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Can big be beautiful?

Which make the most interesting beers: big breweries or small? Serious beer-lovers often opt for "small" though that term covers a wide range. A brewery making a thousand barrels a year is definitely small, but so is one producing 250,000, as compared to the national and international giants, which have capacities in the millions.

Small breweries have the advantage that they make tiny volumes and can thus afford to specialise. Nor are economies on raw materials or process time as tempting to a small brewery as for a large one, where a saving of a penny here or there is multiplied by all those millions of hectolitres.

Big breweries have the advantage of large, highly-trained staffs that can turn themselves to endless experiment, often with an extraordinary range of materials, equipment and quality control systems. Most big brewers have, in addition to their mass-market beers, more individualistic specialties, but these are sometimes available only locally.

Many of our selections for the "Real Beer Tour are from small breweries, devoted to regional styles, but from time to time the club also ships specialties from larger companies.

Outside the United States, the two brewing companies best known to the consumer worldwide are Heineken (of The Netherlands) and Carlsberg (of Denmark). These two unconnected enterprises have been the pioneers of international brewing. Both are based in tiny countries, and in consequence have small local markets. Both countries are coastal (Denmark comprising a peninsula and several islands), and each lives on its exports. While Heineken has been the more successful in The United States; Carlsberg continues to grow in Europe and Asia. Both are known internationally for golden lagers in broadly the Pilsener style, but each makes a variety of other specialties.

Carlsberg's C47 was sent to club members.

Carlsberg: why it is world-famous

Carlsberg's story would make a television blockbuster (and in Denmark

did). It is one of the most influential producers in the history of beer, and its brewery in Copenhagen is one of the world's most beautiful.

The business traces its origins to the 1700s, to a family farm that almost certainly had its own brewery. The son of the family went to seek his fortune in the big city, and eventually became a brewer there. He was one of the first Danish brewers to use a thermometer. His son, Jacob Christian Jacobsen went south to Germany, to Bavaria, to study at the Spaten brewery. It was the moment in Europe when top-fermenting brews (in Denmark, wheat beers) were beginning to face challenges from lagers.

In 1845, Jacobsen came back to Copenhagen with a sample of the Spaten yeast. The journey, 600 miles as the crow flies, was by stagecoach. Jacobsen is said to have kept two pots of the yeast cool under his stove-pipe hat, taking them out and dousing them with cold water at every stop.

He initially produced test batches of a bottom-fermenting lager in his mother's wash-copper. As the beer was perfected, he built a new, bigger, brewery. Jacobsen named the brewery after his five-year-old son Carl. The premises were on a hill (a berg in Danish and other Teutonic languages).

Carlsberg was established in 1847

Carlsberg produced the first bottom-fermented beer commercially made in Denmark - or anywhere in Northern Europe. Jacob Christian Jacobsen's son Carl also became a brewer. The two men later disagreed to the extent that for a long time each had his own Carlsberg brewery. This historic feud ended shortly before the father's death, and the two breweries merged.

Both Jacobsens had been active in the application of science to brewing, and against this background Carlsberg Ws responsible for a major breakthrough in microbiology. This arose from quality problems, which turned out to be caused by "bad" strains in the mixed yeast cultures of the day. Furthering the work of Pasteur, Carlsberg scientist Emil Christian Hansen in 1883 isolated the first single-cell yeast culture. Subsequently, bottom-fermenting (or "lager") yeasts throughout the brewing industry came to be known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. This term is still used.

The younger Jacobsen set up a foundation to channel the profits of Carlsberg to the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the arts. This element is still built into the corporate structure, despite subsequent acquisitions and mergers.

Carl Jacobsen's love of the arts is reflected in the 1901 brewery buildings in Copenhagen. He produced his own drawings for the architect. The building is largely in Florentine style, although there are many other references. The stone elephants that guard the gate are modelled on those at the obelisk in Minerva Square, Rome; the chimney is shaped like an Egyptian lotus-blossom; on the roof of the brewhouse is a bronze sculpture depicting "Thor's Fight Against the Giants".

Inside, the brewhouse is long, narrow, and dizzyingly tall. At ground level, the two brewing lines of traditional copper vessels, with a batch size of 450-560 hectolitres, are impressive enough. Look up, and their copper chimneys seem to climb to the sky. Look to either side of this long hall, and there are four levels, each represented by a gallery with gilded railings. The levels are linked by spiral staircases, again with gilded railings. No wonder the arched windows at the end of the building seem so tall; they are four stories high.

The metaphor "cathedral" has been applied to many structures. This nave-like brewhouse truly looks like a cathedral of beer.

Published: JAN 23, 2002
In: Beer Hunter Online

Brewery Review

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