Oh, holiday! That part of the year when you pack your bags and head off somewhere to relax and fill your boots with culture and your pints with local brews.
Well, that’s what we did anyway. When the summer holidays were upon us we filled a suitcase with local ale produce and headed over to Manchester airport with a solemn intention to hit the pubs of Finland as well as to be entertained by my family. If they’re reading this, of course not necessarily in that specific order.
Despite the fact that Finnair lost our luggage for 5 days out of our 7 day holiday, it was a successful one. We met some fantastic people and drank some fantastic beer in some fantastic places.
Finland used to be all about lager, and whereas there are quite a few different ones, even award winning ones (like Lapin Kulta) we weren’t after the fizzy stuff. In the last few years a number of local breweries have emerged and the supply for ale, wheat beers and smoky delights has multiplied exponentially compared to past times.
Our adventure started in Helsinki, the beautiful capitol. To our luck the weather was on our side and while we strolled through the wide streets and played tourist the sun was shining and the gentle breeze from the sea kept the heat at bay.
Our first stop was, of course the famous Beer House Kaisla, in the close vicinity of the Central Railway Station. Boasting around 28 taps and 140 varieties of different bottled beers, we were not about to miss out on experiencing this haven for ale.
Kaisla has a very rural feel to it, with its earthy tones and brick walls and wooden décor. And behind the bar they have very knowledgeable staff ready to guide you through their enormous selection. We opted for a rye I.P.A Smörre, brewed in Tampere by Plevna. Packing a punch with five different hops and a strong base of malts, this amber nectar is worth having been named the best beer in Finland 2007 and 2008. A great recommendation from the staff!
Unfortunately we only had a few hours to spend in Helsinki before our flight to Tampere, and we did not have a chance to dwell deeper into the great selection of beers on offer. Sadly we had to hop on the bus to the airport and say goodbye to Kaisla… For now.
In Tampere we visited two excellent establishments. First the award-winning gastro pub Tuulensuu with an extensive selection of bottled beers and impressive amount of beers on tap. The bar staff was very helpful when Tom was trying to decipher the strange Finnish menu and managed to recommend us some fine brews.
It’s no wonder that Tuulensuu has won awards, it has a chilled atmosphere and the décor is not only comfortable, but quite stylish. Their menu, even though we didn’t get stuck in to their foody offerings, looked simple but extensive, and the place was constantly filled with a delicious aroma of good grub. On their menu, they’ve even paired the food with beer in case you were wondering how to best match your tipple and dinner.
The second pub we visited was the brewery pub Plevna. They brew their own
produce at the location, which used to be used as a textile manufacturing company. Plevna have an extensive selection of different types of tipple, from your regular pale ales to organic pils, cotton ale and smoky goodies. I went down the route of smokiness, and opted for James, the smoked dark ale. It had a hoppy, deep, smoky flavour that could be overwhelming to an unexpecting observer. I am a huge fan of smoky beers and found this one a true winner. It was heavy and thick and gorgeous and as soon as I can get some more, I will. Tom tried the Cotton Ale, a light single hop ale brewed with Centenial hops. For a bright sunny day this was a perfect brew, light and airy. But, as a fellow beer lover once said, “could do with more hops”.
Plevna itself is more like a German bar than anything else. Even the waitresses wear traditional German beer wench outfits. They serve hearty meals for hungry punters, from salads to steaks, fish and pies. They have a daily menu with special offers as well. In Plevna you can enjoy a variety of pure, flavoursome beer from their brewery, and fine spirits from their distillery. On top of that, Plevna offers a unique surroundings, live music and, of course, the well-known jovial company of Tampere.
The last pit-stop on our travels around Finland was the sea-side town of Rauma, and the gorgeous and quirky little café Soppi. Soppi is a haven for all things organic, in food, coffee and tea. However, they also have some amazing beers from Vakka-Suomen Panimo brewery. These were probably the most outrageous beers we tried during our trip. We tried nettle pils, Smoky Ale, Hoppy Wheat, and different organic IPAs. It was glorious, if a little messy. Messy because we might have tried too many, not that neither of us is admitting.
Soppi is a delightful place where all the décor is truly vintage, and nothing matches. But in a good way. It’s quirky and exciting and visually intriguing. Even the toilet is a masterpiece, with the walls covered with ludicrous newspaper clippings and posters and a hundred year old radio which seems to always play opera. How delightful.
Overall, our trip offered a revelation that even though Finland is certainly not known for its beer, there is some true talent and imagination there. Gone are the days of Finland gulping down fizzy generic lager (even though it is still on offer in most places, for convenience purposes we assume) in dark dingy bars, say hello to a new generation of gastro pubs with decent grub, international and local beer and terrific service.