Gross or Cool? This Danish Music Festival Is Converting Urine Into Beer

Roskilde Music Festival
Roskilde Music Festival via Wikipedia

At any given music festival at any given time, it’s pretty much guaranteed hordes of people will be waiting in a long line for beer and in a long line to piss it all away. Now, the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark has announced an initiative to stop wasting precious, precious urine by converting it into beer. Well, sort of.

It’s not a new trend towards carefully-brewed craft beer for urophagists; rather, they’re going to be funneling festival-goers’ urine to fertilize malting barley, thus creating a sustainable method of eliminating waste and farming. This is our future.The Danish Agriculture & Food Council (DAFC) is partnering with Roskilde Music Festival organizers to promote this “piss to pilsner” initiative, as well as less interesting (or less gross, depending on your viewpoint) eco-friendly moves like recycled cups, organic wines and spirits, and car-sharing programs.

“The huge amount of urine produced at festivals was having a negative impact on the environment and the sewage system,” says Leif Nielsen from the DAFC. “But beercycling will turn the urine into a resource.”

Hey, if Lady Gaga can get puked on for the sake of performance art at SXSW, you can certainly use your urine for a good cause.

Say ‘Hej’ to the Happiest Country in the World

The UN has released their 2013 Happiness Report, the second of its kind, surveying 156 nations. And the world’s happiest country is…

…Denmark! The tiny country of 5.6 million people (less than three quarters the size of New York CIty) snagged the top title for the second year in a row. And as 60 Minutes‘ Morley Safer reported several years ago, the nation has for the past three decades "in survey after survey…consistently beat the rest of the world in the happiness stakes."

Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden round out the Top 5. The United States comes in at 17, behind Mexico and Panama, but beating the United Kingdom by five spots. And coming in last place is Togo.

According to the "Official Website of Denmark": "Back in 1973, the European Commission decided to set up a ‘Eurobarometer’ to find out about issues affecting its citizens. Since then member states have been surveyed about well-being and happiness. Amazingly Denmark has topped the table every year since 1973."

How do they do it? Why are the Danes so darn happy? Is it because they grow up on a steady diet of herring and Hans Christian Andersen? It’s not constantly making whoopie—they’re not in the Top 10 Sexually Satisfied Countries in the World.

Maybe there’s a clue in the welcome message on Denmark’s official site: "Explore the universe of Denmark.dk. The fast track to facts, articles and news about the Danish society." One of the main images in rotation on the site is a picture of people partying in the streets of Copenhagen. One crazy Dane is even bodysurfing.

The description for USA.gov, the official site of the United States, is downright depressing in comparison:

"Official web portal contains comprehensive information on government resources, services and forms for citizens, businesses and government." And it looks like an out-of-the-box site created in 1992.

Could the difference boil down to how elected officials perceive their own country? Or maybe Danes elect happy people and Americans elect…government agents. The Danish site zeroes in on "exploration" and "society," while the American site focuses on "forms" and "government." One is social and exploratory, offering a "universe." The other invites you to wait in line at the DMV.

But making it a beauty contest of websites is exactly something a dumb American like me would do. From Miss America to American Idol to Judge Judy, we are a society that puts an undo emphasis on evaluating others, while rarely taking a long hard look in the mirror. It’s a supremely anti-social and anti-exploratory attitude—the exact opposite of the one our exploratory and socially-inclined Danish friends have. Perhaps that’s where a lot of American discontent is brewed: the grass is always greener, keeping up with the Joneses and all that concern with everyone else’s reality. Not so in Denmark.

“The great thing about Danish society is that it doesn’t judge other people’s lives," says Christian Bjørnskov, an economic professor at Aarhus Business School and expert on the topic of happiness. "It allows them to choose the kind of life they want to live, which is sometimes not always possible in other countries, so this helps add to the overall satisfaction of people living here."

What he neglected to mention was that it’s also about choosing the kind of beer they want to drink. And the primary social lubricant is the perfectly balanced and complex pale gold lager, Carlsberg, which has been the nation’s most popular beer since it was first brewed in 1847. Germany, Belgium and England may be known for their world-class brews, but it was Danish mycologist Emil Christian Hansen who originally described the yeast that is used to produce lagers. And since he was working for the Carlsberg brewery at the time, the yeast was named Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. I experienced first Carlsberg in Copenhagen, and it immediately became one of my favorite beers. It’s also a common sight in bars and cafes across France, where it first arrived in 1945.

But before you book a ticket to the fabled City of Spires so you can wash down some fresh herring with a cold one (sitting by the statue of the Little Mermaid, of course), keep in mind that while you will likely get a dopamine boost as a traveler to Denmark, a good part of Danish happiness comes from the fact that Danes enjoy free college education, free emergency hospitalization and free basic healthcare. It’s the kind of satisfying policy that makes some Americans green with envy.

Sure, Denmark may be pretty swell these days. But it wasn’t always so. After all, Hamlet was a Dane.

Watch a TED Talk in which sociologist Emilia van Hauen asks and answers these questions: Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? What could other countries teach us about happiness? And why is the happy life not the same as the perfect life?

image: Denmark.dk

Everything Now Sold Everywhere: Duane Reade’s New Growler-Filling Stations

As I left the bar last night I remembered that I had to pick up some razors and toilet paper, so I popped into the Duane Reade on 14th Street by Union Square, a new-ish shop occupying part of the space that was once a Virgin megastore. I’ve long known that the ubiquitous New York drugstore chain was adding all sorts of items, from fresh produce to ready-made sandwiches, in a bid to get people to shop there and nowhere else, but I wasn’t prepared for this: Duane Reade now has a well-stocked growler-filling station.

I’ve been a fan of growlers (refillable beer containers) for years, because everything about them is good: You get fresh draft beer–the best kind of beer–to enjoy at home, it costs way less than it would at a bar, and you’re saving the environment by using your own container and creating no waste. But something about growlers always seemed a bit too folksy for a chain like Duane Reade, where everything is shrink-wrapped and safety-sealed. Add three X’s on the side and your growler looks like something a barefoot hillbilly would drink moonshine out of.  But with "Brew York City," Duane Reade is going for it, and that’s good for beer enthusiasts such as myself, and bad for small specialty beer stores. 

I didn’t have a growler with me, plus I had three Guinness and a Jameson in my belly, so I didn’t partake, but I did take a good look at Duane Reade’s growler setup. It’s impressive. They’ve got a wall of growlers you can purchase if you don’t already own one–like the amazing ceramic growler Kaufmann Mercantile sells–for just $3.99. (At my local growlery they cost five bucks apiece.) And Duane Reade has no fewer than nine beers on tap, which is more than some bars have. The selection is impressive, if somewhat mainstream, with beers from such noted breweries as Bear Republic, Captain Lawrence, Founders, the Brooklyn Brewery, and Sixpoint. Best of all, they’ve got the cheapest growler prices I’ve ever seen, with all of them coming in at under ten bucks. 

Grok this: In New York these days, almost every decent beer costs at least $12 a six-pack, with some downtown bodegas charging up to $15. A growler holds 64 ounces of beer, which is just 10 ounces shy of a sixer, and the beer is better simply by virtue of coming from a keg. Assuming that Duane Reade has a rigorous policy of keeping their tap-lines clean, a $7.99 growler fill is an unbelievable bargain. I usually pay in a range of $12 to $16. So, awesome beer, cheap, and available right where you are. If you really love good beer, that’s hard to resist. 

So, the downside? Mom and pop beer shops are in trouble, because a Walmart equivalent has entered the market. They’ve got scale, pricing power, and ubiquitousness. No, they don’t have much soul, but for a five-dollar price difference for the same product, most people will deal with it. For the time being, little shops like The Ploughman will maintain a slight edge among purists by having edgier brews (Duane Reade sells Shock Top). For many people, though, Duane Reade will be their introduction to the growler world, and they’re going to like it.

Despite my own aversion to chain stores and love for small business, I will be bringing at least one of my two growlers to work with me on Friday, to fill up with fresh draft beer before heading to Brooklyn for the weekend. Price, convenience, quality. It matters to me, and Duane Reade is doing it well. It’s too good to ignore, or stand on some indie-beer principle. Sometimes I just want a cold one, and boy do they have it. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Hey Beer World: Stop Worrying and Embrace the Growler Already; Wine Kegs, Growlers, and Plorks: Let’s Hear It for the Evolution of Booze Containers; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter

It’s Your Beer and You Can Do Anything You Want With It

It was a Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, and it was hot. Super hot. Equatorial Guinea hot. So hot that the flowers I had on the balcony got fried, even though I had just watered them. I wanted a light, refreshing beer to help me keep cool while I cruised into the evening, but all we had hiding in the back of the fridge were a handful of bottles of Troegs Mad Elf Ale from some cheeful holiday party two seasons ago. Mad Elf is a fine brew, but it’s a Belgian-style strong dark ale made with cherries, honey, and chocolate malts–hardly a summertime sipper. What to do? I pulled a Spiegelau IPA glass from the freezer, filled it halfway with Mad Elf, and topped it off with ice-cold seltzer water fresh from my SodaStream Penguin. It was absolutely delicious, transforming the brew from a heavy winter ale designed to "warm your heart" to a lightly spiced, extremely refreshing session beer that reminded somewhat of an English shandy. It was at that moment that I asked myself, why haven’t I ever done this before? 

I’ve been on this session beer kick for a while. It’s kind of a personal backlash against the trend toward higher-alcohol beers. Session beers are low-alcohol beers that you "session," which, to me, means that rather than counting how many beers you’ve had, you simply count how long you’ve been drinking. But I haven’t had much luck finding good session beers in my neighborhood. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head told me once that consumers put a big premium on the alcohol content of beers, so session brews aren’t the moneymakers that IPA beers are.

So, there aren’t a lot of session beers out there, but nothing was stopping me from making my own. And far from ruining it, the seltzer made the Mad Elf better, dialing down the winter spices and opening up a bouquet of mildly sweet, almost tropical flavors. It switched from a winter beer to a summer beer just like that. 

Purists might cringe, but I reckon there are all kinds of beers that might benefit from the addition of some seltzer, or a couple of ice cubes, or a splash of lemonade, or ginger ale, or Aperol, or whatever you feel like trying. Yes, we all know the old joke about how American beer is like sex in a canoe. It no longer holds true, of course, since American craft beer is the best in the world these days, but all the same, sometimes I do actually want a beer that’s fucking close to water. I want refreshment, hydration, a little bit of flavor, and, not exactly a bite per se, but enough alcohol to ever-so-slowly make me relaxed and happy on a scorching afternoon in Brooklyn. 

The point is, it’s your beer, you bought it, and you can do anything you want to it. Experiment. Drink. Be cool. 

[Related: Spiegelau Creates New IPA Beer Glass, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Create New Beer to Fill It With; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

This Weekend: You Be The Judge At Homebrewklyn

It’s a common discussion when chatting over drinks at your local watering hole: “This is fun, but I wish it were somehow a contest, and that I got to pick the winner.” Homebrewklyn: Homebrewer’s Contest & Festival, happening in the heart of Brooklyn this Saturday, June 22, has got you covered.

Twenty different home brewers—not all of them sporting neck beards, let’s hope—are going head to head in a battle of booze where you, yes you, help to crown the winner. Doesn’t hurt that Charlito’s Cocina is providing complimentary cured meats on the side. It’s an artisanal wonderland! And you can get discounted tickets for just $25.

Who do we like headed into this sudsy thunderdome? The names range from the playful (Casey Soloff’s “Kiwi’s Big Adventure”) to the intense (Robert and Christopher’s “Adulthood”) to the downright worrisome (Kate Boicourt’s “The Venus de Gowanus”). Personally, I’d like to sample Shannon Bowser’s “Goldbrick Imperial Farmous.” Does that sound robust or what.

Follow Miles on Twitter here

Cheers to Science, and Beer, and Using Science to Justify Your Beer-Drinking

I went to a cool event last night at the Bell House in Gowanus as part of the World Science Festival, and took away many lessons from it, only some of which involve science. The event was called Cheers to Science: A Drinkable Feast of Beer, Biotechnology, and Archaeology, and it was one of those zeitgeisty situations where everything that’s having a moment right now came together in one place, and there was beer. The event featured Sam Calagione, the weird-beer-loving founder of Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware, and biomolecular archeologist Patrick E. McGovern, a brainy science guy who helps Calagione recreate ancient beers like Dogfish Head Ta Henket, the beer the pyramid builders drank. I’ve already said enough, you can see that this collaboration is smart as hell. Not only do you get to drink beer while you learn about history and science, you have to drink beer to learn about history and science. Brilliant. But there’s more. 

Everything’s a TED Talk These Days

Calagione and McGovern stood on stage, pint glasses in hand, wireless microphones attached to their heads, discussing the smart things they do. Those things involve traveling the world looking for evidence of ancient drinking rituals, digging up old cups and jugs, and scraping them for whatever residue might be left to tell them about the booze (usually beer, or some beer/wine hybrid) that was in them. Then the two get together at Calagione’s brewery and do their very best to recreate those drinks. The ease of their rapport, the accessible-yet-high-minded topics they discussed, and their infectious enthusiasm reminded me of Steve Jobs on stage debuting the first iPhone, or A.J. Jacobs talking about what it really takes to be healthy in his TED Talk. You get smarter just being in the room, and you’re never bored. (Sample exchange–McGovern: "Which came first, bread or beer? If you had your choice, what would it be?" Calagione: "Not bread.") 

Science is Hot

 From Jesse screaming "Science!" in Breaking Bad to Reddit’s worship of Tesla and other bleeding-edge companies, it’s never been cooler to be into science. If you’re involved in science–in smashing through ignorance, following the scientific method, and advancing human knowlege–you’re somewhat of a hero, at least to those who don’t bang the drum for Intelligent Design and close their ears and go lalala whenver a coherent argument gets in the way of their belief system. And the pro-science camp is going to be running things for the foreseeable future, saving the world from global warming, eliminating malaria, and finally getting around to those flying cars, so I’m right there with ’em, as long as they don’t get insufferably cocky.

The Rock Star Brewmaster Has Arrived

 Sam Calagione is a smart guy. He’s also young, well-spoken, and handsome. While I truly believe he’s a beer-brewer at heart, he’s clearly made the decision to become the public face of his company, and, in many ways, the craft-brewing industry. I think he’s as good an ambassador as any. And there’s a precedent for him to follow. There were no celebrity chefs before Wolfgang Puck came along and fed the press those great Austrian-inflected soundbites, and later got on TV and virtually took viewers into his restaurants. Now every chef is a celebrity chef. It’s practically required. Next came celebrity bartenders and mixologists (whatever the distinction may be) like Dale DeGroff. Celebrity brewers are ready for their moment. While not all of them will want to leave their brewing kettles to do the speaking circuit, the ones who do–like the Brooklyn Brewery‘s Garrett Oliver, Sam Adams’ Jim Koch, and Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman–will find a receptive audience, especially if they’re willing to drop some real beer knowledge instead of just shilling their own brands. 

The Rock Star Professor Is Back

Remember when Indiana Jones came along, and being an archeology or history professor was cool for a while, until people realized that sifting through ancient burial chambers was hot and sweaty work that probably wouldn’t get you rich, or laid? Well it’s time for a new era of rock star professors. McGovern certainly looks the part (he’s on the left in the photo, as if that needs pointing out), with his big bushy beard and rumpled trousers. And he’s hitched his wagon to the right star, adding scientific gravitas to Calagione’s beery experiments. Having a professor involved means that I’m not sitting there guzzling beer until my eyes water, or at least not just that. It means that I’m so into the pursuit of knowledge that I have to actually ingest it into my body and transport myself back to ancient China, or Egypt, or Italy.

I Actually Did Learn Some Stuff

The audience at the Bell House was several hundred strong, and, glancing around the room, I saw what I perceived as a mix of beer enthusiasts (call them geeks if you like, but I saw no pocket protectors), science enthusiasts who happen to like beer, and history buffs. And yes, there were women among them. The event itself involved tasting four different Dogfish Head beers that McGovern had helped create, paired with a few chunks of cheese from Murray’s. I learned that hops are a somewhat recent addition to beer, that the reinheitsgebot is bullshit, and that almost every government was helpful in their beer research except for the Italian government, which thinks wine is the only historically important beverage. (Get with the times, Italy. Beer rulez.) 

I learned more than that, but there are some lessons that you can only absorb through your belly, so pick up some of Dogfish Head’s ancient ales and get yourself educated, cool, and a little bit lifted. Learning is fun. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for The Bell House; Old Beer: Dogfish Head Ta Henket is a Blast from 4,500 Years in the Past; Spiegelau Creates New IPA Glass, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Create New Beer to Fill It With; Rest in Peace, Brooklyn Monster Ale, and Cat; Today in Creative Beer Advertising: Heineken’s New TV Spot ‘The Voyage’; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

Bronx Cheers: Bronx Brewery Releases Its Pale Ale in Tall-Boy Cans

I don’t spend enough time in the Bronx. A couple Yankee games a year, maybe a trip to the zoo or the Botanical Garden on a nice day, the odd visit to Fordham, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is all Manhattan and Brooklyn. But the Bronx is cool, and I’ll soon have another excellent reason to hop on the 6 and cruise up to Cypress Ave: The Bronx Brewery is building a new brewery at 856 E. 136th Street, and they’ll have a tasting room for visitors. I plan to be one of the first. They’re still working on it, but in the meantime, they just made it easier than ever to enjoy their flagship beer wherever you (I) happen to be, as Bronx Pale Ale is now available in 16-ounce cans, commonly known to beer enthusiasts as "tall boys." I recently got my hands on a four-pack and cracked one open last night. 

I didn’t have a proper ale glass in my freezer, so I decided to do the crazy thing and pour it into one of those new-fangled Spiegelau IPA glasses (get me to a psych ward). But the IPA glass is suitable for a regular pale ale of the non-India variety, because the bowl shape of the glass concentrates the aromas so you can get a good whiff of it before imbibing. And so I relaxed in my living room, lifted the glass, and brought it to my nose. The aromas are rather subtle, but it’s classic beer all the way, with caramel notes from the barley malt and floral notes from the hops.

But if all you want to do is sniff something that smells nice, get a bouquet of petunias. Beer is for drinking, and Bronx Pale Ale is satisfying in all the best ways. I hesitate to call it heavy, because it’s not like some porter or barleywine, but it’s the opposite of light beer. Whereas light beer is, well, lightly flavored and kind of watery, Bronx Pale Ale is deeply flavorful and complex. And while light beer tends to have a lower alcohol content, in the 4.2% – 4.5% ballpark, Bronx Pale Ale has a robust 6.3% ABV. (For comparison, Budweiser is 5.0%.) But as smart as it is, I enjoyed Bronx Pale Ale as a "regular" beer, tipping back the glass and savoring every sip without having to analyze the interplay between a zillion different flavors. 

I did tap out a few notes while I was drinking it, though: "Bold and flavorful, but still respectful of what beer should be. Big, beery, and satisfying. Well-balanced but not overly hoppy, which I like." And it somehow tasted like a draft beer, even though it was from a can. The draft version must be sublime. 

So it’s a brew that delivers the goods without getting too smart alecky. There’s plenty under the hood, though. I like the straightforward, non-B.S. description printed on the can: "This deep amber, American pale ale is brewed with five different barley malts, generous additions of Cascade and Centennial hops, and a unique strain of yeast. The British, German, and American malts used provide a complex blend of caramel, biscuit, and nutty malt flavors. The kettle and dry hops provide a gentle, pleasant bitterness with an intense floral and citrus aroma."

All of those descriptors are true, but the the real enjoyment of this beer is its true, authentic character. Sometimes, after a hell of a day at the end of a hell of a week, you just want a damn beer. This is the beer you want. 

The new brewery and tasting room is slated to open at the end of this year. In the meantime, you can buy cans of Bronx Pale Ale at stores like Whole Foods and Fairway, and get it on draft at spots like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and the Ginger Man

[Photo: Doug Schneider Photography

[For more great spots to drink beer in New York, check out BlackBook’s New York Guide. Keep up with new openings by subscribing to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletters. More by Victor Ozols. Follow me on Twitter.]

Three Springtime Beers to Crack Open On the Equinox

Spring in the Northern Hemisphere begins on Wednesday. Do you have the right beers for it? Brewers with the ability to create season-specific beers throughout the year are releasing their spring lines now, led by the beery Bostonians at Sam Adams. I tried a trio of their new spring beers over the weekend and started hearing smale fowles maken melodye in my head, if not in my snowy backyard. So, for you Pagans and Neo-Druids out there looking for something to drink at your Ostara party, here’s a quick rundown:

Samuel Adams White Lantern

The idea behind most springtime beers is to split the difference between the spicy, heavily flavored brews of winter and the light, refreshing beers of summer. In the case of White Lantern, they’ve taken a Belgian-style white ale and dumbed it down for warmer weather quaffing. I’m not complaining. I like Belgian ales, but when they go too far into potpourri-land I get turned off. This has just the right balance, with the DNA of a Trappist ale and a peppy zing from the orange zest. It’s tasty and fun without the cloying sweetness of a Christmas beer. To be honest, it’s not really my style, but I liked the restraint and enjoyed drinking it.

Samuel Adams Double Agent IPL

I know what you’re thinking. They misspelled IPA, right there on the label. Embarrassing. Except they didn’t. This beer isn’t an India Pale Ale, it’s an India Pale Lager, which means it has the same hoppy ingredients of an IPA–in this case, West Coast hops like American Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Ahtanum, and Zeus varietals, plus New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops–but fermented cold with bottom fermentation, resulting in a crisper, lighter drink. I like this one, and found it smooth, dry, a little bit bitter, and very satisfying. I just wasn’t sure what kind of glass to pour it into. I decided on a Spiegelau IPA glass, but felt funny about it. 

Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Even though I taste all kinds of beers and love most of them, I have a soft spot for simple, clean brews that don’t require me to think too hard. Alpine Sping lands comfortably in that category. It’s a crisp, smooth, flavorful lager that has a great blend of hops and malt, as if they’re balanced on a seesaw at a playground, each with its little legs hanging off the ground. True to its name, it tastes springy and light. At 5.5% ABV, it’s slightly stronger than a standard lager, but clean enough to session straight through to the solstice. Enjoy spring!

All of these beers should run you between $8 and $10 for a six-pack, unless you’re in New York, in which case your bodega guy will probably charge you $14. Still worth it. 

Into weird beers? Drop by one of New York’s best beer bars, like Blind Tiger, La Birreria, and the new Torst

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols]

Tonight’s Beer: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Scottish Stout

One of pleasantest surprises from our recent trip to Edinburgh was the abundance of excellent beers. We figured Scotland would be Scotch-land, but craft beers were in abundance, especially at beer-centric bars like Brewdog. Among our favorite local brews were Alechemy Five Sisters Cask Ale, which isn’t yet available here in the States, and Innis & Gunn, which is. Innis & Gunn has an impressive range of beers, but our favorite was Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Oak Aged Beer. It’s a Scottish stout matured in oak barrels that previously contained Irish whiskey, and it’s finally available in the good old USA. It’s also what I’ll be sipping tonight.

I got my hands on a four-pack of this delicious stout last week, and think it’s just great. It’s mildly sweet, like expensive chocolate, with notes of espresso and vanilla. It has a nice chewy mouthfeel, and ends with just a kiss of bitterness, to remind you that you’re not, after all, sipping a chocolate malt. If you like Guinness and Murphy’s stouts, you should try it. 

It’s the first beer to be aged in Irish whiskey barrels, which give it a mellow sweetness (something about a sugar exchange). Yes, barrel aging is quite the thing these days, not just with whiskey and rum, but with cockails and beer too. Works for me. 

Visit the Innis & Gunn website to find out where you can get some. A four-pack will run you about $10. If you’re in New York, drop by the city’s only two proper Scottish pubs, Highlands in the West Village or St. Andrews in Midtown, for a pint. You’ll linger.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols