Juleøl, Danish for Christmas beer, is of the most beloved drinks amongst Copenhageners when the Christmas atmosphere is in the air, starting from the first Friday in November. Travellers will find Christmas beers everywhere in town – at all the classic Danish dive bars, also known as “bodegas”, as well as at the hip craft beer pubs scattered all over the city.
Darker and stronger than the classic pilsner, Christmas Beer is a unique tradition originating from the Nordic countries which can be traced back to the Viking age. The Vikings, who worshipped the Nordic gods, used to celebrate the dark winter days getting longer and lighter approximately after December 21st, and these celebrations were called “jól” in Old Norse. To celebrate, the Vikings used to drink a dark, strong beer, and the party used to last until there was nothing left to drink. They said that they were “drinking jól”. The same word evolved into the Danish “Jul”, which today actually means “Christmas”, and which explains the origin of the concept of “Juleøl”, Christmas beer.
Todays’ seasonal and festive beers are brewed in many different versions yet save countless history and traditions. The Christmas brews as we know them, largely stem from the 17th-century Bavarian monasteries, where local monks developed an extra-strong and nutritious double buck brewed for Lent, during which they weren’t allowed to eat meat, and a full and nutritious beer was thus essential.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and the strong, dark beer becomes popular in Denmark once again. Initially as a festive brew at Easter (in 1905 the world-famous Danish brewery Carlsberg launched their first-ever Easter brew). Then came the first Danish commercial Christmas brew introduced in Funen in the late ‘50s. Both were chestnut coloured and richly malty bock beers with a hint of liquorice, and it was - and still is - an easy-drinking pleasure, albeit a bit strong.
Today’s unofficial king of Danish Christmas beers, the Tuborg Julebryg, was launched in the early ’80s along with an iconic marketing campaign, that most Danes know by heart, even today. Christmas beer quickly became a common concept in the Danish household and helped fuel the interest in brewing and drinking Christmas beer across the country even further.
In the early ’00s, Copenhagen experienced a craft beer revolution, which turned the beer market upside down, also when it comes to Christmas beers. Local and innovative breweries with a focus on high-quality craft beers popped up everywhere and today, practically all of them let the jingle bells ring for one type of Christmas brew or another.
The largest number of Christmas beers in the world
The passion for drinking jól in Denmark has thus survived for centuries, and today no other city in the world has more cosy and cool beer bars and restaurants dedicated to the art of celebrating the festive season with a toast of Christmas beer, than Copenhagen.
Today, more than 220 Danish breweries produce a world record number of Christmas beers with around 350 varieties – and the Copenhagen breweries are in a fine Christmas mood too, of course. The quality, quantity, and variety of Christmas beers are greater than ever before and nowadays includes both non-alcoholic, light, and bitter beer styles too.
The craft beer-style Christmas beers
This year alone, new Christmas treats are launched from the Copenhagen breweries Slowburn Brewing, Gamma Brewing, To Øl, Mikkeller and Flying Couch – and all beers taste very different. From an easy and sour beer from Flying Couch to a heavy, pitch-black imperial stout from Gamma Brewing.
The rustic and malt-based dark bock beer is still the most common type of Christmas beer among the breweries in general, but today at the local bars, restaurants, and bottle shops it is possible to find a richness of beer styles from the many inventive Copenhagen breweries. Do make a note, however, on the alcohol percentages of the different Christmas beers, as they vary considerably.
The sweet and bitter India Pale Ale (IPA) with exotic fruit flavours, for instance, is now a common and wonderful addition to the Danish Tradition of Christmas beers. It is a result of the Danish beer revolution and the long-lasting fetish for hops by beer enthusiasts and brewmasters alike.
The most popular Christmas brew of the ‘beer revolutionaries’ is probably Golden Naked Christmas Ale from Jacobsen (7.5 % alcohol), whilst another hugely popular ‘revolutionary’ Christmas beer is Stjernebryg from Herslev Bryghus (9.5 %).
As a new feature to the enormous range of varieties of Christmas beers, you will find non-alcoholic beers, that is. The well-known Mikkeller brewery was a first mover within this field, but other breweries, like To Øl, have joined the trend as well.
To quench your thirst, perhaps skip by BrewPub, the only existing brewery in Copenhagen’s historic city centre, busy, but cosy and with a fine restaurant too, where the dishes are often made with beer too. It is a favourite watering hole for beer lovers of nearly 20 years. Opt for e.g., an Skt. Anna – a Belgian dubbel. 5.5 % ABV or Schlager – a dark lager. 5.6 % ABV.
Alternatively, visit Nørrebro Bryghus, a true pioneer at the Copenhagen beer scene and popular amongst locals and visitors alike due to its high-quality beers and inventive take on the same subject. Ask for e.g., a Jule IPA – IPA. % 6.3 % ABV or a Julebryg – dark ale. 7.0 % ABV.