June 2008


Carlsberg arrived in Canada more than 35 years ago, one of the first foreign beers to establish a presence in this country. It would compete against the Canadian breweries of Labatt, Molson and the now extinct Carling O’Keefe. Since then the beer landscape has changed tremendously, with import beer becoming more and more popular.

During its time in Canada, Carling, Labatt, McAuslan and Moosehead produced the Danish beer. This all changed in January 2008 when domestic production stopped and Carlsberg was relaunched as a premium import. A new slim and stylish bottle, with the Carlsberg name engraved down its side, complemented the relaunch. The decision was made to alleviate consumer confusion and gain the much sought after “premium import” title. Many Canadians saw Carlsberg as an import brand with a domestic price and not as a real premium beer. Carlsberg’s marketing research showed that the Canadian beer drinker wants its beer brewed at its place of origin. They want the real Carlsberg.

The history of Carlsberg is an epic tale situated around the city of Copenhagen. At the time, beer in Denmark was dark, top-fermented wheat beer, like the kind Jacob Christian’s father brewed. Son J.C. Jacobsen was a Danish industrialist and philanthropist. He had no formal academic or scientific training. In the 1840’s J.C. realized that the production of beer, which had until then been done in numerous small breweries, now had to be based on scientific methods to become industrialized.

Jacob was determined to brew bottom-fermented lagers, like those pioneered in Bavaria, on a grand scale. He traveled to Munich and studied with Gabriel Sedlmaryr of the Spaten brewery. Legend has it that J.C. returned from a trip in 1845 with 2 litres of vital bottom fermented yeast which he kept cool, throughout the 950 km stage coach journey from Munich to Copenhagen, by dousing it with cold water and covering the containers with his fashionable “stove pipe” hat.

The first batch of bottom-fermented beer was brewed at his plant on November 10, 1847 in Valby, just outside of Copenhagen. It was the first brewery in Northern Europe to produce lager beer. As a country Denmark was third only to Germany and the Czech lands in popularizing lager brewing in the 1840’s.

From Jacob’s humble use of his top hat during the transporting of the original yeast strain, Carlsberg went on to become one of the leaders of the new science of brewing. J.C. wanted to make sure that beer of the highest quality would be produced. Therefore the Carlsberg Foundation was established in 1876 to promote scientific research. In one of the foundation’s laboratories Emil Hansen went on to isolate a single strain of yeast culture in 1883. This allowed brewers to control the quality of beers, eliminating bad yeast strains.

To mark the importance of this scientific breakthrough, pale lager yeast culture from that point on would be identified as Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis, therefore connecting Carlsberg with the lagering process forever. Carlsberg went on to also pioneer steam-brewing techniques and revolutionize refrigeration.

The Danish people rank third in beer drinking per capita, only behind the Czech Republic and Germany. However Denmark, when compared to the rest of Europe, is not necessarily the cheapest place to buy a beer. Taxes on alcohol are relatively high in Denmark. The vast number of beers is sold in returnable bottles and relatively little is available in draught. An essential Danish experience is buying a couple of beers and bringing them to the Nyhavn canal in Copenhagen. There the docks are lined with people of all ages enjoying their beers and the local atmosphere. It’s basically a spontaneous BYOB that is happening within the city. The area had a rough and seedy past as a naval port but brightly coloured buildings and tourists have replaced this.

The Danish population has also shown it cares about the environment by banning the use of cans for sale in Denmark. This hasn’t stopped the company from exporting cans of Carlsberg around the world. Carlsberg more then any other brewery, has helped popularize the golden lager style around the world. In fact in 1993 worldwide sales where five times larger then home sales. Historically Carlsberg has looked outside of its borders to quench the thirst of people from all over the world. The brand was first known outside the city, as it was shipped to Scotland in 1868, then throughout Scandinavia and the West Indies. Then 100 years later in 1968, Carlsberg opened its first foreign brewery in Blantyre, Malawi. Later still, breweries would be built in Israel and two in China.

I had the pleasure of visiting Scandinavia in the late nineties, Malmo Sweden to be exact. Malmo is just a short boat ride from the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. I took the shuttle boat to Copenhagen and what I immediately noticed was the amount of locals bringing back cases and cases of beer. More often then not this beer was Carlsberg. I inquired about this practice to a couple of locals and they said it was due to Sweden’s high taxes when it came to alcohol. In Denmark beer was cheaper and less regulated. It made more sense making a day trip to Copenhagen and stocking up, rather then buying from a government run beer store in Malmo.

Once docking in Copenhagen, I found myself in a culturally rich city. Copenhagen has many monuments, statues and public parks, not to mention beautiful Northern European architecture. These cultural aspects of Copenhagen are largely due to the involvement and investment of Carl Jacobsen, son of Carlsberg founder J.C. Jacobsen. Carl helped develop Copenhagen into the city of soaring spires.

He was an eager cultural enthusiast known for his interest in Greek and classical art. This led to his founding the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek 1897, an art museum still regarded as an important museum of Danish works. Carl often took part in civic discussions about the architecture within Copenhagen. He paid for the restoration of several churches and public buildings. In 1913 Carl even donated the little mermaid statue, which went on to become the symbol of the city.

The name Carlsberg was taken from J.C.’s son’s name, Carl and the Danish word for hill, “berg”. As the brewery was situated on a hill at Valby, just outside Copenhagen. The famous crown on the Carlsberg label indicates that the brewery supplies beer to the Danish Royal family. This started during the reign of Christian IX and in 1904 they were awarded with the Royal Warrant. As such, the beer is sometimes called “Hof Beer” after the royal court.

The Carlsberg logo was created in 1904 by Thorvold Bindesboell in the art noveau style. The award winning logo has stood the test of time remaining largely unchanged to this day. In Danish, beer is called “OL”, which has the same roots as the English word “ale”. Both words are said to derive from the Old Saxon invocation of religious ecstasy. That’s not the only thing that the Danes share with the English. Just like the British, the Danes have quite the beer drinking reputation in Scandinavia.

The Danes are much more rambuncous and lively drinkers then their Swedish neighbors. This point was proven recently when an obviously well lubricated Danish soccer “fan” attacked a referee during a Euro 2008 qualification match against Sweden. The fan was reacting to a penalty call and if it wasn’t for the Danish players, the referee would definitely have been struck. Needless to say the game was called off and Sweden was given the victory. Denmark did not end up qualifying for Euro 2008 but there would still be a large Danish presence at the event; Carlsberg, as the main sponsor.

Their involvement in soccer doesn’t stop there. They are the main shirt sponsor for local team Copenhagen FC as well as Liverpool FC in the English Premiership. They are also the beer provider of Toronto FC. This global reach in sports sponsorship lends itself to Carlsberg’s overall global philosophy.

Like the large majestic elephants that have stood guard at the gates of the brewery since 1901, Carlsberg is a global beer power. They bought out their nearest Danish beer rival, Tuborg in 1970, which actually outsells Carlsberg in Denmark’s home market. They own Holsten in Germany, Tetly in the United Kingdom, Pripps in Sweden, Skol in Brazil and own 50% of the popular Russian beer Baltika. J.C. Jacobsen’s dream of brewing beer on a global scale has come true. Carlsberg is truly the world’s beer.

However the company’s slogan, “probably the best beer in the world” is an obvious exaggeration. The beer itself is an easy to drink golden lager; slightly bitter with a dry finish. Try it for yourself, and see if you agree with the company’s bold slogan.


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