Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fasten Your Seatbelts.

I'll cut right to the chase: I lost my job at Søgaards Bryghus as of Friday. My boss apparently wasn't happy with my performance and decided to stick with the new German hire as his head brewer. So now I'm back on the hunt for work.

My first reaction was, to be sure, one of rage and betrayal. I sacrificed my entire life in the US, including chewing up a significant chunk of my savings and giving up my dog, to take this opportunity. In return, I worked for 16-hour days with very little recognition or respect within the company, and effectively got tossed out like a used tissue. Now I'm back where I was a year ago, in an even more uncertain situation, far away from home.

There's definitely a silver lining, though: I have many friends here in Denmark who are helping me out in every way they can, and I now have a solid chunk of brewing experience I can put on my resume. Moreover, I can search for a job with a better company, as my time at Søgaards became extremely stressful and exhausting in a hurry.

I don't know exactly where I will go next. I would like to stay in Denmark for the time being, so I intend to search for work here, but I will also be searching for work in the US and elsewhere in the world. Like I said when I started on this path, I'll go where the work takes me. I will be compensated by Søgaards for a short while, I should be able to apply for unemployment here, and my work visa is valid until mid-2012 – I can stay here relatively comfortably for a while. Meanwhile, I'm going to bust my ass looking for brewery work everywhere I can, and have my contract with Søgaards checked out to ensure that everything is on the level.

I want to say thanks to everybody who's stood behind me in this endeavor, and to all the friends I've made in Denmark who've enjoyed my beer and supported me. This isn't the end of the adventure – it's only the beginning.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Born to be Wild

After several weeks of working with Markus Ott and Bjarne Olsen, I can safely say that we have a solid team of brewers at Søgaards Bryghus. Our production schedule is tighter and more effective than ever, and quality has improved as well. We work well as a team, and can handle just about anything that the brewery throws at us. Moreover, Markus and Bjarne are easygoing, intelligent people, and enjoyable to work with. After some of the struggles of the previous months, I appreciate working with them and look forward to some great brews in the future. We already have some interesting brainstorms in the pipe!

Markus Ott (left) and Bjarne Olsen  chatting over a beer.
Speaking of which, Aleburgh Wild Hop Ale will soon be ready to serve. "Aleburgh" is one of the original names for the city of Aalborg from several hundred years ago, presumed to mean "city by the stream" due to its proximity to the fjord. While Denmark does not cultivate hops, many plants grow wild throughout the country, and my friend Rasmus (from the local homebrewing society) and I picked hops from several of the large plants in Aalborg to brew something unique. Aleburgh Wild Hop Ale is a 5% pale ale, light in color and body with moderate bitterness and a unique flavor from the wild hops. These hops impart a flavor similar to German noble hops, but with more robust grassy and earthy notes. Also on the agenda are beers for the Christmas season. Batches of Søgaards Julebuk and Beer Here Jule IPA bubble away happily in their tanks right now.

Rasmus clipping a nice bunch of hops near the stadium.
With the brewery properly staffed and functioning well, I've been able to relax more and even take some holiday time. My mother came to visit recently, and really enjoyed her time in Aalborg. After her visit here, she and I took a short trip through Berlin and Munich, including a stop at Oktoberfest for a Maß of Augustiner Edelstoff and a delicious snack of Steckerlnfisch. My dad and his wife came to visit a week later, and I of course introduced my dad to some of the excellent cask beer at the Wharf. It was great to see some of my family again, and I look forward to spending more time with them when I visit Chicago for Christmas.

Ein Prosit! My mom and I at Oktoberfest.
I'm really starting to feel at home here, both at the brewery and here in Denmark in general. Now that work is more relaxed, I can see more of the country and work on creating more great beers. Until next time!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Sorry for the long time between updates, everybody. August proved to be a major challenge, as our bottling facility encountered hardware difficulties and our original choice for second brewer decided that Søgaards wasn't the right place for him.

However, two new brewers have now joined me at Søgaards: Bjarne Olsen, formerly of Thisted Bryghus, and Markus Ott, who brings a significant amount of brewing experience from Germany. Bjarne will manage packaging operations once he's gained some additional training, and Markus will help me run the brewery and cellar. Both have already proven themselves skilled and extremely helpful, and have already boosted our production capacity and quality. With brewing work spread across a larger number of experienced staff, I should be able to breathe a bit easier.

Brewing Beer Here Hopfix and drinking
Executioner IPA: A good Saturday night, all in all!
Not that I haven't taken time to work on interesting projects, of course! I recently collaborated with Christian Skovdal Andersen of Beer Here on a new creation: Executioner IPA, brewed for one of his favorite bars in Rome, Mastro Titta. It's styled after the "West Coast" style of IPA in the US, making it very dry and bitter while maintaining a huge hop flavor and aroma. We used all pale malts with a smattering of light crystal malt for the grain base, then combined that with a large dose of Amarillo, Centennial and Citra hops. The result: A 7% IPA, pale as a pilsner and just as dry, but with a huge hop aroma and lots of fruity, floral flavor. We celebrated the release of this beer with a small party at Søgaards Bryghus, featuring the band Christian sponsors, Morten Skou Andersen. Executioner IPA proved dangerously easy to drink, after a few of my friends started nodding off towards the end of the night! We're already on our way to brew a second batch, since the first is in high demand - this one will feature Galena hops in the dry-hopping, which should give it an interesting addition of pineapple and lime notes.

A good likeness of me, albeit a tad heavy on the back hair.
Another project in the works: A wet-hopped beer, using fresh hops gathered from hop plants growing wild around the Aalborg area! My friend Rassmus and I will be gathering some hops from some of the larger plants growing here in Vejgaard this weekend, so I'll be posting about the expedition in the near future. It should prove an interesting experiment, and a valuable exploration into the possibilities of brewing in Denmark.

Brewing hasn't occupied 100% of my time in Denmark, of course. I've become involved with Platform 4 and Hal9K, two hacker/makerspace groups working in buildings in the old industrial harbor. Both groups are heavily invested in artistic and technical projects, and regularly hold excellent concerts and performances. Recent highlights include a 10th-anniversary concert for European electronic label Ad Noiseam, and a concert featuring Europe's largest Tesla coil for the "Aalborg i Rødt" cultural festival.

Some of my friends who work with these groups are interested in starting a homebrewing operation, so I will be helping them build a setup in one of the buildings. And I may just get to tinker with some more experimental recipes as well! In the meantime, I'd like to build a theremin just for the heck of it - music is still one of my passions, after all.

For those of you in Aalborg who want to try some beer fresh off the fermenters, we have new batches of Utzon Blonde and US Pale Ale on draft right now. Utzon Blonde is an easy-drinking light beer featuring honey and a touch of Cascade hops, while the US Pale Ale displays a robust floral character from Centennial hops. Until next time - vi ses!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Barrels of Fun

After a few months as head brewer of Søgaards Bryghus, things have largely calmed down and I've developed a tighter schedule and routine. My job continues to be a learning experience but, despite a stumble here and there, quality and production continue to improve. My friend Thure Harrington, who's been assisting me in the brewery for the last few weeks, finished his tenure at Søgaards on Friday so that he can resume his regular teaching job. I hate to see him go, as he's been fun to work with and enormously helpful, but our second brewer arrives in one week. This should enable us to smooth things out even more and allow me a bit more breathing room.

Thure filling a barrel with Høstmand.
After tackling a large order of Beer Here bottles going to Sweden, we now have enough room to start filling our South African Pinot Noir barrels. Earlier this week, Thure and I filled our first four barrels with Beer Here's Høstmand, a light-colored Belgian beer that will be inoculated with Brettanomyces for a nice, funky dryness. We hit a few bumps here and there, but soon had the whole batch sitting snugly in its new home. This coming week, I plan to transfer my Castlewood Old Ale to barrels as well, after which it will sit for a few months to mellow and take on some of the barrel flavors. I'm excited to see how it turns out!

Proud father of some newly-filled barrels.
The bottling line originally posed the greatest hurdle to my control of the brewery, but I now feel quite comfortable with operating it and have packaged several batches with it. Among them are Beer Here's Høst Stout (their coffee milk stout repackaged for the Swedish market) and White Cat (an American wheat beer with Nelson Sauvin hops and orange peel), Black Rooster's Hoptimizer IPA (dry-hopped with loads of Chinook and Cascade), and our own Søgaards Jomfruhumle pilsner. Coming soon is a video tour of the bottling line in action!

A day in the park with a book and a fresh bottle of Black Rooster Hoptimizer.
I won't lie: It's been a difficult journey so far, and I've been busting my hump harder than I ever have in my life. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, and I'm looking forward to making better beer than ever.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekend Update

Just a quick update to let you folks know I haven't forgotten about you! Life at the brewery is still extremely busy, but I'm growing more and more comfortable and confident in my role here. I can now operate the bottling line without help from the old brewers, and production from brewing to packaging tends to run smoothly. After some maintenance by Kaspar-Schulz, our brew system now performs better than ever. Although Ilan has moved on to his bike tour of Europe, local homebrewer and friend Thure Busk Harrington is assisting me until our second brewer arrives in late summer. He's been a great asset, and has helped out enormously in improving our operations and quality. Plus, it's always nice to work with a friend.

No pictures this time, unfortunately, but I'll have some ready for next update.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brewing Castlewod Old Ale, and the Copenhagen Beer Festival

After a satisfying brewday last Sunday, Castlewood Old Ale has been bubbling away happily. With a hefty Maris Otter malt base to give it a rich, nutty character, crystal malt and molasses to give it sweetness and complexity, and Fuggle hops to give it a balanced, earthy bitterness, it should be quite nice. Preliminary taste testing indicates it'll be quite delicious, so I'm looking forward to how it turns out. Check out the video for more!

Following a short but hectic work week at the brewery, I headed down to Copenhagen for the Copenhagen Beer Festival, organized by the Danske Ølentusiaster and featuring over 70 different exhibitors. I poured beer at the booth all three days, and while I had a bit of a rough time at the end of Thursday evening, it was a fantastic event. I met many Danish brewers for the first time, including Søren Parker Wagner of Nørrebro Bryghus and Croocked Moon, and Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeler. Many excellent beers appeared at the festival as well. Personal favorites included Fanø Bryghus Kolval, Beer Here Farligwine, and Svaneke Licorice Stout - which they even made into an ice cream with chocolate chips!

The festival in full swing.
Pouring beer at the festival!
Work at the brewery continues to be hectic, and with Ilan resuming his bike tour I'll have my hands full. But I'm training one of the workers at the brewery to assist me, and my friend Thure Harrington will work with me for the next few months until our new full-fledged assistant brewer arrives. Until next time - vi ses!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brewing with Ilan: Jutland Smoked Porter

After spending long hours brewing beers for Søgaards Bryghus and its contracts, Ilan and I have finally seized the opportunity to brew our own recipes. A large number of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir barrels from South Africa are arriving in ten days, and the owner has given us pemission to brew two special 1000-liter batches to fill some of them.

Today, Ilan is brewing his Jutland Smoked Porter: A porter brewed with 25% Weyermann smoked malt, to be aged for at least three months in one of the Pinot Noir casks. Lots of crystal and dark malts give it a rich, robust flavor that will surely age nicely in the barrel. Although we've pushed the brewhouse to its limits, things are going smoothly. We're most of the way through the brewday right now, and so far the wort tastes spectacular. Looking forward to how this one turns out! 

Ilan getting a whiff of smoked malt. Delicious stuff!

Our brewing schedule has been slightly revised, so I will be brewing my beer this Sunday. Castlewood Old Ale will be an English old ale brewed primarily with Maris Otter pale malt, giving it a rich, nutty flavor. Crystal malt will add body and sweetness, while chocolate malt and molasses will add color and deep, complex flavors. Fuggle hops will impart an earthy bitterness to balance out the beer, and its time in the Pinot Noir cask will add roundness and oak flavors, as well as a bit of fruity, tannic character from the wine. I plan on eventually bottling some of this, as well as producing some casks to be served as real ale at the Wharf. Look for my next post in a few days to see how it gets made! In the meantime, check out Ilan's blog for more details about today's brew.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Passing the Torch

Sorry for the long delay between updates. Life in Denmark has been so hectic that I haven't had much time to write here.

The primary reason for that, of course, is that I have begun my tenure as head brewer of Søgaards Bryghus. I took over operations during the first week of May, and since then have spent most of my time at the brewery. I've experienced numerous challenges in the last few weeks, but I've risen to them and haven't let anything set me back. Kasper, the former brewer, has remained available to give me advice and help me through tough spots over the phone. Even more helpful, however, has been Ilan Klages-Mundt, who returned to Aalborg after three weeks in Copenhagen to assist me at the brewery. His experience at other breweries - especially his experience at Fanø Bryghus, which uses the same 1000-liter brewhouse as Søgaards - has given me greater insight into the workings of the brewery, and a better foundation for my future here. Juggling the day-to-day tasks of the brewery and troubleshooting operational issues have been my greatest teachers so far, though. With Ilan's help, I've done everything from operating the brewhouse manually to pasteurizing and packaging several batches of beer.

Tinkering with one of the valves on the brewhouse.
Among other beers, over the last two and a half weeks we've brewed:
  • Kama Citra, Beer Here's all-Citra hoppy brown ale
  • Ammestout, Beer Here's coffee milk stout
  • Søgaards Classic, a traditional Munich dunkel
  • Madam Weizen, the Søgaards weissbier
  • The Ale, an Irish red ale brewed for an Aalborg bar called the Irish House
The Ale and Classic also double as propagators and testbeds for our new liquid yeast program, for our ale and lager yeasts respectively. From their current 1000 liter batches, I'll be able to build up a stock of yeast that, in a few weeks, will serve to ferment most of our beers.

A fresh, healthy batch of WLP001 ale yeast.
 We've also done a boatload of packaging, including filling several of the 1000-liter serving tanks with Jomfruhumle (our pilsner) and Klosterbryg (our bock) and producing over a hundred kegs of Tia Loca, Beer Here's hybrid German/Belgian wheat beer. The bottling line is still my biggest hurdle on the packaging side, but after a long day of filling over 8000 bottles of beer - from our Fort Dansborg IPA to even more Kama Citra - I'm more comfortable than ever with our setup.

The pasteurizer in action.
Speaking of Beer Here, I finally met the owner and recipe designer, Christian Skovdal Andersen, last week. We had a few pints at the Wharf and talked shop a bit, after which we went back to the Søgaards brewery to sample and test some of his recipes in action. Following that, I finally broke out some of the homebrews I tucked away in my luggage, including Leng Black Abbey Stout (a Belgian imperial stout a bit over a year old), Citra on the Shore (an American IPA dry-hopped with Amarillo and Citra), and Ailes Grisette (a light saison with Sorachi Ace hops and lavender). I got great feedback on the homebrews, especially the IPA, which makes me quite happy. The next morning was a bit rough, though!

Sampling with (from left to right) Christian, Ilan and Thure.
It hasn't been all work work work, though. I recently moved into my own apartment, owned by one of my barmates at the Wharf, and although it's a basement unit it's still a nice place. It's also a mere ten-minute bike ride from the brewery, which makes my commute far easier. I'm still getting the place sorted out - it's amazing how much "little" stuff you have to reacquire after leaving everything behind! - but I'm comfortable there and enjoying having my own space again. The apartment is near one of Aalborg's larger parks, which is a nice spot to sit around with a book and a bottle of good beer. I've also taken the opportunity to explore Aalborg a bit more on my bike.

A nice afternoon in the park.
Some exciting stuff is coming up on the horizon, too: Next week, the owner and I are going to Copenhagen for the beer festival (Ølfestival Kobenhavn), and will be serving beer there. And this Friday, I'll be brewing my first recipe on the Søgaards brewhouse: An English old ale that will be aged in one of the Pinot Noir barrels arriving soon at the brewery. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Warm Welcome

Work continues unabated in the brewery. The news that I'm taking over as head brewer has spread quickly, and the Danish brewing community has been quite welcoming so far. Several of Denmark's brewers here have contacted me, including Søren Wagner of Nørrebro Bryghus and Croocked Moon, and I'll be meeting many of them at the Copenhagen Beer Festival in late May.

Over Easter weekend, I traveled down to the island of Fanø to meet Ryan Witter-Merithew, head brewer of Fanø Bryghus and the person responsible for putting me in touch with Søgaards Bryghus. Ryan is, like me, originally from the US, and worked for Duck-Rabbit Brewery in North Carolina before coming to Denmark. He's been living here and brewing at Fanø Bryghus for over two years now. Fanø is a small island in southwest Denmark that's a popular vacation spot for Germans and Danes alike. According to Ryan, Fanø is often crowded and busy in the summertime, but over Easter weekend it was fairly quiet. The weather, however, was perfect, making it a very pleasant weekend.

Downtown Fanø. Notice the thatched roof on the right.
Ryan and I have known each other online for a while, but hadn't met in person before and wanted to get in touch. When I arrived in Denmark, he invited me to come down and visit whenever I had the time, and Easter weekend just happened to work for both of us. I took an express bus down to Esbjerg after finishing Saturday's brewday, and from there took the ferry to Fanø. I arrived just in time for dinner with Ryan and his wife Mahalia, along with the brewery intern Andres and Ryan's neighbors. We spent most of the night chatting at the table and having a few beers, including some from Amager and some from Fanø Bryghus itself.

You can keep your colored eggs: Ryan's excellent Scotch eggs.
We greeted Easter morning with something better than colored eggs: Scotch eggs, which Ryan made from scratch! After that, Ryan had a bit of work to get done at the brewery, which is literally right next to his house. Nice commute. I helped Ryan and Andres get a little bit of bottling done. Fanø's brewhouse is the exact same system as that of Søgaards, but their bottling line is smaller and less automated. After that, Ryan checked on a barrel that seemed to be a bit overyeasted, and needed to have some pressure taken out of it. Unfortunately, in the process, the bung popped off and showered us with beer, yeast and cocoa nibs, spewing a hundred liters of beer on the floor and requiring lots of cleanup! It was still a good time, though, especially since Fanø had their smoked beer, saison, and coconut porter (Ilan's creation from when he worked with Fanø) on tap.

Ryan: "This is how not to empty a bourbon barrel."
Afterwards, we took the ferry to Esbjerg to meet another US friend of Ryan's: Jean Broillet IV, brewer at Iron Hill Brewery and creator of startup Tired Hands Brewing Company. He traveled to Fanø to brew a batch of beer with Ryan, a dark saison called "Do Saison Dream of Electric Yeast?". Apparently Stillwater Artisinal Ales has already taken "A Saison Darkly," meaning that the Philip K. Dick references are rapidly being chewed up in the brewing world. I guess I should jump on that as soon as I can! We did some grilling - including some excellent sausages and pork chops - and some more drinking before crashing for the night.

A glass of Fanø's tasty saison.
I had to leave early on Monday to get back to the brewery, but it was still a great weekend. Ryan is a fun, down-to-earth guy and a generous host. He and I are already scheming on a collaborative brew, once we both get some time and I get more familiar with the system at Søgaards. I look forward to hanging out and brewing with him again sometime.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Down to Brass Tacks

During my first two weeks in Denmark, I had the opportunity to explore Ålborg and spend a good amount of time with the new friends I've met here. Over the last week, however, life at the brewery has become quite busy and hectic, requiring not only many working hours but an even greater acceleration of the learning curve.

Adding hops and orange peel to a batch of White Cat.

I'm taking the challenge head-on, though. I've now brewed several batches of beer solo on the 10 hectoliter Kaspar-Schulz system, with which I'm getting more and more comfortable. I've also spent a great deal of time on the bottling line, including labeling some bottles whose original labels were delayed. Doing this requires a fair amount of manual labor and process acrobatics. Instead of baby-walking me through all the steps, head brewer Kasper Malmberg mainly supervises my work right now, and leaves me to my own devices quite frequently. Thursday I brewed a batch of Klosterbryg - the Søgaards bock lager - along with filling 36 kegs of Beer Here's Skråplan (their double IPA), cleaning a few tanks and scrubbing the floors. I knocked an unsecured CO2 tank onto my foot while cleaning, but my foot managed to break the regulator instead of the other way around. Today, I'm in the brewhouse alone, finishing up a batch of the Jomfruhumle pilsner so that we'll have nothing but full tanks again.

Although Kasper leaves me some big shoes to fill (both figuratively and literally!) once he resigns, I'm confident that I can adequately fill them, and will work to improve things at the brewery. First order of business is to switch from the current practice of using dried yeast, to using liquid cultures - including a propagation and testing setup at some point - for fermentation. My boss has been wanting to do this for a while now, and it's something I would have done anyway. Liquid yeast simply produces better beer, not to mention that it ferments faster (making management of our cellar considerably easier), gives us a greater selection of cultures, and will ultimately be cheaper. It's a win-win situation, really. Along with that, I'm seriously clamping down on organizational and logistical matters, since some aspects of brewery and warehouse operation need improvement. My boss has also given me permission to change some of the recipes if necessary, and while the majority of the beer here is good, some recipes could use some tinkering.

Brewhouse in repose.

Not that I've spent every second of my time here working, of course. I'm still a regular at the Wharf, and have spent some time exploring Ålborg and meeting people. One of my barmates, Alan, has offered me an apartment he's renting out, so as of next week I'll finally have a residence of my own. It's another garden/basement apartment, but it's in decent shape and Alan is renovating it before I move in. It's within a few kilometers of the brewery, so biking to work won't be as Herculean a task as it sometimes is now. Plus, while my boss and his family have been gracious, generous hosts, it will be far nicer to have a place of my own.

Good Friday, Good Beer: A glass of Crouch Vale Amarillo at the Wharf.
Now that spring seems to have finally arrived (Denmark apparently had a winter almost as long and gruesome as Chicago's), I've been riding my bicycle quite a bit. The 14-kilometer ride into Ålborg runs through some very nice countryside next to the fjord dividing Ålborg from the northernmost part of Denmark. I biked home late Thursday night, which was a breathtaking experience: After living in Chicago for most of a decade, the utter darkness and silence of rural Denmark at night were almost shocking in their intensity, and I could see more stars in the sky than I have in a long time. It was an eerie, beautiful trip.

Danish farmland a few kilometers outside of Ålborg.
Today I'm heading down to Fanø to visit my friend Ryan Witter-Merithew, brewer at Fanø Bryghus and the man who put me in touch with Søgaards in the first place. I'll definitely post about the trip when I return. Until next time - vi ses!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Promising Beginnings

Life in Denmark continues to be a whirlwind, both at work and at play. Training at Søgaards Bryghus has only accelerated since my arrival, taking me through the brewhouse to the bottling line and everywhere between. I learn something new each day, while reinforcing the knowledge I already have. It comes with its difficulties, to be sure - it's hard physical work, the amount of learning is staggering, and it's by far the most demanding and dangerous (do the words "hot caustic" and "pressurized steam" mean anything to you?) job I've ever had. I've even "baptized" myself as a brewer by unhooking a keg filler improperly and soaking myself with beer. It's challenging, but it's well worth the effort, and ultimately it's a very satisfying endeavor.

I need to learn fast, however, because at the beginning of May I take the reins as head brewer of Søgaards. Current brewmaster Kasper Malmberg plans to step down so that he can spend more time with his family and pursue a different line of work. It's a very exciting development, but it also puts me in the driver's seat sooner than I anticipated, and requires me to learn and act quickly. I intend to continue the brewery's level of quality, while adding some of my own personality to its beers, so I want to be as prepared as possible when the time comes for me to take over. The Danish brewing community has already gotten word of this, and it's spreading quickly - an article has already been written here at, one of the biggest beer enthusiast websites in Denmark.

Kasper hanging out at the brewhouse.

I'm not without help, though: Over the last week, Ilan Klages-Mundt has been staying in Aalborg with our mutual friend Thure, and helping out in the brewhouse. Ilan is on a long expedition of touring breweries throughout the world, helping them make beer and learning about the culture and process around beer wherever he goes. He writes about his project at, and plans on cycling through central Europe to work at several breweries in the region. Ilan has already spent time in Japan and the UK, where he's worked with some of my favorite breweries like Fuller's, Baird and Kiuchi (home of the Hitachino Nest label). Moreover, just prior to coming to Aalborg he worked at Fanø Bryghus in southern Denmark, brewing with Ryan Witter-Merithew - the man who helped get me here to Denmark in the first place. Ilan's already been a great deal of help in the brewhouse, and spending time with him and Thure has been incredibly fun. Ilan is currently staying in Copenhagen, but will return at the beginning of May to assist me in the brewhouse and ensure that I get the hang of things. He's already spent some time on the same system that Søgaards uses - a ten-hectolitre Kasper-Schulz brewhouse that's largely automated, and has already been a joy to work with. While he's working with me in May, we plan on brewing a special beer that will be aged in one of the South African Pinot Noir casks my boss recently purchased. Ilan is intelligent and skilled, and will be a great asset to the brewery while he's here - not to mention a good drinking partner.

Me, Ilan and Thure sampling some of the beers at Søgaards.
While Ilan was here, we spent a great deal of time at my new watering hole here in Denmark: The Wharf, an English-style pub that specializes in real ale. In fact, The Wharf and its sister pub (Charlie's in Copenhagen) are currently the only two bars outside the UK awarded the Cask Marque for serving real ale properly and in excellent condition. The Wharf always has several casks of beer on tap, primarily from Crouch Vale in Essex and St. Austell in Cornwall, along with numerous draft beers from various regions in Europe. Unlike the loud dance clubs on Jomfu Ane Gade - Aalborg's biggest stretch of bars, and its most famous street - The Wharf is a classic cozy pub, full of friendly bartenders and lively conversation among its patrons.

A pint of St. Austell's Proper Job - their cask IPA, and the best real ale I've ever had.
Søgaards Bryghus itself creates excellent beers, and does a great deal of contract brewing in addition to its own lineup. Most prominent among them are the brews of Beer Here, the creation of Christian Skovdal Andersen, which emphasize experimentation and intense flavors. Already I've been impressed by some of his recipes, including that of Infantøl, a 2.8% ABV brown ale that packs plenty of flavor and body. As somebody who's also experimented with table beers, that kind of feat is impressive to me. Beer Here is also infamous for its humorous and sometimes controversial beer names and label designs: Kama Citra (a high-gravity brown ale packed with Citra hops) lines the back label with depictions of sex with both partners holding beer bottles, while Tia Loca (a beer combining German and Belgian wheat beer styles) puts a Hitler moustache on revered Belgian comic character Tin Tin. Try to get those labels approved in the US!

The Søgaards restaurant itself is upscale and relatively pricey, but has no problem justifying the expense. The beer is, of course, very good, and the food is also excellent. I've already developed an addiction to their dark bread baked with roasted barley, and every meal I've had from them - from their rich "beerpot" stew to their traditional "stegt flæsk" with potatoes, pickled beets (some of the best pickled vegetables I've ever had, by the way!) and parsley sauce - has been top-notch. Of course, the spice of hunger from a long day of brewery work doesn't hurt either.

I've had some opportunity to tour the city, especially with the gracious help of my boss and my friend Thure. Aalborg is the fourth largest city in Denmark, with somewhere between 150,000 and 170,000 citizens, and is about an hour away from Aarhus, the second-biggest city in the country. It has a fair amount of history to it, as indicated by an old monastery across the square from the brewery dated from the 1400s, and each house along the city's oldest street boasts a plaque on its front door stating which families have lived there. The city and the country surrounding it are beautiful, and while I'm still getting used to Denmark the city has been a wonderful place to stay.

More challenges and adventures lie ahead, and I'm excited about taking them on.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trial By Fire

After an easy but restless flight, I arrived safe and sound in Copenhagen, and amazingly my luggage did the same. My boss had a flat tire on the way to the airport, which caused a minor delay, but soon enough I finally met the man who hired me from across the ocean.

Claus Søgaard talks fast, works hard and shoots straight. He's very friendly but doesn't abide by any bullshit, and is constantly taking care of business - whether it be by phone or in person. After picking me up, he had deliveries to take care of within Copenhagen, so within 30 minutes of my arrival in Denmark I was already hoisting kegs and cases around! We began at Amager Bryghus, making our way through bottle shops like Barley Wine (which has excellent selection of Danish, German, Belgian and even US beers) and restaurants like Plan B: A cafe with unusual sandwiches, a good selection of both draft and bottle beer, and hilariously odd paintings on the wall. Definitely going to make a stop there the next time I'm in Copenhagen. We then drove four hours back to Ålborg in Claus's beat-up but reliable old Volkswagon truck, and he pointed out various landmarks while we chatted about Denmark and the US, beer and everything else in life.

We arrived at Søgaards Bryghus around nine in the evening, and Claus introduced me to the staff and gave me a brief tour of the brewery. Then he ordered me some food - the "beer pot" - and poured me a glass of my first beer in Denmark, the brewery's own Jomfruhumle Pilsner.

It's a solid pilsner, with a grainy malt flavor and some floral hop bitterness, and it evened out the gigantic richness of the "beer pot" - a stew full of beef, mushrooms and sausage - nicely.

I began training at the brewery bright and early the next morning, with a bit of a surprise thrown in as well: Claus needed to deliver a prize car to a contest winner within the city, and asked me to follow him in his truck. Which is manual gear. I mentioned to him that I'd never driven stick before, and he laughed heartily and said, "It's easy! One, two, three, four!" mimicking the gearshift motion. So, for a harrowing kilometer, I taught myself to drive stick, and his truck tolerated my amateurish shifting well enough. I mean, I managed to stall the thing, but only once, and thankfully not in the middle of an intersection.

We then went to the brewery, where I met the two current brewers: Kasper, the head brewer, and Niels, his part-time assistant. I got put right into the thick of things, and over the last week I've helped brew beer, clean and fill tanks, and clean kegs. I've also been assigned a number of other minor tasks, including transcribing the current Excel-based brewsheet into neater, easier-to-manage files in Beersmith. I'm currently staying with Claus at his family's farm outside of town, which allows him to draft me into helping out in the small warehouse he has on premises. Basically, I haven't slowed down since I started moving out of my apartment a week ago, and between the long, hard work and jet lag, I don't think I've ever been more tired in my life. But it's been well worth it, and an amazing experience so far. I'll have to get used to it, though, because the ride is just beginning.

More to come later, including finding my new watering hole and learning Danish.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Zero Hour

In about seven hours, I'll be sitting in a cramped little airplane seat while my plane to Copenhagen takes off from O'Hare. My bags are packed, my paperwork's in order and I'm as ready as I'll ever be, if a tad nervous. I will likely be too busy in Aalborg to post much in my first week there, but you can count on plenty of regular updates from there.

I'd like to thank all my friends and family, as well as the Chicago brewing community and the Siebel Institute, for helping me along my journey thus far and spurring me on to pursue my dream. See you all in Denmark!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Beer So Far: Highbrau Brewing

As I mentioned in the previous post, I began homebrewing in early 2008 and started taking it really seriously in early 2009, when I moved up to an all-grain system. I enjoy sharing my creative works with others, and since I wanted to practice everything from the creation of beer to its marketing and serving, I created a "brand" for my homebrews and made a website for them:

Click to see the website.

One of my passions throughout my life has been literature. I began reading at a very young age, and continue to consume books voraciously to this day. I enjoy everything from the literary classics to modern science fiction, and am constantly on the lookout for new books. When I decided to create a brand for my homebrews, I wanted to fuse these two interests into something that would pay tribute to them both. I came up with the name Highbrau, and my friend Justin Wolf put together some logo and brand design for me. Since then, I've been using the Highbrau brand to market myself and my beers, and have taken some steps to ensure that I can use the name professionally in the future should I choose to do so (check out!).

From the beginning of my homebrewing career, I had an equal enthusiasm for brewing classic examples of traditional styles, and experimenting with new ingredients, techniques and concepts. I've created traditional English bitters, Baltic porters and Reinheitsgebot-compliant German lagers, complete with double decoctions and long aging periods. Standing right alongside those beers have been more unusual concoctions like black saisons, American table beers, Belgian imperial stouts and smoked rye doppelbocks. The last beer to be brewed in my current apartment was a low-alcohol Belgian farmhouse ale, infused with lavender and dry-hopped with Sorachi Ace hops. The whole wide world of beer fascinates and entices me, and I've tried to span my work across as many parts of it as possible, from the simplest session beer to the most painstakingly-crafted sour ale. 

To improve my craft, I completed my education at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, while doing independent research and seeking out critical feedback from as many sources as possible. Both the homebrewing and professional brewing communities have been very helpful, and I'm thankful for all the assistance they've given me... along with lots of good times and good beer.

Below are a few of my personal favorites from over the years:

Big Brother Brown Ale - An American brown ale, brewed to hefty proportions and heavily hopped like an IPA. Sweet and roasty malt flavors mesh with Willamette and Cascade hop bitterness. Doubleplus Delicious! (6.5% ABV, 59 IBUs, brewed on 06/21/2010)

Raketemensch Weizenbock - A screaming comes across the sky, and it's a hefty German wheat beer aimed directly for your glass. Munich malt and dark wheat give it a rich, bready malt body, accompanied by banana and clove flavors from the weizen yeast. "Fickt nicht mit der Raketemensch!" (8% ABV, 20 IBUs, brewed on 10/03/2010)

Dorian Gray Pale Ale - Pilsner malt, Hallertauer hops and Belgian Trappist yeast... that's it! This beer draws great complexity from its simple recipe. Grainy malt, herbal hops and fruity, spicy yeast character all combine to make a refreshing, delicious beer. Nothing's more satisfying than a pitcher of Dorian Gray! (6% ABV, 29 IBUs, brewed on 01/08/2011)

I leave for Denmark in five days, and from the looks of it, Søgaards Bryghus exercises the same mix of traditionalism and experimentation that I do. I expect it'll be a good place to brew.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Bit of Personal History

Before I head off to Denmark and start relentlessly posting about brewing there, I may as well provide a bit of personal and professional background:

I graduated from Purdue University in 2004 with a degree in English. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for a living, but I knew I loved reading and writing, so I ended up studying English more or less by default. I focused on technical writing toward the end of my education, but never pursued work in that field. Instead, I fell into the litigation support industry through a temp agency and quickly worked my way up the ladder by virtue of my technical skills, versatility and hard work. By 2008, I was working for a large law firm in downtown Chicago, which enabled me to further explore my enthusiasm for beer. 

My dad introduced me to beer when I was a teenager, and got me started on the right tack with beers like Newcastle Brown Ale and Guinness. During college, my best friend and I imbibed a steady diet of Leinenkugel's Red and Creamy Dark, until his curiosity led him to brands like Unibroue and Rogue. I went along for the ride, and realized just how large the world of beer really was. By the time I graduated from college and returned to Chicago, I was actively exploring new territory with beers from Three Floyds, Dogfish Head and others. I continued to expand my knowledge of beers from across the world, never turning down a style or brewer.

That same friend, along with his girlfriend, began homebrewing long before me, but once again piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to follow his lead. In early 2008, I brewed my first batch of beer - a Brewer's Best brown ale - and, although I continued to invest more time in other hobbies like music production, I grew more and more interested in the craft. I began working with spices in my second beer, a "Mexican chocolate stout" with cocoa nibs, cayenne pepper and cinnamon, and continued experimenting with unusual recipes while brewing more traditional styles. Within a year, I switched from extract to all-grain homebrewing, and began getting involved in local beer communities like the Chicago Beer Society. 

The tipping point came in summer of 2009, when I lost my law firm job and confronted the possibility of a career change. Doing database work for law firms paid the bills, but did I want to keep doing that for the rest of my life? I realized that I'd been coasting for a while in a field that ultimately didn't satisfy me, so I did some serious thinking and explored my options. Then I realized that my enthusiasm for brewing was nearly boundless: I could discuss the science, craft and history of making beer for hours, and actively put a great deal of time and effort into honing my homebrewing skills. I took the plunge and signed up for the International Diploma course at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, and started making plans to enter the brewing industry.

My time at the Siebel Institute introduced me to a number of fantastic people, and imparted a thorough education on the production of beer. I also spent some time volunteering with Metropolitan Brewing, which gave me some nuts-and-bolts experience in the production process. I continued volunteering with them while I searched for brewery work, as well as honing my skills with more intensive homebrewing than ever. I even did some food pairing work with beer while working with a gourmet cheese purveyor. Now, I'm finally on the verge of starting my first brewing job, which will take me further than I've ever been before to the country of Denmark. I'm incredibly excited, and thankful for all the support given by family, friends, homebrewers and pro brewers alike.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole. (A short introduction)

Welcome to Ubik Brewing. I'm a long-time beer enthusiast and homebrewer who's finally broken into the brewing industry in an unexpected way: In a few weeks time, I'll be moving overseas to work for Søgaards Bryghus, a brewery in northern Denmark. I'm starting this blog to chronicle my time in Europe, as well as my continuing experiences in brewing and drinking beer. There'll also be some food stuff thrown in, and maybe even some writing about music and literature.

Right now I'm scrambling to prepare for the move, while visiting my favorite Chicago haunts and as many of my friends as I can before I go. There'll probably be a post here and there before I go, but things will really kick off once I'm in Denmark proper. In the meantime, you can check out my regular website at, which also has plenty of information about my homebrewing.

So welcome, and I hope you stick around!

-Brian Davis