The Finnish capital region is quickly evolving into a deliciously different destination for craft brew hunters. Blue Wings savours exclusive brews on a crawl of six hip microbreweries.
Worth a visit if only for the cult location, Stadin Panimo is an experimental microbrewery tucked away in a nook of the old Suvilahti gas plant. On a Friday night, the bar is packed with tapas munchers who gladly pay extra for a truly aromatic amber tipple. The first sip of Rye India Vienna Lager instantly confirms why: the intensely fruity flavour puts supermarket beers to shame. “We use the finest American hops and infuse extra oomph by filtering the beer through a sieve full of fresh hops, like making fresh tea,” explains Sales Manager Ingrid Viertola. The entire process is executed by hand, including the mashing. “Even the smallest breweries normally use mechanical mixers, but we do it with a paddle – like medieval monks,” says Viertola. To date, the brewery has created over 600 beers, including unusual innovations such as Birch-Mead Lager and Grapefruit IPA.
Stadin Panimo, 1998-
Fit for a tsar
The latest entrant on Helsinki’s craft beer scene is Ohrana, a designerly pub with a downstairs microbrewery. Every detail from the sleek beer glasses to the black-walled décor is a study in understated elegance. A pun on the Finnish word for barley, ohra, the brewery takes its name from the Russian’s Tsar’s secret police, which were formerly headquartered in a nearby building. With its immaculate styling, the bar attracts a mixed clientele of aficionados and craft beer virgins – many of whom soon become regulars. “I like to mix a little bit of new and old and make drinkable beers with a little twist – but not trying too hard,” says head brewer Jani Suomalainen. Ohrana’s top sellers are Kölssi, a kölsch-style brew; Belgian-inspired Saison; and Ohrana APA. Suomalainen’s latest experiment is a boldly flavoured imperial stout, Mustalista (black list), which has garnered glowing praises from beer critics.
Loving the lizard
“This is my first job in which I not only can but must drink beer during the workday. That’s why we only brew beers we like to drink,” says CEO Heikki Ylinen, head brewer and “master drinker” at the Fat Lizard Brewing Company in the Espoo district of Otaniemi. Prior to starting the business, Ylinen visited breweries around the world and learned the ropes in the US, the home of craft beer. “Eventually, we built our own brewing equipment to ensure that we can create perfect beers – every time.” And that’s no empty promise. Fat Lizard beers are brewed without compromise, with an absolute guarantee of freshness. “Generously hopped IPAs are best served fresh, like freshly baked bread. We deliver the beer ourselves straight from the brewery, and Fat Lizard Fresh Taps come with a guarantee that the beer is always under 30 days old, with all the aromas intact. We’re the first in the world to offer this,” notes Ylinen.
Fat Lizard Brewing Company, 2013-
Lämpömiehenkuja 3, Espoo
A raved-about innovator on the craft beer scene is Vallilan Panimo, which brews its exclusive range in a former pharmaceutical plant in the industrial precinct of Vallila. Founded by Miika Haverinen – who turned his home-brewing hobby into a business two years ago – the six-man microbrewery produces small batches and sells most of its products within a radius of a couple of miles. “We really are craft-based, from bottling and labelling by hand to sales and marketing. We combine flavour and aesthetics,” explains Markus Koistinen, designer of the brand’s clean graphic identity and packaging. Focusing on its core IPA range, the brewery’s top products include critic-lauded Vallila Amber Ale and Kyyneleet (Finnish for “tears”), an English Pale Ale made for the Finnish rapper Eevil Stöö. The brewery has also created the official low-alcohol beer of Kulttuurisauna, a design-minded public sauna in Merihaka.
Vallilan Panimo, 2015-
“Just like back home!” A group of German tourists praise the subtle hints of banana in the wheat beer at Bryggeri, a cosy restaurant and brewery in the heart of Helsinki’s historic centre. Bryggeri’s Weizen and other German-style beers owe their authentic flavours to the German-born brewer, Mathias Hüffner, who works his magic in front of an audience in the middle of the restaurant. “Visitors can see, taste, feel, and smell the brewing process right in front of them while they enjoy a nice Scandinavian meal. We put love into our beer and food pairings,” says Managing Director and beer sommelier Olli Majanen. “We brew beers that we ourselves would like to drink. Purity, quality, and clean flavours are our calling card – we don’t pull any fancy tricks with wild yeast or berries,” he adds. “But we do experiment. Our 8.8% Rosé is a wine-beer hybrid spiced with hibiscus tea. It tastes like a German Riesling, but with a nice kick of hops at the back of your tongue.” “But we do experiment. Our 8.8% Rosé is a wine-beer hybrid spiced with hibiscus tea. It tastes like a German Riesling, but with a nice kick of hops at the back of your tongue.”
Bryggeri Helsinki, 2013-
A brewer’s tale
No visit to Helsinki would be complete without a ferry trip to the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Also mandatory is a stop at Helsinki’s oldest microbrewery housed in the pink stone barracks a few steps from the pier. Suomenlinna Brewery was founded in 1995, as soon as craft brewing was permitted in Finland. “The location was a perfect match. Finland’s first breweries were built on the island to quench the thirst of Swedish soldiers building the fort in the 18th century,” explains Brewing Director Jussi Heikkilä. Today bottling takes place on the mainland, but the microbrewery remains very much a handcrafting passion project. “Every malt bag, every batch, and every bottle is touched by the brewer’s very own hands. We know what’s in every bottle, and we can stand behind it.” Being Helsinki’s oldest craft brewery, the seven-strong team relies on the recipe that has carried them through a quarter century: “Pure, basic beers concentrating on quality.”
Suomenlinna brewery, 1995-
Suomenlinna C 1 jetty barracks
Text by Silja Kudel Photos by Sampo Korhonen
This article is published in the September 2017 issue of Blue Wings.