How I survived Copenhagen Beer Celebration (in 5 easy steps)

As I hinted at in my previous post, Copenhagen Beer Celebration was such a massive event that it was difficult to wrap your head around. Not because it was huge, because it wasn’t – 25 breweries and 1000 tickets sold each day are numbers dwarfed by those at, say, GBBF, GABF or the regular Copenhagen Beer Festival. No, it was overwhelming because of the sheer quality on display – these were some of the world’s best brewers bringing some of the world’s best beer, lots of limited releases and intriguing, out-there stuff (when Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales says he put juniper in a beer, he means the whole juniper bush, berries, wood, needles and all), lots of once-in-a-lifetime beer experiences. I admit I was overwhelmed, but in the end I and my tastebuds came out unscathed (whether my liver did the same if open for debate), and I think my survival was helped by my adherence to five simple principles. I am sharing these principles here in the hope that they may help other fellow beer-geeks survive CBC-type events without collapsing in a beergastic, spasmodic heap one hour into the festival (gasping “Too… much… great… beer…”). Here we go:

One of the beers I didn’t have

1. I just let go.

In the festival programme, I counted 198 different beers on offer over two days – and that’s not including all the beers that were unlisted. Brodie’s Beers had brought many more beers than those listed in the programme, and so had De Struise (and they brought 25-odd beers to begin with!), Cigar City and many others. And as I have said repeatedly, many of these were limited releases – not that I am primarily a ticker (OK then, I am a bit of a ticker), but most of these limited releases sounded so darned good (wouldn’t you want to try a Mikkeller Brunch Weasel Vanilla Cognac Edition?). So in order to enjoy the Celebration to its fullest, I just had to let go and realize that I would not be able to sample all the beers I wanted to sample. I would inevitably miss some rarity or other because I was elsewhere occupied when the cask/leg came on. Some stuff was bound to run out. So I dialed down my ticker madness and decided to just enjoy what I got and not go around with a list of must-drink beers, ticking them in mechanical fashion. Many of my beers were impulse purchases – and I was never once disappointed.

2. I drank water.

With sample glasses measuring just 10 cl (that’s about 1/5 of a pint for you non-metric readers), it would have been easy to deceive yourself that you could drink as much as you liked without any ill effects. That deception ignores the fact that many, many beers were in the ABV 9.0+ range, and there were also plenty of ABV 6.0-8.0 IPAs, DIPAs, and stouts. Water was essentially not just to clean the palate (and your glass!) but also to stave off drunkenness and disaster. CBC sold water in neat Mikkeller-branded bottles for 1 festival token – a price that equals about £1.60, so the second day I bought four bottles from the local supermarket at the same price and brought them with me instead of getting water at the festival (a lot of people did the same). That ensured that I always had a steady, refreshing water supply on hand, thus avoiding sinking into unconsciousness or getting a really bad hangover. Get your drink on, not your drunk on, folks.

De Struise manning their party wagon

3. I talked to the brewers.

They’re there. They love beer as much as you do – probably even more. They love feedback, and they’re very approachable – most of them were pouring their own beers. And because of the smaller, more intimate size of the festival, most stalls were never really thronged (with the possible exception of DeStruise, who had set up their party wagon outside on the Friday, taking advantage of the sunny weather), so you could always have a chat with the brewers. It was really interesting in getting their take on the festival, on beer and brewing in general, and getting tips about their own festival favorites so far (a massive thank-you to the Kernel boys who steered me to Farmer’s Cabinet‘s wonderful Marry Me in Goslar, a beer I would otherwise have missed). I got to talking with John Chesen of Baird Brewing about them trying to launch their beers in Sweden, which led to a very nice night out with him two days later when he was passing through London. I introduced my friend to James Brodie which led to a conversation in which crazy plans for a lingonberry beer were hatched. All kinds of good things came from just talking to people – beer brings people together.

Beer geeks galore!

4. I talked to A LOT of fellow beer geeks.

It’s not just the brewers you should talk to, either – in my view everyone else there was a potential friend by virtue of our shared love of beer. So I chatted – exchanged a few quick words and tips here, had longer conversations there, met people, met them again, talked some more. I learned a lot about the beer scene in Norway and in Belgium. And again, I got some great tips on what not to miss (thank you Jonas J for alerting me to the importance of Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout!). I spoke to people who were home brewers, beer importers, distillers, beer competition judges, and it was really interesting. People had all these different stories about how they came to be at CBC, everyone was open and friendly, everyone was very knowledgeable and offered a fresh take on the event, on the beers, on brewing in general. Being a geek, it’s so great to be able to totally geek out once in a while and talk to people who speak the same language – you can use terms like “IBU”, “Brettanomyces” and “Barrel-aged Belgian Tripel” without having your conversation partner’s eyes glaze over.

A non-CBC beer (Cantillon Iris on draft at Fermentoren)

5. I left the festival.

Some explanation required: of course you had to leave the festival eventually as it wasn’t open 24/7. What I mean is that despite all the beery greatness on offer, I decided to also have a (bit of a) life outside the festival – I was not there on the dot when they opened every day, and both days I left shortly after the dinner. I got some sleep, I did some shopping (granted, it was beer shopping) and I hung out at a couple of great bars (Mikkeller Bar and Fermentoren). Great as the festival was, the venue was hot, the bathrooms were… not so compelling, the acoustics were terrible and after a few hours my ears hurt from the noise of 500 conversations. You were in this weird little bubble of beer (now there’s an image) at CBC and it was great to be able to step outside for a bit – or at least expand the bubble by going to some great bottle shops and great bars. Don’t be afraid to leave the festival area now and then to get some breathing room, literally as well as metaphorically.

Here’s to the next Copenhagen Beer Celebration, beer lovers!

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Posted on May 17, 2012, in Event and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. jonasbjallfalk

    Solid advice. Think I slightly missed out on number two though…

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