JC Jacobsen, born in 1811, brewed his first lager in his cellar. In 1847, he established his first micro-brewery in Copenhagen. A believer in science, he shared his knowledge with fellow brewers. He loved and supported music and art, and was heavily involved in politics and society. A true Danish hipster, his bow ties and remarkable beard were part of his trademark look.
Well, now you know. Carlsberg wasn’t the name of our founder but that of his brewery. He named it after his son, Carl, and Valby Hill (“bjerg” in Danish), where the brewery was built. We still climb it today on our bikes.
JC Jacobsen’s establishment of the Carlsberg Laboratory in 1875 marked Carlsberg as the world’s first large industrial enterprise to invest heavily in research and innovation. Even more revolutionary, anything discovered at the lab was freely shared with the whole brewing industry. The same applied to yeast, which was distributed from the yeast tower at Carlsberg up until 1988. As JC used to say, there’s nothing to fear from your competitors when you brew probably the best beer in the world.
JC’s mantra was to make great beer “regardless of immediate profit.” He often got into trouble with others brewers, who complained he was keeping his prices so low that he was destroying the market. JC would reply that it was his job to brew “as well and as cheaply as possible”, adding that “he would keep doing this even if he didn’t make any money at all”. JC for president.
Every Friday, JC would have an open house party. Scientists, artists, writers, actors and musicians would sit around the Jacobsens’ table to share a nine-course dinner and a lot of ideas. It was probably during one of these dinners, in 1876, that the brewer got the idea to establish the Carlsberg Foundation, which would direct the Carlsberg Lab. To this day, the Foundation still supports science and research.
JC was very fond of his country. Despite being incredibly busy with the brewery, he was actively involved in politics, a benefactor in the Danish society and contributed an impressive share of his wealth to national monuments and museums. Sometimes he was so involved that he ended up drawing building plans himself. Probably not the best client an architect could dream of, but surely a great patron.
Throughout his life, JC visited many breweries around Europe. This allowed for a continuous exchange of knowledge and technology and the consequent improvement of the brewery. For example, in 1879 Carlsberg installed the first refrigeration machine in Denmark to allow bottom fermentation at low temperatures. Probably one of the many firsts in our history.
At an exhibition in Vienna in 1873, JC Jacobsen was awarded the prestigious Progress Medal for brewing. He repeated his success at the 1878 World Trade Exhibition in Paris, where he won the Grand Prix. We have a history of being probably the best beer in the world.
JC was a very demanding father and never mollycoddled his son. Carl grew up to be a great brewer too, but he had ideas of his own. As the saying goes: too many cooks spoil the broth – sorry, the beer. Father and son soon became fierce competitors. Due to their disputes, JC didn’t leave his brewery to his son but instead left it in the hands of the Carlsberg Foundation. The two reconciled in 1887, just before JC’s death.