or, What have the BrewDogs ever done for us?
So the nice people at BrewDog made an announcement today: they’re looking to open a bar in Helsinki to complement their existing establishments, which are mostly in the UK, with one outpost in Stockholm that opened a year or so ago.
Interestingly, most of the comments on their blog post centre around whether Finland is or is not a part of Scandinavia – the post asks “why don’t we expand our presence in Scandinavia?” (incidentally, Finns never seem to mind being included when Scandinavian design is being praised)
Anyway, nobody has yet questioned what a BrewDog bar might actually bring to the city, so I thought I might as well give it a shot.
As it stands, Helsinki offers a small, but decent, choice of bars for the discerning drinker. Most of these are controlled by one of two entities: Delifox, which owns the Black Door (Finland’s bar of the year in 2013) and the various “Fish” bars; and the all-consuming S-Group, which runs the Oluthuone chain of vaguely-themed “Dutch,” “Irish” &c. bars, and the William K pubs (more of which later).
There are a handful of other good beer bars in the city, all of which offer a good-to-great selection of bottled beers, and have at least a couple of guest taps for small and/or local breweries’ products. All in all, this comes to maybe 30 bars in Helsinki that offer, at the very least, a decent drink, a decent choice, and the possibility of trying something new. I suspect that BrewDog’s beers are available in most if not all of them already. And they’re certainly available in a bunch of other bars around here too, and have been for a couple of years already. Ok, in a lot of these cases it’s just two or three of the core range – Punk, Hardcore, maybe Dead Pony Club or 5am Saint – but many of the better bars have a much wider selection of BrewDog’s stuff in bottles. William K in Kurvi, last time I checked, had three dedicated BrewDog taps along with an extensive bottle selection. If you’re in Helsinki and thirsty for BrewDog, you’re already pretty well-served.
BrewDog bars also like their guest beers, from what I’ve read. But again, go somewhere like Pikkulintu, or even dead-centre-of-town Kaisla (S-Group), and you’ll find the best stuff from Denmark, Sweden, the UK etc. on tap regularly.
Then there’s the money question. Finland’s beer tax is the highest in the EU, and that applies no matter what sign is hanging over your premises. Beer is disgustingly expensive in this country. I fail to see how BrewDog could sell their beers for any less than other bars here, especially considering the ownership situation, and accompanying buying power, of those other bars.
So, a BrewDog bar won’t really expand the overall selection here; we might get our hands on some more rare or experimental stuff, but that’s about it. And I’ll be amazed if they manage to knock down the price of a
pint 40cl serving. Maybe their attitude can make a difference, though. Now that I’ve actually sort-of counted, it looks like about four-fifths of the good beer bars here are run by either Delifox or S-Group. I suspect that Bryggeri, the newest bar to open in the city, is too refined a place (and perhaps too dependent on the tourists in Torikortteli) to really shake things up – though their focus on the smaller Finnish brewers is laudable, and their combination of good food with good beer is in its own way groundbreaking, for Helsinki at least. Could be that a bunch of noisy Scots is just what’s needed to wake people up. I’m still not sure what people will do once awoken, however.
One thing I would love to see from BrewDog is some engagement with the brewing community here. There’s been a micro-explosion of micro-breweries in the past couple of years, they’re making some really good beer, but the legal situation in Finland is such that they struggle to get noticed, and nobody aside from the hardcore (no pun intended) beer geeks know about them. Having a successful cocky upstart like BrewDog on their side could be a real help. I saw the BrewDog crew getting friendly with some of the locals at OlutExpo a couple of months ago; a little collaboration or tap-takeover action would be a great way of settling in to the Finnish scene.
TL;DR: It won’t change the world, but every little helps.