There was a pretty nice article in last Friday’s Nyt about the beer scene here. Using the opening of a couple of new craft-focused bars as a hook, it dug into the history of beer and brewing in Finland and came up with a few interesting things.
Comparing the current wave to the keskiolutbaari boom of the ’90s, the piece highlights the main differences: where formerly a customer would ask for “one beer, please,” now they ask “what’s new?” Bar interiors have also changed, apparantly–gone are the days of red sofas and carpets smelling of beer; Scandinavian minimalism is in–but the most important thing is the beer, which you can taste before buying (at the risk of repeating myself, this is an important point).
The author marvels at the wide selection on offer in these new bars (18 taps at Brewdog, 200 bottles in the newly-opened Bier Bier) which made me wonder if he’d ever counted the taps in the Black Door, or looked in the fridges at Kaisla. Are those places not scandinavian-minimalist enough? And what’s wrong with sofas anyway? But. I guess he was just making a point.
Anyway, to the history.
Pikkulintu‘s Markku Ristevirta tells how things used to be different at the start of the 1900s: “every town had it’s own brewery. They made full-malt beers, porters, stouts, bocks. The range was wide.” But after 13 years of prohibition (1919-32), they had to start “from zero. From then on, the authorities decided what you could make. Alko invited tenders from the breweries, and chose the cheapest. In the end there were just four big breweries left, who all made watery lager, because it was the cheapest to make.”
The old joke goes: In Finland there are four breweries and two flavours. (The second being Koff porter, which I’ve heard appeared on the scene shortly after Sinebrychoff’s brewer paid a visit to Dublin.)
Interesting fact: until 1964, it was prohibited to import beer. Baffling fact: until 1986, Alko only imported two different beers, both Danish. (The article doesn’t state which ones, but we can take a guess..)
Ristevirta reckons that the rebirth of beer culture here didn’t begin until Finland joined the EU in 1995. This led to a rise in imports, and Finns discovered (should that be rediscovered?) “soft Czech pilsners, crisp German weissbiers and bitter English ales.” The number of breweries also began to grow–Pienpanimoliitto (the small brewers’ union) now lists 29 members around Finland. “We’ve finally returned to where Finnish beer culture was before prohibition.”
The big breweries are “spinning on their heads” at these developments, according to Ristevirta. “Price was the deciding factor until recently. Now people are prepared to pay for flavour.”
(Indeed, it must be tricky for breweries who have spent the last 80 years trying to brew as cheaply as possible to turn around and focus on quality.)
Quoting Ristevirta again, along with an expert from Sinebrychoff, the article points out the importance of Brewdog’s marketing to their success. Koff’s Anikó Lehtinen says Brewdog are marketing their punk attitude, and “people are buying more than just the beer.” (This is a fair point–and I agree with it–but it’s interesting to hear it coming from Sinebrychoff. Koff Rock, anybody?)
Overall, I thought this piece focused quite heavily on the trend aspect of things–marketing/fashion/scandinavian minimalism–though again, that’s probably fair enough, considering the readership. And it was balanced well, in the end, with the opinions of Mr. Pikkulintu, who has been single-handedly importing craft beers from Sweden and beyond since before Brewdog started selling beer out of the back of their van.
In other words, marketing and image has a lot to do with selling
beer anything, but there’s more than one way to decorate a bar, and I still think the best way to persuade someone to buy a beer is to let them taste it.
Nice article, though. Maybe those Finnish lessons were worth something after all..