2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

In the Magical Land of the Beer Fairies

In the Magical Land of the Beer Fairies

Tuborg in Roskilde

A heat wave is sweeping Denmark, and it doesn’t help to stand in the Scandinavian summer sun in a farmer’s field with a hundred thousand other people. All I want is shade and a beer. The shade is an issue, but the beer is about the easiest problem to solve in this place.

At this point in the afternoon, I’m already a few beers in. I’m on vacation, so I had a beer with lunch, a cold, tall can I drank while my legs hung over the harbor wall beside the Opera House. Drinking in public is completely legal in Denmark, which is both amazing and unfamiliar.

Beer drinking continued on the hour-long train from Copenhagen to Roskilde, a country town where the largest music festival in Northern Europe takes place every summer. I grabbed a tall can at the 7-Eleven kiosk in the train station and sat beside a businessman commuting home with a cold beer and across from two middle-aged women sharing a tetra box of white wine.

Now at the venue, I’m kicking myself for not bringing my own tetra box or mini beer cooler because it’s apparent that most of the festival grounds are BYOB. Now I’ll have to wait in a long line and pay some ridiculous inflated price for a Tuborg. But the strange thing is, I don’t see any lines.

It’s kind of a known thing that Scandinavians don’t like to queue up or wait in lines. At any entrance or teller or vendor, people are crowding around in a circular bulge, ready to make their move. The solution to a non-queuing society is those little take-a-number machines that are often reserved for bakeries and the DMV.

Every music festival on the planet absorbs thousands of thirsty people and far too few bars, so you’re forced to make the decision between seeing your favorite act or waiting in line to get your paws on a $14 Miller Lite. But at Roskilde Festival, this doesn’t happen. Beer is always easily accessible and you don’t have to wait in line.

I’m close to dehydration when I decide to make a break from the stage-front crowd and find the nearest bar. I can see signs at every angle of the field, all with big bright logos, reading: “BEER” or “WINE” or “DRINKS.” There are so many of them that a hundred thousand people would have trouble overwhelming the servers to ignite a lineup, but there are a hundred thousand people I need to get through to reach the nearest reservoir. And then I see her. Is she a beer fairy? Am I delusional with sunstroke? It’s a volunteer festival worker with a tray full of cold pints slung around her neck and she’s distributing them to the crowd. She walks over to me and I’m so elated I could kiss her, but I contain myself, trying to act cool and not be recognized as a foreigner because everyone else seems to think this is perfectly normal.

There are so many traits that give Roskilde Festival its charm, but the beer vendors are likely the greatest concept. The beer actually comes to you, so you don’t have to find a bar, wait in a line, or go anywhere inconvenient because sooner or later, a cute Danish lady will arrive with a tray of cold brews and inquire if you’re interested. And yes, you’re very interested.

The public laxity of drinking in Denmark supports the argument against all things wrong with other nations’ drinking cultures. American music festivals are havens for drunks who rage like they’re at a frat party, whereas Roskilde isn’t like that. Attitudes about drinking are just as casual in the day-to-day Danish lifestyle. People drink, just like anywhere else, but the Danes don’t seem to care about drinking. You do it or you don’t. You don’t have to be the age of a college graduate to buy a beer as in the United States and there aren’t widespread problems with violence related to binge drinking as in Australia.

I stay at Roskilde until 2 am before boarding the shuttle to the train station. I pop into 7-Eleven to get some water in an effort to subdue tomorrow’s hangover, but when I find the water, it’s beside the Tuborg. I grab another tall can to sip during the train ride to Copenhagen, simply because I can.

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