A Visit to the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen

I’ll be honest right up front – Carlsberg wasn’t a beer brand I ever gave much thought to. If you’d asked me to name five big beer companies, Carlsberg wouldn’t have even been a consideration. But that all changed after my husband and I toured the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen, Denmark. Just the entrance alone told us this was going to be an interesting experience:

Carlsberg brewery entrance

A man named J. C. Jacobsen founded Carlsberg in 1847, after studying brewing in Bavaria. He named the brewery after his son, Carl, and the Danish word for hill, “bjerg”. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Mr. Jacobsen and his company.

In 1867, a massive fire damaged much of the brewery. But instead of letting this accident ruin his business, Mr. Jacobsen used it as an opportunity. He had the brewery rebuilt using steel girders and I-beams in an attempt to make it fireproof. He also modernized the cooling system which improved the quality of the beer.

Mr. Jacobsen took brewing to a whole new level. In 1875 he founded the Carlsberg Laboratory to study the malting, fermenting and brewing processes. One of the great conundrums of brewing at the time was the difficulty in obtaining fresh yeast. Beer, therefore was often contaminated. This problem was solved at the Carlsberg labs in 1883 by professor Emil Christian Hansen. He discovered that yeast culture could be cultivated, which allowed him to produce a pure strain of brewer’s yeast. This discovery could have made Mr. Jacobsen a very wealthy man. But instead of selling the secret, he gave the information away to brewmasters around the world. Pretty remarkable. I suppose he felt a kinship with other brewers and figured their craft benefited more from sharing information than by hoarding it. Though, sometimes a little “magical” intervention couldn’t hurt either:

Not only was Mr. Jacobsen a shrewd businessman and supporter of the sciences, but he also felt a social obligation to his workers. At a time when there were very few social programs available for workers, Jacobsen implemented medical aid, illness supports, pensions, and even funeral services for employees.

Around this time, Jacobsen’s son Carl had returned from a stint in Europe where he, too, studied brewing. Mr. Jacobsen invited his son to brew his own style of beer at the brewery. Carl named his brewery New Carlsberg, and soon became direct competition with his own father’s long-standing brand. Carl increased production and cut the brewing time in half. Soon, sales of New Carlsberg began to outsell that of Old Carlsberg. A feud between father and son resulted in Mr. Jacobsen evicting his son from the brewery. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to force Carl to stop using the company label. Thankfully, they reconciled just before Mr. Jacobsen’s death.

Carlsberg brewery

Gamle Carlsberg is Danish for Old Carlsberg

This tale of competition and copyright infringement (before there were laws against such things) makes Carl sound like a terrible son, doesn’t it? But it’s much more complicated than that. This was just the case of two entrepreneurial men with different approaches to business, who happened to be related.

Despite their differences, both men had a lot in common, too. For example, they both believed that industrial buildings could also be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This explains the curved arches and beautiful brickwork of the brewery buildings. In 1900, Carl had the now-famous twisting chimney built, to prove that an industrial feature could also be a work of art:

For the sake of comparison, here are two other chimneys on the premises, built in 1879 and 1891, respectively:

Carl also believed, much like his father had, in creating social change. He implemented pension funds for staff, as well as the eight-hour workday. Pretty progressive for the time!

In 1906 he merged the Old and New Carlsberg companies under one name, Carlsberg Breweries. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Carlsberg Laboratory continued to make scientific leaps and bounds. In 1909, S. P. L. Sørensen, head of the lab, created the pH scale, which is still used today!

Along with a very detailed and extensive history lesson, the self-guided tour of Carlsberg also taught us some little-known facts. This one in particular blew our minds:

Something else we weren’t expecting, was the incredibly extensive collection of Carlsberg beer bottles from around the world. (I imagine the number in their collection has gone up since our visit!)

And if beer bottle collections don’t excite you, the collection they had outside might be more your speed (pun intended). This 1923 Model T Ford was originally used at the Tuborg Brewery. Tuborg became part of the Carlsberg Group in 1970.

This nifty looking vehicle is a Chevrolet Six, built in 1931. Carlsberg retro-fitted it to carry beer barrels.

Or maybe you prefer sculpture? This replica of the Little Mermaid sits in the back garden of the brewery. Why do they have a replica here, you might ask? Because Carl Jacobsen himself donated the original Little Mermaid statue to the city of Copenhagen in 1913!

Carlsberg also has an interactive area in the brewery museum where you can test your senses. Here, my hubby is demonstrating the olfactory display. As you know, your sense of smell is a very important part of tasting food and drinks:

Also on site are a few Jutland horses. Look at those fuzzy legs! Jutland horses are Denmark’s national draught horse. In the Middle Ages their ancestors were used as warhorses because of their strength and ability to withstand the cold. (Notice their stocky build and shorter-than-average legs). They are something of an endangered species now, with only about 1000 remaining.

Carlsberg used these horses, as well as other breeds, to transport beer for decades in the early days. Now, however, these Jutland horses are merely kept as brand ambassadors.

And, of course, no brewery tour would be complete without a beer tasting!

Overall we spent a few solid hours here. I liked the self-guided format, which doesn’t work with all museums or exhibits. In this case, though, there was a lot to read and explore, so it was nice to be able to take our time in the areas we found most interesting. Plus, an added bonus was a Carlsberg sticker that came with the admission ticket. We kept ours, though they did have a place to put them after you were finished with the tour, if you felt so inclined:

You can now download this article at GPSMYCITY here: A Visit to the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen

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