By Allan Mylius Thomsen

Carlsberg – Probably the Best Beer in the World

For almost 200 years, Carlsberg, the largest brewery in Denmark, has produced some of the best and most popular beer in the world. This international success was founded on a brewer family’s passion for good beer

The Danish brewery Carlsberg is one of the world’s leading producers of beer. Few beer drinkers would admit to anything else but enjoying a cold Carlsberg from time to time. It took the brewery 150 years to grow from being a small Copenhagen-based enterprise to a large international corporation. Carlsberg supplies 150 markets with beer, they have about 27,000 employees worldwide and are among the breweries with the most labels in the world – from the rich and rumpy elephant beer to the classic lager and light beer. It’s all the result of a young man, Christen Jacobsen, who once decided to leave his home county Vendsyssel in northern Jutland in favour of the capital, Copenhagen.

Christen Jacobsen travelled to Copenhagen in 1801, guided by a dream of a better life. He hoped to find a better livelihood in the capital rather than face a bleak future as an impoverished peasant in Jutland. After a few days of job hunting, he found employment as a workman at an old brew house at No. 5 Brolæggerstræde in central Copenhagen. Jacobsen liked the job at the brew house. He took interest in the brewing process and quickly advanced.

In 1826, 25 years after his arrival to Copenhagen, Christen Jacobsen took over the production. He proved to be a skilful businessman, and in just a few years, the beer from Brolæggerstræde became one of the most popular and well-brewed beers in the capital.


Bavarian beer

However, it was Jacobsen’s son, Jacob Christian Jacobsen, who in earnest revolutionized brewing in Denmark. J.C. Jacobsen was born at the brew house on 2 September 1811. As a boy, J.C. helped his father to run the brewery. Later he took on an apprenticeship as a brewer, and at the young age of 17 he attended lectures by the prominent scientist H.C. Ørsted at Copenhagen University on the chemistry of brewing. This gave J.C. an exceptional insight into the chemical compound of this popular beverage.

In 1835, when J.C. was 24 years old, the young brewer was bereaved of his beloved father. Christen Jacobsen died and J.C. inherited the brewery on Brolæggerstræde. Just a year later, in Copenhagen, J.C. had his first taste of the very delectable bottom fermented Bavarian beer. He set out to develop a beer at his own brewery to match it – a project that sparked a unique product development.

He worked hard for many years at producing fine Bavarian beer. To develop the exact right taste, the beer must first ferment at a temperature of between 7 and 12 0C (45-560F) and then be cool stored. But keeping a constant temperature at the brew house was difficult. Things often went wrong for I.C and his men when falling victim to the whim of the very changeable Danish weather. Finally, J.C. decided to relocate production.

He found the perfect storage facility in one of Copenhagen’s old ramparts and was given permission to set up a brewery in a subterranean gunpowder depot. And then finally, in the winter of 1845 – 10 years after his first taste of Bavarian beer – J.C. Jacobsen’s brewery turned out the first 300 barrels. His advertisement in the newspaper read: ‘The first Bavarian beer from Mr. Jacobsen’s cellar under the ramparts’ – the beer was a great success.

However, for the ambitious brewer, conditions in the capital still weren’t optimal. The water in Copenhagen was so bad that it affected the quality of the beer. In response, J.C. relocated his brewery yet again – namely to the then pastoral hillside suburb of Valby where the water was pure. He named his newly constructed brewery after his then five-year-old son Carl, adding ‘berg’, an older word for ‘hill’ in Danish – thus the name Carlsberg. At the time, J.C. Jacobsen was one of the mightiest and most influential businessmen in Copenhagen.


The Carlsberg feud

Carl Jacobsen was given a very stern upbringing by his father. J.C.’s ambitions on behalf of his son were sky-high, and Carl often felt difficulty in living up to his father’s expectations.

Through the years, the father-son relationship suffered increasingly, finally ending in a painful fallout. In rebellion against his father, the 29-year-old Carl Jacobsen established his own brewery right opposite the brewery on hillside Valby and called it New Carlsberg, Ny Carlsberg. Shortly after, J.C. Jacobsen changed Carlsberg’s name to Old Carlsberg, Gamle Carlsberg. On 25 September 1876, J.C. disinherited his son. He set up the J.C. Jacobsen Carlsberg Foundation, which thereafter became the owner of his brewery empire.

However, it turned out that Carl Jacobsen was just as skilled a brewer as his father. New Carlsberg grew, and Carl Jacobsen became an influential Copenhagen businessman just as his father. Apart from brewing beer, Carl also had a passion for art. He devoted much of his self-made-man’s fortune to acquiring prized artefacts from around the world. Among other things, Carl Jacobsen became the benefactor of the New Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, granting the general public access to his extensive art collection. Carl Jacobsen also gave the capital city The Little Mermaid statue on quayside Langelinie – undoubtedly, one of the world’s most familiar sculptures.

The yeast mystery

While father and son rivalled in becoming the nation’s leading brewer, great difficulties still persisted with maintaining the quality of beer – not only in Denmark but throughout Europe. Large quantities of beer were poured into the gutter due to failed brewing. No one knew the reason for failed brewing, and all that could be done was to repeat the process. What they were unaware of was that yeast consists of different types of single yeast cells of which some actually harm the beer. In order to solve the mystery, I.C Jacobsen established the Carlsberg Laboratory as early as 1871 – the same year that his son Carl founded New Carlsberg. Here the head of the laboratory, the botanist Emil Christian Hansen, succeeded in isolating pure-culture yeast from harmful wild yeast. On 12 November 1883, Old Carlsberg used what Emil Hansen called Carlsberg’s bottom yeast No.1 – Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis – for the first time in brewing history. J.C. Jacobsen made this yeast strain available to all breweries worldwide. The mystery of beer had been solved – a discovery that in particular helped secure Carlsberg’s position as a powerhouse within the world of beer and made brewer Jacobsen an immensely wealthy man whose beer products are  retailed the world over.

During a travel to Rome in 1887, J.C. Jacobsen fell ill. He sent for his son Carl and the two were reconciled at the deathbed. J.C. Jacobsen died on 30 April 1887, 76 years of age. Despite the reconciliation of father and son, the two breweries – New and Old Carlsberg – continued as two separate companies. In 1903, the management at Old Carlsberg entered a revolutionary agreement with their most ardent competitor in the capital, the Tuborg Brewery. Among other, the agreement involved mutual support in tackling their competitors. New Carlsberg joined the agreement. Carl Jacobsen transferred ownership of his brewery to the New Carlsberg Foundation, which merged with his father’s foundation in 1906. Carl became chief executive of order of both breweries.

Carl Jacobsen died in 1914, 72 years of age. He left behind Denmark’s largest brewery – a heritage created by just three generations.


Carlsberg today

Today, Carlsberg Limited – the Carlsberg Group – consists of the Carlsberg Breweries, the Research Centre of Carlsberg Limited, Carlsberg Properties and the Carlsberg Foundation.

The Research Centre of Carlsberg Limited houses 80 state of the art laboratories and has 140 employees. The centre conducts research into, among other things, the processes involved in malting, brewing and fermentation.

The Carlsberg Foundation – founded in 1876 by J.C. Jacobsen – supports natural and social science and the humanities in Denmark. The foundation also founded the National History Museum in Frederiksberg and supports the Carlsberg Laboratory

The New Carlsberg Foundation – a subdivision of the Carlsberg Foundation – supports the purchase of art for Danish museums in collaboration with the Danish state and local Danish councils. The foundation also founded the New Carlsberg Glyptotek on H.C. Andersens Boulevard in central Copenhagen – a gift from the art-loving Jacobsen family to all interested in art. The building contains an impressive collection of antiquities and art from all over the world. The museum is open to the public every day of the week.

The brew house on Brolæggerstræde was in operation until 1869 and is today owned by the New Carlsberg Foundation. They still brew at J.C.’s old brew house in Valby. However, most of Carlsberg’s activities have been relocated to new facilities in Fredericia in Jutland, supplying the world market with beer.

In Valby there is a small museum of industrial history for the Carlsberg Breweries. The museum is on No. 11, Gamle Carlsbergvej  and is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm

J.C. Jacobsen’s first dark Bavarian lager is still produced and is called Gamle Carlsberg.