If You Don’t Like Beer, You Probably Won’t Like This Beer
Craft Beer in Estonia
The line of craft beer bottles on the back wall behind the bar was intimidating. Not just because the room was so dark you couldn’t see the contents, but because neither of us were beer drinkers.
Over the throbbing beat of the music the bartender with a swinging blond ponytail explained to my friend and I what was in each bottle. Neither of us had a clue what to choose. I heard the words “brewed with blackcurrant” and opted for that, my friend a beer with rye.
My beer, dark and strong, was on tap and the bartender carefully spooned off the frothy head with a spoon – not just once but twice. The top was pried off the bottle of the other, and both were poured into glasses.
The small, candle-lit bar—actually, they fancy themselves a speakeasy—was on the cusp of Tallinn’s “hipster area,” Kalamaja, opposite the train station. It was full on a Friday night, so we sat on a step in the middle of the room and sipped our drinks.
Neither was a success. All I could taste were traces of coffee, the more subtle flavors going straight over my head. My friend described hers as “bready.” We aren’t beer drinkers and this was the outcome we expected, but I had insisted we try an Estonian craft beer anyway.
In the last few years, there has been an explosion of small breweries popping up and creating their own beer in the smallest Baltic nation. Using anything from wheat and rye to grapefruit and pumpkin, brewers have gone the extra mile to make their drinks original.
It’s a bit of a mystery why craft beer has taken off so suddenly as there have been no recent changes in legislation to give rise to the boom. But there is a long history of brewing in Estonia, and archeologists have found barley that was likely used to make beer in the country approximately 1,000 years ago. Wheat, oats, and rye have also been grown for a long time.
I moved to the tiny country—which has a population of 1.3 million—six months ago, and had seen the signs advertising craft beer outside almost every bar in the cobbled, picture-postcard pretty streets of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town. After trying the nation’s signature drink—Vana Tallinn liquor—and hating it, I wanted to see if I could find another beverage I could stomach.
The bar we were in is owned by Tallinn-based Põhjala Brewery, who helped lead the craft beer revolution. They were the first to start selling handmade drinks with new recipes in 2011. Their beers are some of the best rated on www.ratebeer.com and my flatmate had recommended their brews to me.
A crowd of people left the bar and we upgraded from the floor to stools. Alternating between taking baby sips and chugging back the cold liquids, we were determined to finish our glasses.
Ten minutes later, after trying to hide our screwed up faces as we sipped, we left both glasses, their contents still cold and only three-quarters drunk, on the bar next to a cluster of tea-lights and fled into the cold, dark autumn night.