Craft beer in Finland: Introduction and history

General
Published: October 14, 2021
Finland, our homeland in Northern Europe, is a country of thousands of lakes, dark winters, northern lights and beautiful summers with midnight sun. It’s also home of Santa Claus, thousands of heavy metal bands and dozens of microbreweries producing craft beer with passion towards quality artisan brewing. In this Craft beer in Finland post series, we’ll introduce interesting Finnish craft breweries, that we visited during our craft beer tour around the country in summer 2021. But let’s get started with a short introduction about the beer culture in Finland overall.

History of brewing in Finland in a nutshell

Beer-making has long roots in Finland, basically since the country was first inhabited, and the first written sources about brewing are from the 14th century. In the Middle Ages, there used to be a law that required every farm to grow hops, and it was even possible to pay taxes in hops and in beer. Back then beer was a common drink for both the upper class and for common people, and it’s said that the average beer consumption was 1.5 liters per day per person. Hop farming ended a long ago, but brewing has continued.

History of beer | Craft beer in Finland | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Beer barrels in Kerava Brewery in 1930's (picture: Kerava Museum)
The most traditional beer style in Finland would be sahti, a dark, often red-brown, thick and sweet unfiltered natural beer, that was fermented with baking yeast and often spiced with juniper. Sahti was mostly a home-brewing product, but Finnish beer was also exported to Sweden already back in the 16th century. Commercial brewing started in the early 19th century, when the first larger scale breweries were founded, and by the end of the century there were around 100 breweries altogether.
History of beer | Craft beer in Finland | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Beer production facilities in Kerava Brewery in the early 1900's (picture: Kerava Museum)
In the early 20th century, the sobriety movement started to gain popularity, and when the time of the Prohibition Act began in 1919, most of the breweries had to close down. Some survived by starting to manufacture low-alcohol beer and soft drinks. The Prohibition Act was repealed in 1932, and 44 breweries got a brewing license from the state. Beer consumption doubled after the sale of beer in grocery stores was liberalized in 1969. Over the decades, however, some of the smaller, regional breweries ceased operations, some were sold to bigger operators, and by 1990 there was only a handful of big manufacturers left.
History of beer | Craft beer in Finland | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Brewing equipment in Olvi Brewery in late 1800's or early 1900's (picture: Olvi Oyj and Olvi foundation archives)

As in pretty much every corner of the world, light (bulk) lager is the most popular beer style, and large international companies dominate the market. However, one large-scale brewery, Olvi, has remained independent and domestically owned. Olvi brewery in Iisalmi, eastern Finland, manufactures popular lager beers, but also other beer styles, such as hoppy lagers and IPAs.

Craft beer boom in Finland

The first waves of the international craft beer boom hit Finland in the early 1990’s. Becoming a part of European Union in 1995 reformed legislation, and made it easier to establish breweries (there is a state alcohol monopoly in Finland, that makes both manufacturing and buying alcohol products, especially the ones with ABV over 5,5 %, rather difficult, but that is another story). Since the late 90’s craft beer has gained popularity and the amount of microbreweries has been growing. At first the amount of craft beer enthusiasts was rather small, but the “new” beer styles won over more and more people every year. By 2010 there were around 40 breweries in Finland, and in 2021 there are altogether around 120 microbreweries and roughly 30 nomadic breweries. In a country of just 5,5 million inhabitants, that is quite a lot.

Hiisi Taproom | Craft beer in Finland | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Taproom of Hiisi Brewing in Jyväskylä, Finland

Beer Hunter’s brewpub, a family-owned microbrewery established in 1998 is one of the oldest microbreweries and craft beer pioneers in Finland, brewing now in third generation. Their Mufloni CCCCC IPA, brewed in Pori since 2010, was one of the first American style IPA’s in Finland.

Mufloni CCCCC IPA by Beer Hunter's | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Tasting Mufloni CCCCC IPA by Beer Hunter's in Olutsatama Craft Beer Festival

Even if the market share of the big commercial breweries is still way over 90 %, artisan brewing and craft beers in different styles are popular. The strict legislation regarding selling and distributing alcohol makes things somewhat complicated for both the microbreweries and the consumers, but the availability of both Finnish and international craft beers is in general quite good in (craft beer oriented) pubs and in grocery stores (products with ABV under 5,5 %). Some breweries, like Salama Brewing Co. also export beers abroad, but most of the small breweries focus on the domestic market. Especially during the summer there are craft beer festivals around the country, and there are also beer societies organizing beer tastings and other events. Home-brewing is quite popular too, and like in many other countries, several microbreweries have their origins in experimental home-brewing.

Tornio Brewery beers in Lapland | Craft beer in Finland | Craft Beer Nomads blog
Tornio Brewery beers in the wild in Finnish Lapland

Water in Finland is clean and most often very soft, and groundwater is used as tap water, and for beer-making, in many areas. Barley, oat, wheat and rye are domestically available, and there are a few malting plants, biggest one of them Viking Malt, that distributes malts all over the world. Even if there was a lot of hops grown in Finland centuries ago, the growth conditions are not the best, and at the moment there is not much domestic hops used in beer production. However, other ingredients from the clean Finnish nature, like various berries, can be used especially when making fruited beers.

Craft Beer Nomads
Beers by Finnish Salama Brewing in a bottle shop in Spain

In the next posts we’ll make a brewery tour in Finland, visiting both small village breweries and a bit larger scale operators, from southern Finland to Lapland, starting from three microbreweries in Keran Hallit in Espoo.

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