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JC Jacobsen, The Carlsberg Brewery, and Their Place in Brew History

Off the main street in Copenhagen is tucked away is quite the beer museum. The museum is The Carlsberg Brewing Company, which is far more interesting than just a brewery. (By the way, I am not complaining... I love breweries!).

Carlsberg is more than just a brewery in Denmark. It is a global brand and the fourth-largest brewery, with breweries in 35 countries and over 500 brands. Known as one of the great brewers of Europe, Jacob Christian "JC" Jacobsen created his business on November 10, 1847. Jacobsen was a firm believer in science, and industry, while balancing that with his love and devotion for the arts and philanthropy. The brewery was named after Jacobsen's son, Carl, and a variant of the Danish word (bjerg) for mountain, as the brewery was at the hill of Valby, is also a great example of his other loves; his family and Denmark. Jacobsen had little formal education, but he did recognize that beer production in Denmark had to move from small-batch breweries to using more modern, scientific techniques so they could produce mass amounts. Jacobsen was a force during Industrial Age. This passion for science, industry, and forward-thinking drove him to create the Carlsberg brewery in record time. The first export was a single barrel of Carlsberg beer to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1868. Within 20 years, the name Carlsberg was internationally recognized and would continue to experience rapid growth in the years to follow. The original brewery burned to the ground in a fire in 1867. In true Jacobsen fashion, he rebuilt the brewery in less than a year using new modern materials, steel. Today, the building is virtually untouched by time and is considered a moment of the industrial age.

Jacobsen established the Carlsberg Laboratory in 1875 to address scientific problems relating to brewing. This laboratory, and its scientist Emil Christian Hansen, made significant discoveries, especially with yeast, that would soon revolutionize beer brewing globally. Jacobsen shared that information with his fellow beer makers, believing it would be for the common good. Most of the great beer brands we have today are built on the shoulders of Jacobsen’s work and discoveries. The laboratory also developed the concept of pH and made advances in protein chemistry.

It is possible that Jacobsen was the "original hipster." Every Friday, Jacobsen would have an open house for scientists, writers, artists, actors, and musicians at the brewery to get together and share ideas and thoughts. We imagine the dialog was freethinking and slightly intoxicating. Further, Jacobsen’s overall goal was not profitability. He believed that the beer made at Carlsberg should always be affordable, regardless of the profit opportunities. Good beer was more like a right than a privilege.

Now that we understand the man better, it is easy to understand why there is such an exciting space for guests to view. The Carlsberg Brewery Museum has an extensive collection of beer relics, documents, and early Carlsberg ads and machines. Also on exhibit is a Guinness Book of World Records collection of unopened beer bottles from around the world (notably absent beer from the United States). As a nod to JC, there is a beautiful garden between the museum and the gift shop (otherwise known as the bar). Large sculptures and statues in the garden, including a Rodin statue purchased in 1901 by Carl Jacobsen. JC's great love was Denmark, as such; a version of "The Little Mermaid" is in the garden. The brewery space provides you with art, education, examples of achievement, and a free beer at the end – this IS the ultimate compliment to the man and his beliefs.

The museum walks you through the history of beer, which is quite interesting. I have highlighted some of our favorite points below, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

  • 4000 BC: Barley and grain are grown during the Neolithic period. This is the prerequisite for beer making. Prehistoric person ground corn with a so-called quern

  • The human skull was used as a drinking vessel.

  • 1370 BC: The Egtved discovery near Kolding revealed that a kind of beer making, probably most like mead, was customary in the Bronze Age. (An Egtved girl and beer pot are pictured above)

  • The Swedish Viking Fjolne drank himself into a stupor on a visit to Lejre and drowned by falling into a vat of mead. The Vikings drank not only mead but also large quantities of beer. Nordic Mythology and legends tell of violent happenings and violent drinking customs. Yikes! Beer was drunk during everyday life and festival events. The Vikings also believed that beer was drunk in death; in Valhalla (heaven), the gods awaited vanquished warriors with drinking horns filled with beer. ​

  • During the medieval ages, the monasteries and culture of the monks spread to all parts of Denmark. As well as their knowledge and cultivation methods, the Cistercians brought with them new plants. Hops, known for imported beer from Germany, displaced myrtle as a flavoring in Denmark.

  • On the farm, in the Middle Ages, it was the woman who brewed the beer in the "brewery pantry."

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