Though Jørn Utzon isn’t exactly a household name outside of Denmark, you are almost certainly familiar with his work. He is the architect behind one of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings, the Sydney Opera House.
The late Utzon was born in Copenhagen, but he spent most of his childhood in Ålborg, which is now home to the Utzon Center, a museum of modern architecture and art designed by the man himself, in cooperation with Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Ålborg is also home to the ambitious Søgaards Brewery, whose range encompasses a variety of international styles and includes some unusual experiments. The Søgaards brewmasters have taken inspiration from the places that inspired Utzon’s architecture to brew two beers for the Utzon Center: Blond and Dark. The label on Utzon Blond explains:
This beer follows Utzon’s footsteps from Australia, where we have gathered the herb lemon myrtle; across Asia for the refreshing character of kaffir lime leaves and ginger; to Spain, where we have selected an orange flower honey to round off the beer and add a light floral flavor. The noble conclusion comes from the Middle East’s delicate and luxurious spice saffron.
Pretty neat. These ingredients may sound weird, but remember that before hops came into favor around the turn of the fifteenth century, bouquets of herbs and flowers called gruits were used to add flavor and bitterness to beer. Dandelion, heather, ginger, burdock, nutmeg, juniper and spruce were common. So while this beer is cosmopolitan and contemporary in its selection of international ingredients, this method of flavoring also recalls ancient brewing traditions. Especially interesting is the inclusion of honey, since the vikings were fond of a sort of mead-beer hybrid that was also flavored with odd spices and herbs.
Utzon Blond is an amber-gold ale with a pillowy white head, and it actually does hit all the notes described on the label: Australian lemon myrtle and kaffir lime leaf provide a pleasantly soapy, citric top note, while the honey gives the beer a sweet foundation. Floral, savory saffron floats by in the background. All around it is very fruity, slightly tangy and rather robust – probably not as arresting as Utzon’s designs, but just as intriguing and unique!
Apparently I am not the only one who sees a resemblance between Japanese nigirizushi and Danish smørrebrød. The Royal Cafe in Copenhagen sells what they call “smushi,” which as far as I can tell is actually more of an application of kaiseki aesthetics and token Japanese ingredients to Denmark’s traditional open-faced sandwich format, rather than a simple amalgam of sushi and smørrebrød.
At any rate, it looks beautiful and delicious and delightfully nonchalant about the recession; you can watch a cool video about it here. Apparently the London Scandinavian eatery Madsen is starting to make their own smushi – perhaps a trip to Kensington is in order soon!
Pilsners are kind of like burgers. They’re almost annoyingly common, frequently mass-marketed, and often terribly unexciting. But when they’re good, oh boy are they good.
Rise Brewery‘s Ærø Grolle Pilsner is a good reminder of how the style got to be so popular in the first place, even as it transcends the tropes of that style. Oh yes, the beer is crisp and refreshing and all that, but it’s also very nuanced and properly hop-forward. Grolle has the standard pilsner look, crystal-clear and banana-yellow, but its aroma is uniquely enticing with its mix of honey, sourdough bread, champagne, and jasmine flowers. On the palate it snaps with leafy-lemony hops and lively fizz, closing with a very dry finish and a lingering floral bitterness. Light but flavorful and only 4.6% alcohol, this is a lager you can quaff all evening, and with a variety of food: hard Italian cheeses, plump German sausages, and hearty Japanese fare like yakitori and ramen will all find a friend in Grolle.
The name “Grolle” has an interesting triple meaning. It is the word for “sparrow” in the local dialect on the island of Ærø, where the beer is brewed, and it is also a nickname for the Ærøese themselves. Plus, it is a reference to the Bavarian Josef Groll, who introduced lagering to the city of Pilsen in 1842. He is often credited with inventing or otherwise perfecting the modern Pilsner.
One of the most iconic dishes in Danish cuisine (and Scandinavian cuisine in general) is the endlessly customizable open-faced sandwich called smørrebrød. It may sound strange, but smørrebrød reminds me more of sushi than of sandwiches; there is a simplicity to them, an equation of staple food + staple food that seems at once primitive and refined.
I very much like the treatise on smørrebrød engineering drafted by London’s Scandinavian Kitchen, purveyors of high-quality Nordic foodstuffs. Of particular importance, I think, is the notion of the bread-to-filling (BTF) ratio, an essential consideration in any sandwich, Scandinavian or otherwise.
Randers Brewery‘s Brown Ale is an excellent example of the individualistic spirit that seems to be a hallmark of modern Danish microbrewing.
Brewing was first introduced to the town of Randers in 1855 by a Swedish adventurer named Johan Peter Lindal, who founded a Bavarian-style brewery that came to produce a popular pilsner called Thor. Thor was brewed in Randers for over a century and became a part of the local culture (there is even a “Thor Museum” in Randers today) until the brand was purchased by Royal Unibrew in 2003. The conglomerate closed the historic Randers brewery, and Thor is now mass-produced at their headquarters in Odense.
Enter Stefan Kappel. In 2005, Stefan, a beer enthusiast and homebrewer, bought a trio of copper kettles from the Czech Republic and founded Randers Brewery to let beer flow through Randers once again. He and his brewmaster, Jens Rasmussen, are dedicated to their community, and have even brewed a pale ale, called Randers Øl, exclusively for the local market (though Stefan said he might be convinced to export it to the UK). But for all their local pride, Stefan and Jens draw much of their inspiration from the global: consider their excellent and distinctive Brown Ale.
At a moderate 5.3% alcohol, the mahogany ale is English in style, and it has a mellow, roasty malt foundation with notes of peanuts, coffee, and maple. However, it is also brewed with a portion of dark rye malt (a nod to the Danish staple rugbrød), which lends it a slightly spicy character. And what makes it really unique is its liberal use of American hops, which make the beer brisk and zesty, full of bold, juicy citric flavor.
So there you have it: a delicious English-style beer brewed with American hops and Danish rye in Czech kettles, in a town with Bavarian brewing traditions established by a Swede. That’s Randers in a nutshell: highly glocal, very eccentric, and entirely Danish.