“Let me sing an old-time legend,
That shall echo forth the praises
Of the beer that I have tasted.”
Finland’s most important piece of literature, its epic poem The Kalevala, talks more about the art of brewing beer than it does the origin of mankind.
This country’s been in the beer game since at least the 16th century, when the locals were first recorded stuffing juniper berries into tree trunks and drinking the strong ruby brew that trickled out.
Five hundred years later the country’s still brewing, albeit with slightly more advanced tools.
The Finnish Craft Beer Market
Like everywhere else, Finland’s beer scene is dominated by a few big brands that control 90% of the market.
But unlike everywhere else, Finland’s big brewers distribute the lagers of their littler counterparts. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, said Pekka Kääriäinen, manager of the longest running small brewery in Finland and the Byrgerri gastropub mentioned below.
Selling their smaller competitors’ brands is the big brewers’ way of protecting Finland’s beer market from foreign competition.
This access to market share, along with tax breaks for smaller brewers, has allowed the Finnish craft beer scene to bloom like a bouquet of hop flowers. Every other pub on Helsinki’s orderly streets has a batch of something brewing in the basement.
We were in the city for only four nights so we could barely scratch the surface of Helsinki’s bars and microbrews. Here are the fine establishments we populated most during our trip. Check out the Helsinki beer trail for more inspiration.
Teerenpeli crafts about a dozen brews, as well as ciders and whisky. There are rumors the pub also serves killer nachos, but we stuck to their liquid nourishment.
This Helsinki bar feels more like a library than a microbrewery. Cushioned benches, cozy chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking one of Helsinki’s busiest plazas made this place a repeat stop during our trip.
Villi Waino’s staff likes talking beer (in English and Finnish, and probably a few other languages). They’ll help you decide which of their dozen or so Finnish microbrews is the best for you.
Greg and I made the mistake of only exploring Villi Waino’s cafe-like first floor. Turns out this place is massive. There are three stories of dancing and drinking space, a stage for live bands and DJs, and even a VIP sauna.
We stopped in on a Saturday afternoon and it was buzzing, but there were plenty of open seats.
Around the corner from the art nouveau central train station, this pub reportedly serves the largest selection of beers in Finland. The bartender responded to my vague request for “a hoppy imported beer I probably couldn’t get in the States” with an IPA from Tokyo and Australia. They were good and punchy, just as I like.
The bright lights of clothes stores and din of shopping teens disappear as you descend into the cavernous interior of Bruuveri, a brewpub located in the Kamppi mall.
This place is a microbrewery in the truest sense. Bruuveri’s homebrews are made in batches weighing in at a mere 63 gallons. A beer tried here may not exist anywhere else in the world. Bruuveri also serves pub food with a Finnish twist, think burgers dressed in lingonberries, and sausages served with pickles.
About 700 investors pitched in to open the Bryggeri brewery and gastropub in a former records depository in the city’s historic district. Go underground to find the brewery and restaurant in the building’s cellar.
This is probably the best place on the list to try sahti, that strong juniper brew the Finns started crafting in the trees 500-plus years ago.
He had to travel more than 100 miles from Helsinki to taste the juniper beer. Today you can try it without leaving the city center.