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.


  1. Whoh! Talk about a fast and furious training session! Pretty soon my friend, I may have to make my way over to Denmark and visit you! I will get to see the sights, sample the brews you've invented, and other things, like visit other family who are in Europe currently (my little sis is in Croatia).

    And if I have time, I may be able to get back my model gun from the 16th century that I bought in Spain but got "repossessed" in Denmark.

  2. Erm ... "Balance of Power?" Eh. Whatever! This is Pat :)