DRINKING CRAFT BEER IN FINLAND. TIGHT REGULATIONS AND MAJOR CHANGES
Last week I was in Finland visiting my wife's family. After enjoying some pleasant and quiet days on the west coast with her parents, and before returning to Barcelona, we decided to spend the Sunday afternoon in Helsinki.
The capital of Finland is a modern, dynamic and cultural city that, like many other European cities, has been developing and consolidating a strong craft beer scene in recent years.
It is important to remember that in Finland alcohol sales are heavily regulated. This means that you can not buy drinks that exceed a certain percentage of alcohol in supermarkets or grocery stores and to be able to enjoy them, one must choose either to consume them directly in local bars or restaurants, or buy it in Alko, a state-owned company that is controlled by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
However, it seems that times are changing. An example of this is the law that was approved in December 2017 by the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta / Riksdagen) and that came into force on January 1, 2018, under which the limit on alcohol content in drinks that can be sold in grocery stores was increased from 4.7% to 5.5%. A breath of fresh air that will undoubtedly permit many Finnish micro-breweries to enter the market.
KAISLA: A CLASSIC DARK PUB PERFECT FOR COLD DAYS
But let's go back to my Sunday in Helsinki.
Once we leave our luggage in the box offices of the Central Station of Helsinki, and with enough layers of clothes to face the cold, we took on the first destination of the afternoon: Oluthuone Kaisla.
From the outside one may think that Kaisla is the classic dark pub, with stone walls and board games that serves as an ideal refuge to drink a pint during cold and rainy days. But when you enter and look around you see that is something else. In addition to its 20 taps of local beers and classic styles, Kaisla offers an excellent repertoire of approximately 200 bottles ranging from the Cantillon 'Tyrnilambic Baie d’Argousier’: a lambic made with sea buckthorn and bottled exclusively for the One Pint Pub of Helsinki, to the 'Odravein' (Cellar Series) by Põhjala Brewery, a 16% ABV Barley Wine aged for 6 months in bourbon casks. Not bad at all!
As suggested by the bar manager I chose a local beer, the “Lemon Pale Ale” from Maku Brewing, a microbrewery located in Tuusula, 30 km north of Helsinki.
SORI BREWING: CRAFT BEER MADE IN ESTONIA IN THE HEART OF HELSINKI
Just 50 meters from Kaisla you’ll find Sori Brewing Taproom from Tallinn (Estonia), so after the last sip of the Pale Ale, we had no choice but to make the effort (...) and pay them a visit.
Sori Taproom Helsinki could be defined as the perfect antagonism of Kaisla. An open, modern space, characterized by a beautiful interior design, huge windows and good lighting. But in terms of the level of their beers, they are probably not so different.
Their 24 taps were logically focused on a great variety of beers from Sori Brewing, although there was something that caught my attention: the "Sunday Special” which included three Imperial Stouts from California’s brewery Alesmith Brewing Company on tap: 'Speedway Stout', 'Hawaiian Speedway Stout' and 'Speedway Stout (Vietnamese Coffee)'. But that was not all, it seems that on Sundays in Finland they play in a whole different league. On taps 9, 10 and 14 there was a tribute to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and to the mythical 'Prairie Bomb! Deconstructed 'by Prairie Artisan Ales with its three versions: Coffee, Chilli Peppers and Cacao Nibs. And let’s not forget to mention the refrigerators, all packed with bottles of Cascade Brewing, Beachwood Brewing, Almanac Brewing and The Bruery, to name a few of the gems that I laid my eyes on. Terrific.
My choice, much more modest, was a flight of four beers that included three from Sori Brewing - 'Hardly working' a Pils with Simcoe hops, 'Öökull', a Farmhouse IPA with dry-hopped with Citra and Cascade in collaboration with Het Uiltje Brewery (Holland), and 'Lost Bison', a NEIPA infused with Vanilla Grass in collaboration with Pracownia Piwa (Poland) and Hiisi (Finland) - plus one of Alesmith's coffees for dessert that I could not resist.