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Denmark's cocktail renaissance

From beer to bespoke bars.

Photograph: Pexels

Text: Heather Storgaard

Anyone who has gone out to a bar in Denmark will know that beer is the eponymous drink of the nation of Carlsberg and Tuborg. Like their German neighbours, the Danes are internationally renowned for the beer they export across the world and famous among their Nordic neighbours for their drunken antics and relaxed alcohol laws. But there's beginning to be much more than beer to look out for if you're exploring Denmark's cities.

There's a sense that, in stark contrast to Nordic Cuisine, Denmark is still catching up somewhat when it comes to high-quality cocktail bars. Only five years ago, I remember well-regarded Aarhus bars not knowing or stocking tonic water and once being served gin as a shot, as if it was an aquavit replacement. Of course, that has all changed since, with Nordic-produced alcohols, including beer, wine and spirits being given pride of place in many bars and restaurants across the country. International bartenders have also brought trends and techniques to Denmark and shone a light on products little-known to Danish audiences. In many of my favourite drink spots, the working language is English or perhaps Spanish, with bartenders from around the world creating a perfect fusion of local and international tastes in a glass.

The start

Widely considered the first and still the finest modern Danish cocktail establishment, Copenhagen's Ruby opened in an 18th-century townhouse in the very centre of the city in 2007. It is, therefore, no surprise that it is internationally renowned, although it may shock you to hear that it remains Denmark's only entry in the global 50 Best Bar list last year, placing at number 87. Beyond Ruby, Copenhagen now has a range of well-established cocktail bars, including Lidkoeb and Duck & Cover around the corner from one another on Vesterbrogade.

"There's a sense that, in stark contrast to Nordic Cuisine, Denmark is still catching up somewhat when it comes to high-quality cocktail bars."

To Jutland

In recent years, top-quality bars have also spread far beyond Copenhagen. The bar Gedulgt has a real speak-easy vibe (it took me ten minutes to find my way inside last year!) with bases in both Aarhus and Aalborg. At Christmas, they went as Danish as you can get with an Æbleskiver-themed cocktail that was pure decadence. In the new Aarhus Ø area, Latinequartet favourite Force Majure has recently opened their new bar, Hella, serving a menu inspired by music and art. In such a new area, the space and open possibilities allow for new endeavours and innovation that were previously sometimes hard to see working in Aarhus's charming yet sometimes static narrow streets.

At home?

Last year, Bo Nygaard Larsen's book "Danske Cocktailbarer" lifted a lid on the magic behind some of the creations made in the best bars in the country, with a focus on Danish-produced spirits and native ingredients. If you can read Danish or pressure someone into working as a translator for you for an evening, creating some of the cocktails inside can be a fun evening with friends or adult family members. While you might not naturally reach for Aquavit or know your way around the new world of award-winning Danish whisky, the book will teach you how to add a local touch to your drinks.

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