by greater overall knowledge.
All of these facets taken together form a shared language of “beer speak,” and Jackson shaped it in an enduringly readable way, neither dumbing down his material nor assuming the role of lofty pedant. He was an erudite prose stylist in addition to his journalistic skills as a nuts-and-bolts reporter.
The “Beer Hunter” always told wonderful stories, while never forgetting the newspaperman’s facts-first orientation, and I persist in believing that Jackson is best compared to figures like Samuel Johnson and other great essayists of the English tradition.
As such, I feel quite fortunate to have made Jackson’s acquaintance, chatting with him on more than one occasion. In fact, in 1994 he visited my pub and drank a pint, but first he showed me the way to Carlsberg in Copenhagen, where I experienced my first Old World brewery tour.
I’d gravitated back to the Vesterbro neighborhood stretching beyond the Vista restaurant’s front door, stepping off the “S” near Carlsberg’s 19th-century rail yard complex in Valby, the brewery’s gently undulating locale.
This observation alone provided a valuable lesson for future European beer hunting expeditions, because breweries of a certain pre-automotive age almost always are located near railroad tracks or navigable waterways – the interstates of their age.
(At the time of my visit, formerly independent Tuborg* still brewed beer at its own historic plant on the other side of town, despite having merged with Carlsberg. Tuborg, which I toured in 1989 prior to its closure, had its very own shipping docks.)
Carlsberg remains an iconic international beer brand, recognizable the world over for the green label and unique script of its flagship, Carlsberg Hof, a mild Pilsner-style golden lager. Significantly, the beer wasn’t always golden. Nor was it always a lager. Carlsberg’s first batches in 1847 were dark-colored ales.
Founder J. C. Jacobsen was the son of a brewer, and his career began at a propitious time, because numerous factors were converging to make possible the seismic transformation of the beer business, from a typically localized and smaller-scale brewing of ales to the eventual global reach of mass-produced golden lagers as brewed at factories just like the one I visited.
Jacobsen had no specialized academic background, but he was industrious and astute. His European contemporaries Gabriel Sedlmayer and Anton Dreher were pioneers of lager brewing, and because they didn’t think in proprietary terms, the Dane freely borrowed from their expertise, making frequent journeys south for continuing education.
It is said that Jacobsen transported fragile lager yeast from Munich to Copenhagen, keeping it cool in his stovepipe hat. More importantly, he funded a laboratory and commenced a rigorously scientific approach to brewing, correctly foreseeing the value of a consistent, replicable product in the context of a global economy.
However, neither Jacobsen nor his son and eventual successor Carl were robber baron capitalists. To them, brewing was more about technology than art, but the profits were a different story. Father, son and Carlsberg became models of 19th-century industrialized philanthropy, with the family’s brewing interests bequeathed to a foundation with numerous scientific, cultural and artistic non-profit imperatives.
Much about Carlsberg has changed since my first glimpse of Copenhagen. There have been mergers and acquisitions, and a structural reformatting of the company after the fall of Communism. Large scale brewing has moved to a different location in Jutland, and the “old” brewery in Copenhagen survives as a company headquarters, tourist destination, and historic site, producing specialty “craft” brews. The former acreage of the industrial plant nearby is being redeveloped as a whole new city quarter.
However, Carlsberg still fulfills its philanthropic mandates as a foundation, and I’ll always feel better drinking a multinational Carlsberg than a beer brewed by the likes of AB-InBev. Unlike the Jacobsens, the Busch family legacy is unsightly, indeed.
Carlsberg’s most enduring architectural feature is the imposing stone Elephant Gate lying just outside the historic brew house. Generation of multi-lingual brewery tour guides have been drilled to immediately disavow the presence of swastikas carved into the elephants’ pedestals.
“These are ancient symbols of auspiciousness, luck and well-being. The word ‘swastika’ itself is Sanskrit, not German, and these have nothing to do with that other fellow during the war.”
As I came to understand with notches subsequently added to my belt, brewery tours at the Carlsberg level of operation seldom rise above the introductory. I’ve heard and repeated the gospel several thousand times since. Grain is malted and mashed, sugar water created, hops added during the boil, and yeast eating sugar to create alcohol and carbonation. The inevitable conclusion comes while looking over the throbbing, cacophonous bottling line.
Thirsty yet? Well, come right this way.
Of course, a brewery like Carlsberg is able to place these tours in a compelling architectural and historic context. If 19th-century industrial buildings like these did not continue to fascinate modern man, we wouldn’t rush to convert them into condos, and if advertising graphics from the same era didn’t cease to exert feelings of loyalty and cultural identification, we’d have no breweriana collectors.
Unfortunately, the litigiousness of our modern world has gone far toward spoiling the ultimate objective of brewery tours, because who would endure the factory stroll without a prospect of tasting the bounty?
At the end of my first Carlsberg tour, the participants were seated at tables in a room festooned with brewery ads and graphic art. Sample beers in lightly chilled bottles already were lined up and ready on each table, with a few salty snacks and gratis souvenirs – stickers and decals, maybe some paper labels. There was joy and delight all around.
It seemed odd to me at the time that families with young children would be taking the brewery tour, but they were. It was free-wheeling Europe, not puritanical America. There were soft drinks for the kids, and only later did I do the requisite math and learn the solo traveler’s best strategy at such times: Stick close to the families and be smilingly gracious, because when they occupy a table set for six with a single spare seat and invite you to join them, only the adults will be drinking.
And this, of course, means more beer for me.
We were able to do some light sightseeing, then returned to Kim’s apartment to begin preparations for a memorable evening at the Elephant & Mouse pub, in the company of “Big Kim” Andersen, as opposed to “Little Kim” Wiesener, who wanted us to meet his old friend.
30 years later, we’re all old friends.
There’d be special beer at this pub, too: Carlsberg’s Elephant Beer, on draft.
Here are labels from some of the Carlsberg beers we drank:
And a stray:
* 1987 photos featuring Tuborg, which I took after Barrie’s departure, as well as a couple of beer labels.
Next: Elephant, Mouse, wonderful friends and a Titanic Struggle.