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Helsinki’s beer-lovers have had to fight for their right to drink. Finland’s powerful temperance movement—which brought about a period of prohibition between 1919 and 1932 and maintains beer taxes that are higher than others in the EU—has long bedevilled drinkers in this frosty city. This tense history has done nothing but add extra flavour to Helsinki’s beer scene.
Sahti, one of the world’s oldest beer styles, is abundant in Finland. It’s a cloudy unfiltered beer that is commonly flavoured with juniper and was once brewed only at home—a trait that no doubt helped it to survive prohibition. Lammin, founded in 1985, was the first commercial Sahti brewery, and their version can be sampled at Bryggeri Helsinki (see below). You can also visit the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, housed in the former offices of the Sinebrychoff brewery, founded in 1819.
Brewdog, Helsinki. Photo by author.
Considering its stunted development, Helsinki’s craft beer culture has grown quite impressively. Aside from Sahti, Helsinki bars also serve Baltic Porters with roots in the 19th century, and the usual ales and lagers that owe much to the beer scenes in America, Britain, Sweden, and Denmark.
Despite these influences, Helsinki’s bars contrast the sophistication of its Scandinavian neighbours with the down-to-earth warmth of its best pubs. The Hotel Indigo Helsinki – Boulevard offers a wide array of craft cocktails, but if you’re in the mood for craft beer, you need only walk 15 minutes down the street. In Helsinki, craft beer is largely served without pretension.
Cheers to the best five places to drink craft beer in Helsinki:
Bier-Bier (Erottajankatu 13) The elegance of the Art Nouveau building in which you’ll find Bier-Bier is reflected inside: there’s elaborate dark-wood panelling, a maroon ceramic tiled bar, and curvaceous, retro furniture. It’s like a particularly stylish men’s club, and that attention to detail extends to what you’ll find on the bar. There are eight taps featuring a very well-chosen selection from Finland (including Plevna and Donut Island), Europe, and the USA, plus more than a hundred bottles, all of which are served in high-quality glassware. Prices are not cheap, but the experience is worth it.
Black Door (Kaisaniemenkatu 4) This down-to-earth spot is reminiscent of the classic pubs of the British Isles. That extends to no frills decor, (invariably) warm welcome, and the drinks list, chock full of whisky, cider, and lots of beer—Fuller’s, Gadd’s and Thornbridge have all made an appearance. It’s not just British beer, though. Finnish, German, and American ales and lagers complete the line-up. Head down for sport—from ice hockey to, inevitably enough, English Premier League football—and live music.
Brewdog Helsinki (Tarkk’ampujankatu 20) This Scottish brewery has opened bars at a rate of knots around Europe over the past few years, and their Helsinki outpost—which boasts 24 taps—is one of the best. Housed in a former bank, this bar is more conservatively decorated than some of its siblings, but the huge poster of video tapes (featuring Top Gun, Trainspotting, Ghostbusters, and, of course, Brewdog) provides visual stimuli. Aside from Brewdog’s beers, you can expect to find Finnish brewers Pynikkin, Iso-Kallan, and Hissi as well as Sori from across the water in Estonia, and plenty of American and Scandinavian favourites too.
Bryggeri Helsinki (Sofiankatu 2) This brewpub is composed of a small-ish bar and a much larger restaurant below, with the on-site brewing to the fore—the restaurant is designed around the brewing kettles. A huge range of beers are made on-site by German brewer Mathias Hüffner, including styles from Britain, Germany, Belgium, the US, and farther afield. The food is excellent, and the beer list isn’t confined to those brewed on-site: there’s also an excellent selection of Finnish and Estonian craft beers, plus Sahti!
Oluthuone Kaisla (Vilhonkatu 4) A cavernous pub with an equally sizeable beer range: 30 on tap with more than 200 in bottle. The decor is simple, running to wood, brick and beer memorabilia, but more attention has been lavished on the beer. There’s a particularly good range of Finnish craft beers, including at least 10 on tap: look out for Plevnan’s Irish-style dry stout and Kaisla’s Porilainen, a hazy golden IPA brewed exclusively for the bar by Panimoravintola Beer Hunter’s in Pori.