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Helsinki Beer Festival is a two day event, which offers the visitor both a healthy dose of imported beers and an insight in Finnish microbrewing. Compared to other Scandinavian countries there are a lot of small brewpubs and microbreweries in Finland - the problem seems to be that they are all very small, there are nearly no midsize breweries/ larger microbreweries, and because of that you need to look very hard to get hold of any of their beers. Far from all microbreweries and brewpubs were represented, but still the selection of beers were more than enough for me to make the trip from Stockholm worthwhile.
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The first brewery I looked up on the festival was Stadin Panimo, a Helsinki microbrewery. One of the key persons in this brewery is Kari Likovuori.</td></tr>
<tr><td colspan=2>Kari is know to most as one of the pioneers in providing beer information on the Internet, and who has now taking up brewing professionally. The beer offered by the brewery reflects interest in good beer of the persons behind it, and they come in all possible styles you can dream up. Last year I managed to sample a couple of world class beers from them at a Helsinki pub, not the least their Stadin Dubbel. This year they offered among others a seriously bitter Belgian style bitter ale called Stadin EXXtra Bitter, a lighter but still bitter Stadin American Pale Ale and a porter with a lot of rye malt called Stadin Ruisportteri. In my opinion it is very hard to find any brewery, worldwide, which can offer the combination of diversity of styles and quality of the beers as Stadin does.
A new star of the Finnish beer scene is the brewpub Panimoravintola Huvila, situated close to the opera house in Savonlinna in eastern Finland. They offer a range of very stylish beers, from a bitter, over to a porter and an ESB, and - which is unusual in eastern Finland - also a sahti. Huvila Sahti is fermented at a relatively low temperature to keep the banana aroma common in sahti down, it is also clean and smooth for the style, and at 10,4% this is also a highly dangerous drink for those unfamiliar with this traditional Finnish beer style of rye beer.
If there is a large scale sahti brewer, then it's Lammin Sahti. Still this operation is very low scale... They offered, beside their regular sahti also a filtered version of it, called Lammin Mahti, leaving most of the flavour of the sahti intact, but giving at a less muddy appearance. They also sold a top fermented golden ale spiced with juniper called Lammin Käki
The second largest sahti brewer offered two varities of sahti, one regular, weighing in at a mere 8.0% and one strong at 10.0%. Their sahtis won great victories with the judges, and they walked away with two out of three medals in the category "Best Finnish Microbrew".
Coming from Pori, Panimoravintola Beer Hunter's offered a near black doppelbock called Muflonator and an individualistic and interesting India pale ale which was laughingly described by the brewmaster as too dark, too malty and with too little hops for the style...
Panimo & Tislamo Teerenpeli offered among a range of lagers and porter a rauchbier called Sauhusanttu made from 40% smoked malt from Bamberg, and the "double brewpub" Saimaan Panimo/Pienpanimo Naapuri offered a range of light and dark lagers, as did Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas (beat that name, anyone!).
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Did you miss Vainio-Ketolan's beers at the Festival? Blame this guy, the proud father of the calf.
One of the most charming breweries however did not show up until day 2. The farm brewery Vainio-Ketolan Panimo had an unusual explanation. One of their cows was giving birth...
Once they showed up they offered a bitter, a dryish stout and an unusual sahti called Kullero Sahti featuring a highly smokey nose, and with loads of juniper flavour. </td></tr><tr><td colspan=2>They have brewed it from home smoked malt, and obviously had thrown an eye at how Gotlandsdricke is made. This missing link between two interesting beer styles was also perhaps the muddiest beer I've seen since I last had sorghum beer.
The selection of foreign beers was also good. This year there was a special focus on Czechish beers, and among the more rare ones you could find the Svaty Norbert beers from the newish kloister brewery in Prague, as well as beers from the experimental brewpub Pivovarsky Dum.
So, who was the best Finnish beers at the festival?
Well according to the judges this was the list:
<TR><TH COLSPAN=3>Official results: Finnish Microbrews:</TR>
<TR><TH>GOLD </TH><TD>Finlandia Sahti </TD><TD>Finlandia Sahti </TD></TR>
<TR><TH>SILVER</TH><TD>Stadin Panimo </TD><TD>Stadin EXXtra Bitter </TD></TR>
<TR><TH>BRONZE</TH><TD>Finlandia Sahti </TD><TD>Finlandia Sahti Strong </TD></TR>
Even though I considered all these beers for my personal list I didn't pick any of them. Instead I chose:<p> <IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/gold.gif>GOLD: Panimoravintola Porter - Huvila Porter
Among all the beers this stood out to me as the most stylish. It has got all the ingredients of a classical porter, a good hoppy, citrusy nose. A firm body with loads of chocolate, without becoming too sweet. Notes of coffee and a pleasantly bitter finish. Just classic.<p>
<P> <IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/silver.gif>SILVER: Stadin Panimo -Stadin Strong Ale
More or less any of the beers at Stadin Panimo could have been picked. I chose this because of it's wonderful balance and malt structure.
<P> <IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/bronze.gif>BRONZE:Vainio-Ketolan Panimo - Kullero Sahti
Certainly not stylish, just charmingly small scale and individualism. So muddy I doubted that I could get it out of the glass even with a spoon, and very smokey this is not a beer for the faint of heart. But for those us who prefers a challenge it is a rare treat.