New beer marks 400th anniversary of Danish Jewish community

Simply called “400,” it is a strong lager, similar to a bock beer, brewed at the Ørbæk Brewery on the island of Funen.

 Bottles of the 400 beer, brewed in Denmark to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jewish community in Denmark. (photo credit: Danish Jewish Museum)
Bottles of the 400 beer, brewed in Denmark to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jewish community in Denmark.
(photo credit: Danish Jewish Museum)

The Jewish community in Denmark has been marking its 400th anniversary. Yes, it was in 1622 that good King Christian IV invited a few dozen entrepreneurs into his kingdom to give the economy a boost. Among them were several Jews – the founders of the community.

To help mark this historic occasion, the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen commissioned the brewing of a special anniversary beer. Simply called “400,” it is a strong lager, similar to a bock beer, brewed at the Ørbæk Brewery on the island of Funen.

"This isn’t a historical beer but a beer that communicates history. For example, it comes in bottles of 750 milliliters, which by Danish tradition is four ‘units’ of beer, each unit representing one century."

Janus Møller Jensen

Museum director Janus Møller Jensen said that “this isn’t a historical beer but a beer that communicates history. For example, it comes in bottles of 750 milliliters, which by Danish tradition is four ‘units’ of beer, each unit representing one century.

“The beer is also brewed with additives of cane sugar and Chinese Keemun tea – products that were imported into Denmark by Jewish merchants in the 18th century.

 THE WRITER looks thirstily at a glass of the 400 beer. (credit: MIKE HORTON) THE WRITER looks thirstily at a glass of the 400 beer. (credit: MIKE HORTON)

“Even the label was designed with a purpose. It shows both light and darkness, both of which have characterized Danish Jewish history. Despite periods of persecution and explicit antisemitism, the Jewish community has generally been protected by the Danish government. This culminated under the Nazi occupation in October 1943, when 7,550 Jews, almost all of the community, were ferried by the Danes to safety in neutral Sweden,” Møller Jensen recounted. 

The museum director also pointed out that one of the founders in 1873 of Tuborg, the great Danish brewery, was a Jew named Phillip W. Heyman. Tuborg has been brewed in Israel under license by the Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. since the 1990s.

In addition to sponsoring the beer, the museum is marking the 400th anniversary with an exhibition on the history of the Danish Jewish community (traveling to seven cities besides Copenhagen), publishing a map on Jewish Copenhagen and a book, as well as many talks and lectures. Three months ago the museum inaugurated a main entrance designed by noted architect Daniel Libeskind.

Today, there are about 6,000 Jews living in Denmark (almost all in Copenhagen), although only 1,800 are formally members of the community. A majority are secular and well integrated into Danish life but maintain a cultural connection to Jewish life. 

But let’s get back to the 400 beer.

Andreas Falkenberg, production manager at the Ørbæk Brewery, said the beer was brewed with five organic malts (three of them caramelized) and three different organic hops.

“The addition of the tea,” he explained, “was meant to round out the fruity and spicy tastes of the hops and give a more pleasant mouthfeel. These elements balance out the relatively high alcoholic volume, which is 8%.”

To enable me to find out for myself, Møller Jensen was kind enough to send some bottles to me in Jerusalem. And some friends were kind enough to drink the beer with me. They were glad they did.

The 400 beer pours out a beautiful red copper color with a thick and foamy head. The aroma is sweet and malty, like leavened bread, with the hops contributing notes of fruit and spice. The flavor is truly delicious: We compared it to dark chocolate, dried fruits, and sweet spice. The mouthfeel is full, with alcoholic warmth, and the finish is sweet.

If you’re lucky enough to get hold of 400, you should take it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up for 15-20 minutes before you drink it. This is true for all strong and flavorful beers.

It would pair well with any rich, roasted or spicy food, Oriental dishes, and chocolaty desserts.

All of my tasters said that this was an excellent beer, a superlative example for a country that has a long and respected brewing tradition – and a fitting way to commemorate this festive anniversary of Jewish life in Denmark.■

The writer is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a weblog on Israeli craft beers at www.IsraelBrewsAndViews.blogspot.co.il