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.

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