Saturday night I had the great good fortune to attend the best beer festival I’ve ever been to: Mikkeller’s Copenhagen Beer and Music Celebration in Boston. This was a great event for several reasons, including many entirely unrelated to my free ticket. The weather was perfect in that it was definitely cold enough to need a jacket, so no time was wasted debating that matter, but there wasn’t any wind, rain, or fire. The location was ideal for this sort of thing—the vast brick wasteland of Boston’s City Hall Plaza can accommodate many thousands of festival-goers without feeling crowded or smelling like a dry-hopped sweat lodge. Some cool bands played over the course of the weekend’s three sessions, too, including Yo La Tengo, Lucero, and the Silks. Oh and the beer. The beer was almost uniformly fantastic.
Danish beer celebrity Mikkel Borg Bjergso cajoled big-time brewers from all across the United States and Europe to bring some of their best stuff, which resulted in this being perhaps the only fest in America where there were hardly any lines for Trillium and Hill Farmstead. Each brewer poured exactly two beers per session, which reduced turnover at the head of the line while still giving drinkers a choice. The longest I idled in line was maybe six minutes to get at 3 Floyds—that’s not a bad deal at all for an East Coaster with no idea when his next shot at Zombie Dust may roll around. It would have taken twice as long to get to the front of the Omnipollo scrum, but I passed, as that revered Swedish brewery distributes to Boston on at least a limited basis. I was mainly interested in things I can’t usually get ahold of, which is why the following list doesn’t feature any New England beers. Presented below are the 10 best things I tasted on that delicious evening.
Alefarm Funk Orchard; Koge, Denmark; 7% ABV
I have a new all-time favorite Danish beer! Funk Orchard is a flavor-stuffed saison fermented with brettanomyces and dry-hopped with citra. It smells like peaches and cheese, with pear, mushroom, and grapefruit showing up on the tongue. This is the sort of beer engineered to stand out at a festival, but it would be outstanding in any context.
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Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett; Denver, CO; 9.7% ABV
This wild beauty might have been my favorite beer of the night, with earthy leather, chocolate, cinnamon, honey, oak, and vanilla notes.
Brewski Mangofeber DIPA; Helsingborg, Sweden; 8% ABV
Mango and pine!
Tired Hands HopHands; Ardmore, PA; 5.5% ABV
It’s not always easy for an American pale ale to stand out in this kind of company, but the blend of simcoe, centennial, and amarillo hops here produced a remarkable fruit punch of orange, nectarine, and grapefruit flavors, with just enough pine resin to keep things under control. I tend to prefer my pale ales (India and otherwise) balanced a bit more toward the bitter side, but HopHands demonstrates just how lovely a hazy, new-school juice-bomb can be.
Firestone Walker Bretta Rose; Paso Robles, CA; 5.3% ABV
There were a lot of raspberry beers at this party—I had at least three. This was by far the best, with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity, along with great oak character. Some beers in this vein are so tart that, delicious though they may be, they don’t taste like raspberries (or what have you) as much as they taste like “red fruit, I guess, based on the color?” Bretta Rose is sour for sure, but it’s also definitely raspberry-infused.
3 Floyds Permanent Funeral; Munster, IN; 10.5% ABV
This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of 3 Floyd’s company, and the two beers I tried were every bit as excellent as advertised. Zombie Dust is fantastic, but I might have been even more impressed by Permanent Funeral, a huge double IPA full of candied lemon, pineapple, peach, grapefruit, and melon. This devil is billed as a collaboration with the band Pig Destroyer, because why not?
Jester King Black Metal; Austin, TX; 10% ABV
Let’s keep it metal with this monster stout from one of Texas’s most acclaimed breweries. The production notes on the Jester King site inform us that “Black metal music played to beer during fermentation,” as if that weren’t obvious from the face-melting tar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, and cherry flavors.
Half Acre Vanilla Big Hugs; Chicago, IL; 10% ABV
This is a deceptively gentle-tasting stout that evokes melted coffee ice cream aggressively spiked with deluxe marshmallows.
Modern Times Fruitlands Passionfruit & Guava; San Diego, CA; 5% ABV
I have a new favorite gose! Gose is a controversial style these days, as many of the more prominent American renditions are accused of straying too far from the original German template. I don’t doubt that, but neither am I qualified to confirm it, and more important: This beer is stunning, with strong, sweet guava and subtle salt blending nicely with wheat and tart passionfruit. (Note: It is entirely possible that the guava is tart and the passionfruit sweet; I do what I can.)
This was the sort of heavy-duty festival at which a dedicated sampler wasn’t going to get by with a pretzel necklace or a grilled cheese truck, so imagine my delight when I saw my favorite hamburgerie had showed up! I got a plain hamburger that I tricked out with pickles, onions, and mustard. It set me back $5 and saved my life.
I don’t know much about the ins and outs of festival-throwing, but I am praying that Mikkeller’s Copenhagen Beer and Music Celebration was a financial and logistical success for all relevant parties, because I want it to come back next week, next fall at the very latest.