Finnish beer, & keeping a Cool Head

Before C and I moved to Finland last year, we spent 24 hours in Helsinki trying the city on for size (sure, I also had a job interview).

We were relieved to discover that Helsinki has at least a few bars pushing craft beer. As big fans of the UK’s craft beer renaissance, and total newcomers to Finland, we were concerned we might be missing out on one of our preferred vices.

We tried out the Sori Taproom (nice beers, small quantities, rather expensive), Bier Bier (great beers, slightly larger quantities, very expensive) and The Riff (good music, okay beers, did unfortunately meet an anarchist Finn and a Bulgarian sound engineer who spent a full hour promoting the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory).

It’s now been a year since we uprooted ourselves and moved to Finland. In that time we’ve been to plenty more bars and also a number of beer festivals: Helsinki has a lot of them! C and I have missed at least one that we know of, and there may have been more. But we did catch the Craft Beer Winter Wonderland, the Sour Spring Break, the larger Helsinki Beer Festival, Great Beers – Small Breweries, and most recently the Craft Beer Garden Festival. These vary in size, attending brewers and theme, but there’s always been new and good beers to try.

Three of those festivals are organised by a particular brewer, CoolHead, in partnership with their venue (Korjaamo – a culture centre that includes a tram museum) and other businesses (such as Pien, a local bar and bottle shop that also celebrates its one year anniversary this month).

It’ll take a while before I can attempt to write about Helsinki and Finland’s beer scene and do it any justice at all, but I can at least introduce CoolHead to non-Finns. This feels appropriate as their mission statement is literally “put Finland on the craft beer world map”. But it’s primarily because they deliver a lot of really fucking good beers. They’re particularly strong on sour beers, which are very popular here and you’ll see some from pretty much every brewery in the country. CoolHead are the best of them, although an honourable mention must go to Fiskarsin Panimo, who have delivered several of the most interesting and memorable sour beers I’ve ever tasted.

As a rough sample of what CoolHead do, this year I’ve tried their Experimental #1: Pear, Walnut, in which you can genuinely taste those pear and walnut flavours, beautifully balanced with a strong scent of walnut, and a Peated Whiskey Sour about which my untappd check-in simply says “fucking delicious”. Among their current beers are Lumberjack Juice, a Nordic sour in collaboration with Tempel Brygghus, who I’ll need to check out after drinking this berry-rich and woody beer, and their Mango Chili Gose, which is not at the top of my list but certainly delivers exactly what it says on the can. A recent favourite is Smoking Nectarines, which is a fantastically rich and tart fruit sour with a wonderful smoke edge.

Their non-sours are very good as well: Juiciness, for example, is exactly the kind of fruity IPA with American hops that I grew to love in England, and at 5.5% it’s a fairly hefty session beer.

I’ll raise a glass to CoolHead continuing to pursue their mission statement, and hopefully – if you, reader, are outside Finland and see their beers for sale – you’ll do so too.

Remnant: From the Ashes

Remnant: From the Ashes is a game with a bad title from a team best known for the Darksiders games*, of which I have played 1.1 of them. I really enjoyed the first Darksiders, but never played far into its sequel, and know very little about last year’s third instalment.

Remnant: From the Ashes is a game I heard about via word of mouth. For some reason a good number of my friends I talk about games with were all curious about it, or at least discussing it. Why might that have been?

Remnant: From the Ashes is a game which, from the first moment I heard about it, was mentioned in the same breath as Dark Souls. Ah, so that is why my friends were discussing it. We just can’t get away from Dark Souls.

Remnant: From the Ashes, a name which I won’t be typing in full any more, because this bit is tiring and isn’t funny anyway, does have a few similarities with Dark Souls. At its core, though, it shares more DNA with DarkSiders.

This means that the combat feels pleasingly “chunky”: ranged attacks land with a wallop and melee attacks slice through mobs of weaker enemies. Even if I didn’t know the provenance of the development team I’d have likened its feel, pace and fluidity to my memories of DarkSiders.

Similarly to that predecessor, Remnant‘s setting is a shattered remnant of human civilization. This time it’s something called The Root rather than the unleashing of Hell’s denizens that has brought this about. I’m approximating aggressively here, but basically some Ents living near Isengard got pissed about rare earth processing runoff polluting everything, just for mobile phones which end up in landfill after a couple of years.

Yeah, our biosphere is so fucked. It’s okay though. There’s a new Apple Watch coming out, and the screen always stays on.

Where Remnant does have some similarities with the oft-mentioned Souls games is in its level of challenge – it’s pretty tough – and its handling of death – which is something you’ll encounter regularly. Remnant has what are basically Souls bonfires, to which you return on death, or can rest at if you choose. When this happens, all slain enemies reappear. Boom. It’s more forgiving than Souls with its meta-progression, but also interestingly crueller, as new areas are reportedly rebalanced to fit a character’s level. You can out-level one area, but not the game.

I’ve now played enough of Remnant to have an idea of how its procedurally generated elements work, and its various imposing bosses. Each campaign is rolled on start, with the broad objectives the same but the exact layout, and which bosses appear where, varied. Where in my own playthrough I fought a dragon, a friend I joined for co-op faced one of those ents I mentioned earlier. Although I recognised much of the environment I explored with him, the way its components fitted together was very different to what I had battled through.

So far I like what I’ve encountered rather a lot. Solo it’s a tense experience; in co-op it’s intense. I recommend it if you have two friends; the worst thing about the game is that it doesn’t have four player co-op.

One proviso for anyone who picks it up based on my recommendation: get through the tutorial as fast as you can, because it doesn’t showcase combat well and the dialogue is impossibly dreary.

(*A team twice reformed: Vigil Games was not bid upon when developer/publisher THQ went bankrupt in 2013. Most of the team reformed as Crytek USA, a studio that survived about six months before its dissolution during Crytek’s own financial difficulties. Most of the team reformed again, this time as Gunfire Games, who ended up making DarkSiders III anyway.)

Vignette #9

My mouth turns dry every time I enter slipspace. I don’t need a firsthand view of spacetime cloven in two, of the pure mathematics which lies beyond. I don’t even have to know when we’re transitioning. I can feel it on my skin, like a a static charge, and in the pressure inside my skull. Sometimes I even feel it in my bones, a sharp and thankfully brief pain like nothing I have felt elsewhere.

I’ve probably become conditioned by the pain and discomfort, and my mouth turns dry because of fear and anticipation. So now when I think of slipspace I think of how my mouth turns dry, because my body knows before my consciousness does and that’s the harbinger of what is to come.

Today, however, I have that firsthand view that I don’t need. I actively don’t want it, but here I am, newly promoted to ‘Science Officer’ – ha! – and stood on the bridge in a stained old uniform, like everyone else playing the part of someone still serving a greater cause than ourselves. God damn it, but the shadow of five hundred years of Imperial rule hangs long, even long after its violent dissolution. Our Captain has, at least, removed the Imperial eagle from his peaked cap, and replaced it with the insignia of our ship, and our home; the Last On My List.

Look, we don’t name the ships ourselves, okay? And most of us who are just struggling through life in a fucked-up universe don’t exactly choose where we end up, either. So here I am, stood about with a dry mouth on the bridge of the Last On My List, with a bunch of other tired women and men, waiting to violently rupture geometry.

A front-row seat for when spacetime is cloven, and we see the nothing and everything that lies beyond. But this time when the slipstream window opens, something comes out.

Many things. Hundreds of things. Then thousands of-

Sharp intakes of breath across the bridge. My mouth goes drier. The Captain looks at me. His knuckles are white. “The hell is… those?” he barks. The words fall out like half-chewed bread.

My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. I masticate my jaw a few times, forcing moisture from salivary glands. In the time it takes me to do this, thousands more have emerged. We’re so far away, and the slipstream window is so large, that it looks as if they are spreading like fine dust in a soft breeze.

“Trouble?” I finally manage. I feel like a desiccated corpse.