January 6, 2023

New beer marks 400th anniversary of Danish Jewish community

Who let the Jews in?
It was King Christian IV.
(That's him in the picture.)

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 a few 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.

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 label of 400 beer shows
light and darkness:
Danish Jewish history has known 
periods of both. 

“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,” concluded Møller Jensen. 

The museum director also reminded me 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, and many talks and lectures. Three months ago the museum inaugurated a main entrance designed by the noted architect Daniel Libeskind.

In October 1943, almost of the Jewish community
were saved from a Nazi roundup, when fellow Danes
ferried them in small boats to neutral Sweden. 

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, told me that it 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%.”

In this rare photograph, the old blogger is seen
contemplating the color, aromas and flavors of the
400 beer from Denmark.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

To enable me to find out for myself, Møller Jensen was kind enough to send me some bottles here in Jerusalem. And some friends were kind enough to drink it 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, roasty 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.

                                  [This article first appeared in 

                                 The Jerusalem Post Magazine

                                    on Friday, January 6, 2023.]     

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