Stepping out from the Hotel Kong Arthur in central Copenhagen, all around me, merry people bounded down the cobbled streets sporting blue Santa hats. The bars full of happy customers, and the streets are lined with… foam? This was the scene that I was met with soon after leaving Nørrebro Bryghus in the trendy suburb of Nørrebro, and it appeared the closer to the city centre we walked the wilder the festivities became.
I’d heard rumours earlier that day that today was ‘J-Dag’ in Denmark, but what did that really mean?
What is J-Dag?
To celebrate the coming of Christmas, on the first Friday in November each year horse-drawn carts leave the Tuborg Brewery laden down with the limited edition Christmas beer (Julebryg) to deliver to the local pubs.
At 8:59 pm, around the country the Julebryg is launched! Pubs will start pouring drinks, free cans and limited-edition merchandise will be handed out by Carlsberg, and locals will dress up to celebrate – no J-Dag outfit is complete without a Tuborg-blue coloured Santa hats! Even replica snow (aka: foam) will coat the streets, particularly around Rådhuspladsen (Town Halls plaza) in the city centre where the biggest celebration takes place!
Each year, there’s a theme. In 2014 it was Michael Jackson, and as the 400 Carlsberg employees set off to visit 400 locations to give away free samples, merchandise, and singing the Julebyrg song to the tune of Jingle Bells.
Why is it called ‘J-Dag’? ‘Juleøl’ is the Danish word for Christmas beer (‘Jul’ means Christmas) and the word ‘dag’ is Danish for ‘day’ – what does that mean? J-Dag means ‘Christmas Brew Day!’
How did Julebryg begin?
It all began in 1980 when a special Christmas-themed commercial was created for the regular Tuborg pilsner beer. In it, Santa and Rudolph prioritise drinking a beer over delivering presents. The commercial was a hit!
Due to its popularity with the public, Tuborg decided to test a special ‘Christmas Beer’ in 1981. The beer was a success and is the fourth most sold beer in Denmark despite only being sold for 6-weeks every year!
J-Dag marks the beginning of the holiday season, but averaging a huge 5.7% alcohol level it gives every drinker a reason to be filled with holiday cheer! If you aren’t looking for such a big alcoholic kick or something a little lighter, there is the Julepilsner (Christmas pilsner) which may take your fancy which is 4.6% alcohol.
Is Tuborg the only brewery which makes the Julebryg (Christmas Brew)?
Not at all! Whilst Tuborg is the original brewers of the Julebryg, today many breweries create their own version to mark the holidays.
In Copenhagen, I sampled three different Christmas brews all with different but delightfully warm flavours.
The Tuborg beer is the most popular and is the longest-running Julebryg in Denmark.
Coming from famous Danish brewing company Carlsberg, the beer was created in 1981 after their Christmas advertisement became hugely popular amongst the public. With a blue label coating the outside of the bottle it is hard to mistake this beer which contains traces of caramel, liquorice, and black currant. Delicious!
Tuborg beer can be found everywhere in Denmark. Whether its local bars or the 7/11 supermarkets at every corner, there will be cases going out with signs on them reading ‘not to be open until 21:59 4/11/11’.
Run by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø since 2007 and located in Vesterbro, just off the main street, the Mikkeller offers 20 brews on-tap at a time with over half of them being Mikkeller brews.
Each year the brewery puts out Santa’s Little Helper – their Julebryg for the year. In 2010, the beer was a very sweet dark-brew containing traces of orange, coriander, cloves and aniseed; somewhat reminiscent of a Christmas plum pudding.
Whether you are Copenhagen during the holiday season or at another time of year, the trendy bar is a great spot to stop by for a drink with a truly cosy feeling. If you are brave, ask to see their strongest alcohol – it’s housed inside a tuxedo-wearing squirrel!
Micro-breweries have taken off across the world and it is no different in Copenhagen. One of the award-winning breweries in the city is Nørrebro Bryghu located where else but in Nørrebro.
The 2010 Nørrebro Julebryg was heavy on the Christmas spices; think ginger, clove and cinnamon, with a barely detectable taste of caramel. The taste was also quite fruity, a perfect combination with the spices reminding me of a traditional Christmas fruitcake.
Don’t just go for their Christmas beer though, they do a great selection of beers all year round and brew several of them on site. Whilst watching your drinks being made you can indulge in either a pub style meal or some fine dining in their restaurants. Beer tasting tours are also available.
Enjoy J-Dag, the blue Santa hats, the ‘snow’ that coats everything – just don’t get tackled into it like I did! – and taste as many of the different brews as you can. Each brewery has a unique set of notes in their Julebryg but all will taste like Christmas in your mouth!
Let me know in the comments below:
Does your country celebrate J-Dag or have a Christmas brew?
Gamle Carlsberg Vej 11, 1799 Valby, Denmark
Viktoriagade 8, 1655 København V, Denmark
Ryesgade 3, 2200 København N, Denmark
More about J-Dag:
- Find out more on the official Tuborg J-Dag Website
- Click here to out about J-dag festivities in Copenhagen
- Please have fun but drink your Julebryg responsibly!
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