The world’s best craft porter and other ingenious beers16.10.2014
Head brewer Tuomas Pere of Pyynikki Craft Brewery is happy. In the spring, a fire halted the operations of the brewery, which had got off to a good start, but now the brew kettles are running again. In late summer, the brewery’s craft porter was named the best in the world in the 2014 Global Craft Beer Award competition.
When you ask Tuomas Pere how it all began, he starts with ancient history. His family has its roots in Northern Satakunta, which has a strong tradition for brewing sahti beer. Sahti is one of the oldest beers in the world still in production. It is a relevant and diverse drink which, according to Pere, is still entwined with folk culture and identity – and an important part of Pere’s own background.
The next milestone in the story of Pyynikki Craft Brewery was Pere’s bathroom back in the day. Pere worked in social services for some twenty years, and in his free time he fulfilled himself by home-brewing beer.
“Brewing beer combines making things by hand, brainstorming, creating, flavours and a feeling of success that is transferred to others with the product. I imagine that if a baker or coffee roaster manages to create a great and harmonious entity, they experience something similar as the brewer of a successful beer,” says Pere.
Finally, Pere’s wife suggested that they commercialise the little bathroom brewery. Pere immediately resigned from his job, went on to study beer brewing for a year and started brainstorming with a friend about a beerhouse with a brewery in the basement.
“The idea took off like a wildfire. As the word spread, over 100 people, both old acquaintances and strangers who just loved beer, immediately hopped aboard, wanting to join the family... After all, that is what a community that forms around a brewery is usually called – a family,” says Pere.
In the plans, the cellar brewery grew into a real small-time brewery, and then a lot of things happened in a short span of time. The first share issue of 400 shares was fully subscribed in three days, the first set of equipment was acquired for a reasonable price, a suitable facility was found in the Rahola industrial area, and the authorities issued the necessary permits.
“In July 2013, the sales of the first beer began. Business was great, and we were naturally completely amazed and happy, and kept on working,” says Pere.
Then came a terrible setback in the brewery’s story. On May Day 2014, an electrical cabinet at the brewery caught fire, causing serious destruction and smoke damage at the production facility. A large quantity of beer that was being brewed for the summer sales was ruined when the cold room lost power.
“We had to tell the shops and restaurants that they would not receive the beers they had ordered. And by God, the huge amount of understanding and encouragement we received at that point was amazing,” said Pere.
The timing of the gold medal at the Global Craft Beer Award 2014 was spot on.
“Vahvaportteri, the award-winning beer, was the only beer we had at that time that we could even send for the competition. What makes the award especially meaningful to me is that the judges were head brewers and brewery workers. A recognition from them is something special,” says Pere.
The production is back up now, and the plan is to step up total production volumes to up to 500,000 litres per year over the next few years. The beginning of October marked the opening of a Tallinn-based online shop www.papabeers.com, which sells only the products of Pyynikki Craft Brewery. The brewery employs around ten people, and the brewery family – the volunteers who, in one way or another, support the operations of the brewery – has grown to a thousand people.
“We have a special Facebook group for friends of the brewery, for example. If we post there that we need some rowan berries or apples, we will soon find plenty of them out front.”
Pere says that there are two types of beer brewers, engineers and artists, and both can create good beers. Pere is clearly a member of the latter group, with his desire to experiment and the creative genius of his beers. Pere can spend years developing a beer, whereas the recipe of another beer may come to him one night in a dream. Some beers are based on customer requests, but often their impetus is an association or sense memory that Pere wants to transfer to the person drinking the beer.
“Christmas beer is a good example: when you combine elements that are associated with Christmas in the flavour, most of the people tasting the beer experience a sense of Christmas. But the mental image can be anything, such as a clear day in late winter and campfire smoke in the middle of conifers,” says Pere.
However, the idea and recipe are just the beginning of the creation of a beer. Pere explains that the workers at Pyynikki Craft Brewery feel that they fulfil the roles of caretaker and grower in their work. Beer lives throughout the brewing process and even in the bottle, so it must be taken good care of.
“That is the idea of craft beers: they contain a lot of good ingredients, they are brewed with love, and they give pleasure, experiences and thoughts,” says Pere.