As a part time Dane, I go home to Denmark as often as I can. Arriving from Oslo to the northern harbor town of Frederikshavn, my natural impulse is to go straight for the train and up to my hometown of Skagen. But, sometimes, the lure of the rest of Denmark becomes to strong… That and the lure of craft beer and Aalborg!
Aalborg is not a strange exotic place to most Norwegians, but rather the nearest, big enough, big town in our beloved Denmark. Here we go to soak in all that wonderful Danish feeling of freedom and hygge (coziness). Sure, prices aren’t what they used to be on most products, the Danish krone now making most of us look twice at the receipts, but we can still drink a few beers and think “see, this is how civilized people live” when we pay perhaps a bit more than we realize for a pint or a håndbajer (hand held bottle of beer). For me, Aalborg is perhaps my favorite big Danish city. Having lived in Copenhagen, I do love the place, but it can get a bit “much” sometimes. Aarhus, I think is well worth a visit, but not really a place I ever felt attached to. Aalborg however is the place we went to get a bit of a “Big City” break from tiny Skagen, and when Frederikshavn just doesn’t hack it (and when does it?). So I feel somehow, at home when I go there.
Arriving at the wonderful train station in Aalborg, I usually go straight up towards Rantzhausgade. This is because I arrive quite early most times, and it is where I would shop craft beer. Used to, as the wonderful Ølkonsortiet now no longer exists. So I go to a nice place called Caféministeriet, where I tend to buy a sandwich, a big latte to go and sit down outside on the little square in front.
After this I will usually look up some sort of cultural site, like the city museum or go and sit in front of the wonderful cathedral and feel Danish life and civilization wash over me. It’s like I shake out those Norwegian cobwebs, my Danish tongue grows into place, and my accent starts singing and before I know it, I’ll talk to people in Aalborg with the comfort of a sometime Skawbo (as in, even more rural than the people of Aalborg). I love you Denmark!
Well, I’m probably thirsty now, but in order to keep my cool a bit, I now go to Vingårdsgade and the excellent Vinspecialisten. Here they usually let me buy whatever I want and then allow me to leave my shopping there, thus minimizing the effort of having to schlep all that stuff around Aalborg, and not arriving in the shop tipsy ending up buying or rather, spending too much money.
They have a lot of the usual faire here, from Scandinavia, Europe and the states, which is great, but what I really like is how up to date they are with some of great, but not so “showy” Danish craft breweries like Amager, Det Lille Bryggeri and Ebeltoft, to name just a few. They know me when I arrive now, and often have a tip or two, which I love. Hey, I’m on holiday, let others do the thinking for me, right?
Aalborg is the 4th largest city in Denmark. But it feels bigger in some ways, and more important. It was for a long time the 2nd biggest, far more important than Aarhus. But when Denmark lost Norway in 1814 it lost its status as main hub for trade up north. It has of course grown with industrialization but has also been passed in size by Aarhus and Odense. Like the two former, there are a lot of students here, so it feels and looks like a young city. Arriving by ferry from either Oslo or Gothenburg, Aalborg is only 1 hour and 10 minutes away by trains, leaving hourly from Frederikshavn. Arriving by ferry at Hirtshals the travel time is about the same. It takes just over a hour by train from Aarhus, there’s Aalborg airport as well. Train from Copenhagen takes about 4 hours and 20 minutes.
From Vingårdsgade, I now usually head due north towards the Limfjord Bridge.
Just two blocks before the bridge lies Borgergade and the one place I HAVE to visit when I am in Aalborg, The Wharf.
The Wharf, at first glance may look like a Værthus, or an English pub, you can just about make out some football type… stuff, when on the outside you see a number of old style metal beer signs. One of them proudly proclaiming the words Limfjords Porter, the beer of beers from Aalborg. But this is not why you go here, you go here because this is Scandinavias only cask pub!
Look at the wall behind the bartender and you will see a long row of metal casks, some of them waiting, some of them open. Here you get a wonderful set of proper, CAMRA certified ales from mostly England, but sometimes Wales and Ireland, you get ciders like you had never left Blighty and sometimes they even have Perry. And even though it is a bit dry and sometimes burnt, you can even get a Cornish Pasty or a pie. I seriously get a tear in my eye just thinking of this place.
I may have spent 3 hours here when I float through town towards my next destination. This usually means a 5-10-minute walk back towards the Cathedral and Obels plads. This is where Søgaards Bryghus is located. A restaurant, pub and brewery, is recently changed its looks to a more, old days, English/Irish pub place, even renaming the pub part. The Søgaards beers are nice, they go well with the burgers, and there’s even the bonus of drinking beers from a brewery called Two Face. These beers are a side project of the guys who brew Søgaards own beers. At one time there used to be a lot of beer from Beer Here as well, but now those das seem to be over. The square outside is wonderful and if the guys working there get a hint that you’re really keen on craft beer and seem to enjoy the beers they brew, well, you might get a taste of something a little extra?
A side note to this beer safari is the story behind what many consider the best beer in Denmark. Back in the day, when any town in Denmark of a proper size had a big brewery, they had Urban in Aalborg. It is long gone. Back in the days when all the mid-sized and bigger regional breweries consolidated and ended up being ‘Royal UniBrew’ the Urban name was lost to history. So, while Aarhus, Odense and Randers still “have” their Ceres, Albani and Thors pilsners, Aarhus has nothing. Or, rather, the kind of do have one beer. The regional brewery called Thisted snapped up the recipe for one wonderful beer, and this beer can be enjoyed right here in Aalborg where it once came from. That beer is the sublime Limfjords Porter.
Well, if you can keep up, it is time to cross the shopping streets and head east. Past the big shopping centre in the middle of the city, there lies a real Craft Beer bar. So real, it seems, when you walk down the steps and up to the bar, it feels not so much like Aalborg anymore as a small slice of Copenhagen.
This is Basement Beer Bar in Løkkegade. Just check out Untappd, it is a verified site, beer list continuously updated and you can even fill up crowlers here. The beers are top notch Danish, Scandinavian and from much further away. A lovely place with a great atmosphere, this is where I usually end my Aalborg journey with a few small glasses of fine faire.
Now I have to walk all the way back to the bottle shop and pick up my beers before I get the train home to Skagen… Oh well, usually works out ok.
In Aalborg they have their very own Beer Walk. You can pick up a taster glass and vouchers for 6 samples at several of the places I mentioned here, the visitor centre, and some of the hotels in town. Its 125 DKK. I did it once, mostly because I wanted the glass, I was going to the same places anyhow, but if you want to check out some of the other places in Aalborg, that’s fine. The only other places I really like going to are Wildebeest Gastropub around the corner from Basement Beer Bar and John Bull Pub Aalborg, who has some good stuff on tap and a well-stocked fridge.
So, that was my Aalborg Beer Safari. Hope it inspires you to visit Aalborg.