John Anes / Flickr
The American beer-drinker faces a major conundrum when flying to Europe: upon arriving across the pond on a quest for the greatest bars and breweries, he or she will yearn equally for a comfy bed and a frothy pint -- one that will inevitably only further sap said traveler of energy. So how is one to persevere when equally exhausted and thirsty? Easy: by diving in head first and not thinking about the time or consequences.
I don’t want to sound too...highfalutin, but I try to hit Europe at least once a year. (Hey, it's work!) Whether Brussels or Berlin, Paris or Prague -- all are great beer-drinking cities. But even after being cramped in an airplane cabin for eight hours straight and arriving in a new place wholly sleep-deprived, I don't see the point of sleeping away the better part of a day in a hotel room -- nor throwing one's biological clock for an even greater loop than necessary.
Through much experience, I've discovered that you simply have to go for broke. To prevent yourself from prematurely crashing and never recovering, you have to throw yourself into an all-out bar crawl from the moment you walk out of that airport to the moment your head hits the pillow that evening. In fact, you might as well start your red-eye mission while you’re still in America.
Here's how I did it on a recent trip to Copenhagen.
credits:"Aaron Goldfarb" width:350 align:right
Anthony Bourdain is an inspiration for all of us who drink and eat our way through cities for a living. But when it comes to his thoughts on imbibing on a red-eye, I think he’s got it wrong. “As tempting as it is to get really drunk on the plane, I avoid that,” Bourdain notes. “If you take a long flight and get off hungover and dehydrated, it’s a bad way to be.”
While he's certainly correct about overindulgence, the beer options on SAS Airlines are just too good to pass up for V8. On my flight to Denmark, I start with Past, Present & Future, an honest-to-god corked-and-caged chardonnay barrel-aged sour ale that Mikkeller makes exclusively for the airlines. Acidic, fruity, and effervescent, I can’t imagine there being a better plane beer on planet earth. Following this with a couple of cans of Mikkeller Plane Ale (actual name!) gets me into a relaxed state that allows me to steal just a few winks.
Waste No Time
Landing at Copenhagen’s shopping mall of an airport around 8am local time, I feel better than I probably should. Then again, it takes me far longer than it should to figure out how to exit the airport and locate the taxi stand, so perhaps my synapses aren’t firing on all cylinders. Eventually I nab a cab and head straight to my hotel in the gorgeous Nyhavn district, right along the water. I drop my bags at the desk and immediately head out to explore.
When vacationing in Europe, your first sleepless morning will be the rare time to do non-alcohol-related things when nothing’s open yet. While you're waiting for the bars to open, visit a boring museum, garden, or some place where a famous person died.
On this trip I check out the Little Mermaid statue and the throngs of Asian tourists inexplicably taking selfies with her. Part of your world, indeed. I marvel in the beauty of Rosenborg Castle and Christiansborg Palace. I wonder why the hell Copenhagen’s version of Coney Island—Tivoli Gardens—is smack dab in the middle of the bustling city. And then I get rained on. A lot.
Now I’m getting thirsty.
Before beer, though, I’ll need some coffee – and Copenhagen has plenty of the good stuff to go around. I make my first stop CUB Coffee Bar, which looks and feels like any number of spots I fuel up at in Brooklyn. I even feel like the barista is mocking me during my transaction, which is a great sign that his espresso is going to be excellent. It's also expensive as shit -- but tasty -- and hopefully the last non-fermented drink I'll pour into my face today.
Around 11AM, I arrive in Kødbyen, which literally translates to “the meat town” -- a much cooler term for Meatpacking District. Apparently, some packing still goes on in Kødbyen, and indeed the Warpigs Brewpub is located just across the parking lot from an imposing cow statue glaring at the local hipsters for gentrifying his hood.
Warpigs is probably not the best place in town to eat and drink by myself on a late Wednesday morning. A joint venture between Danish brewery Mikkeller and Indiana brewery 3 Floyds, Warpigs is a beer hall that serves Texas-style barbecue. Save for one picnic table of locals yukking it up in a language I do not understand, the roomy restaurant is pretty much empty at this hour. I order my food cafeteria-style before grabbing a beer to wash it down. My Texas brisket is so-so, the Szechuan “foo-king hot” wings are incredible, and their New England-style IPA, Opposite Optimist, is way better than I expect it to be. It’s only 6am back home in New York, but I’ve already started my buzz for the day.
credits:"Aaron Goldfarb" width:300 align:right
I’ve quickly learned that it's easy to be an ugly American in Copenhagen. English is spoken by all, and at many places I will visit, the bartenders can’t even speak Danish. Sometimes, you’ll even get a bartender with a Bernie 2016 sticker on his Macbook, as I found at Mikkeller Bar Viktoriagade.
Mikkel Borg Bjergsø all but owns Copenhagen’s beer scene, and if you want to drink in town, you can’t avoid his joints. He has eleven “interests” in greater Copenhagen -- most of them beer bars, but also a cocktail spot, a Michelin-recommended smørrebrød and aquavit restaurant, and even a ramen shop.
At this hour, Mikkel’s original spot in Vesterbro is as empty as Warpigs was. It’s small and cozy, and has been described as “pub effeminate,” what with its white walls and flowers in vases. The bartenders are quite friendly, and thankfully don’t engage me in any political gab; I must not look like a Bernie Bro. I order a Beer Geek Flat White—an oatmeal stout brewed with coffee and lactose—and head on my way.
Is happy hour a concept in Copenhagen? I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of goddamn happy people as I enter Taphouse around 4:30pm. Copenhagen is so pricy, it makes Manhattan seem like middle America -- that’s why most locals can’t afford to day-drink like us reckless Americans. This Indre By (Inner City) bar is the perfect place to start getting happy, though. Bi-leveled and roomy, it offers 61 taps on a computerized menu, like the arrivals and departures board at an airport.
credits:"Aaron Goldfarb" width:300 align:right
On the plus side, this is a rare beer bar in town not completely dominated by Mikkeller offerings. However, the Ølsnedkeren Taphouse Third Anniversary IPA I start with tastes like burnt diner coffee (not actually an ingredient, apparently). Maybe the other 60 taps from local breweries like Flying Couch and Midtfyns will offer something better, but this really doesn’t feel like a place to geek out at, especially by oneself. If anything, with its numerous taps and rowdy businessfolks crushing pints, it feels more like a World of Beer location in a Florida shopping mall. And when a man begins setting up a keyboard in one corner of the bar, I fear he will soon play it, so I leave.
I cleanse my palate by heading to BRUS, a hip brewpub (or “tapperiet” as they call it) that opened in an old iron foundry and locomotive factory in late 2015. In many ways, Copenhagen feels like Brooklyn without Square. Serving a new Nordic tasting menu in their restaurant Spontan, selling coffee and other artisanal goods in The Shop, and brewing beers and craft sodas in the brewpub portion, BRUS would fit in perfectly in Gowanus or Greenpoint. The bar is sleek and minimalist (like everything in Copenhagen, but it’s still lovely). The beers are American-inspired, both in flavor profile (e.g. hazy/juicy hop bombs like their House of Vermont) and by name (e.g. Trumpocalypse Now, a pale wheat ale).
Hit Your Stride
I’m glad that Koelschip is located so far from my hotel and the city center that I can’t venture to it 'til later in the day. Because if I’d found myself at this glorious bar at the start of my crawl, I never would have left.
Koelschip is, bluntly put, the best beer bar in Copenhagen. It may be the best beer bar I’ve ever been to. Yes, yes, it’s another damned Mikkeller bar -- linked via a hallway to Mikkeller & Friends, no less -- but you don’t come to Koelschip to drink Danish beer. You com to drink Belgian lambics, those tantalizing sour beers that have been around for ages but only recently became a beer geek sensation. Koelschip has a remarkable, bible-thick menu of them: Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, even the cool upstarts like Tilquin and Bokkereyder are represented. I try the old and the new; fresh bottles and vintages; fruited and blended gueuze.
Two hours later, I have an acid hole in my stomach and a tab in the thousands of Danish krone. I’m way too scared to pull out my iPhone calculator app to figure out the exchange rate right now.
Even though I’ve more or less been drinking for two days straight without a full night’s rest, my Circadian Rhythm is stuck back six times zones, and I’m not all that tired as midnight approaches. While Nyhavn is beautiful, it’s touristy, beset with those same sidewalk cafes that all European cities seem to have. You know the ones, with carnival barkers trying to escort the fanny-packing hoi polloi toward a cheap seat where they can serve them overpriced Aperol Spritzes and bad table wine under giant branded umbrellas. Luckily, there’s at least one bar on this Nyhavn strip worth visiting for a nightcap.
I head down a few steps into the low-ceilinged fishermen-themed Fisken Pub. Drinks are ordered by lining up at the small bar like it’s a stadium concession stand. While I notice most other cheeseball tourists opt for strange orders of Disaronno or Amaretto neat, I go for a pull of Carlsberg and a shot of Gammel Dansk, a local bitter liqueur (like a less flavorful Fernet). The bar is pretty raucous; the only spot for me is a standing area where I use an old barrel to rest my drinks.
As I sip on the city’s most famous beer and shoot the bitter liqueur, I decompress from my transcontinental, two-day bar crawl. It’s the first time that I haven’t fetishized what I’m drinking; I'm just drinking. I smile, thinking about how well I’m going to sleep tonight.
I'd better. I've got another full day of drinking to do tomorrow.