The great white whale hunt

Eoghan Walsh is our man in Copenhagen, for the inaugural Mikkeller Baghaven Wild Ale Celebration


The only reason I know I am on the right bus is everyone else looks confused, too. We’re all frantically checking our phones, worrying when to get off and what will happen when we do.

We’ve left central Copenhagen well behind, its bright lights dance at us across the harbour water as we speed along. We’ve gone through the wild hippy-gone-to-hell of Christianshavn, and past the yuppy-cured warehouses that gave birth to NOMA. In the distant dusky light, two giant chimneys spout fumes so thick and fast it’s like someone sped up the film.

We pull in at a stop and the doors opened, letting in the freezing Baltic air. One by one, the realisation that this is the terminus filters down the bus and we all try to make eye contact, a secret agreement that we’ll protect each other after we step down onto the pavement.

Around us is broken concrete, dirt and derelict factories. Huddled against predators we scan the wasteland warily, while designated navigators consult their phones, their confusion lit bright by the screen radiation. I wait to see what direction everyone heads, assuming they’ll come to a consensus, but they split up. I follow the English speakers, not because I think they were more likely to be right, but because if we’re attacked they’ll understand my screams for help.

As I tail them, I get my own phone out and determine they probably are right. I stow it away and, as my eyes readjust, I realise they have done a U-turn and are headed in the other direction. I am too proud to turn back, and there’s a hole in that wire fence anyway. 

The next 10 minutes are a blur – I am inside the ruins of a factory, then on an airfield, next going through a paintball arena – but I finally see a brightly lit banner in the distance, heralding the empty warehouse that’s been dolled up for the inaugural Mikkeller Baghaven Wild Ale Celebration.

The place is rammed, and the wet heat of 1,000 people in one room hits me like a barrel wave. I stand to the side of the entrance and collect myself. Brewery stands stretch in a horseshoe around the far end of the warehouse, with the seating in the middle already entirely taken. The crowds shuffle between the breweries, craning their necks to see the beer lists, consulting their apps before deciding this is the place. In the closest corner I can see the lambic blendery Bokke, famous for always running out of beer before you can say brettanomyces. I wander to the front to see what’s pouring, arriving just in time to see Mikkeller founder Mikkel Bjorg Bjergsø use a full-sized sword to uncork a jeroboam. The cork flies off into the crowd and the queue lurches forward, glasses outstretched. I’m having zombie flashbacks again, so I move along.

The need for lambic is still strong though, and I stumble across a blendery I have never heard of. It takes the brewer several attempts to convince me he really named his company Bofkont, but one sip of his apricot lambic convinces me it’s irrelevant. Multicoloured sherbet bursts off my tongue, and yoghurty stone fruit flows to my synapses. The brewer tells me he set up the blendery in the basement of his mum’s house because he couldn’t get hold of Cantillon Fou Foune anymore. His version is just as special. This is good medicine.

I take up his offer of a refill and join the tide of people again, this time on the hunt for American breweries. I’m a whale hunter in the deep sea; my stemmed glass a harpoon. A cocktail of Highland Park, Rare Barrel, Oxbow and Casey has me in a whirl and I’m somewhere around Hill Farmstead when the reflux starts to take hold. Shaun Hill himself is pouring me a beer but I’m busy looking for a liferaft. I see the Ramen stall in the distance and fight against the current, handing over a fistful of Krone for a bowl of hot, salty soup. With my beer in one hand, Ramen in the other I realise I am adrift. Looking around I see others with the same conundrum, all of us up a creek without a spoon.

I strike up a conversation with some lucky locals with a table, and they shuffle over to make room. Each mouthful of Ramen restores me, the acid waves calm and the room comes back into focus. I decide to slow down, to take it in; I have an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill. I have to find revelation in each and every glass, nothing can be mediocre in this world anymore, everything must have meaning. I need to look deep into the eyes of a brewer and tell him he is an artist, then give his beer three point five on Untappd. I need to appreciate the joy of Oxbow’s complex-yet-sippable saisons, to deconstruct the deep cherry played off the fireworks and funk of Highland Park’s wild ale, Cold Box. At festivals it all too often becomes a blur, with so many options and such small pours we forget to stop and savour. This is slow beer after all. It’s taken weeks in steel to ferment, years in wood to mature, months in bottle to carbonate and age. We should do it the service of taking some time over it.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I down another four beers in quick succession then head for the door – a man on the move, just drunk enough to be confident of the way back to the bus stop.

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