Monday, September 26, 2016

Ölmönger Special: Visited Fat Lizard, 23 August 2016

Editor's note:
The visit took place over a month ago. The text is mainly boring and occasionally illogical. The pictures are rare and they're bad. Shit happens.

At Pub Winston Beer Festival on Day 2, I went to grab an Arctic Fuel from Fat Lizard & Radbrew booth. While waiting for my half-pint glass to fill up I asked Hessu if their brewery in Kivenlahti, Espoo, can be visited.
"Of course. Wednesday is the usual brewday, but contact us first." 
Couple of days later a peek at the calendar: working trip to Helsinki on Tue-Wed, sleeping place on the sofa reserved at friend's crib, e-mail to the brewery - and exceptionally Tuesday 23 August was told to be the brewday of that week. Awesome!

Fat Lizard Brewing Company on Google Maps in September 2016
So we - I and the other idiot - made our way to Kivenlahti small industry area on the brewday at around 6 p.m. The brewery, which has exciting neighbours like a vehicle inspection station, was easy to find: white Chevy Van with Fat Lizard stickers on the sides, the only open garage door in the area and Hessu's beard revealed the hideout. We were welcomed by happy but seemingly tired couple of brewery founders Heikki "Hessu" Ylinen and Tuomas "Topo" Koskipää, who had brewed saison from 7 a.m. and were still working. "Would you like to have a beer?" was the first and unarguably the best question of the visit. Yes, thanks, we would.

Hessu and Topo's story with Fat Lizard has its roots in 1993, when the friends had their first West Coast beers while visiting California. It was mutual love from first sip without any love triangle jealousy shit. Surrogate experiments with American beers in Finland led to the observation that imported U.S. beers are far from fresh. Or "straight awful", as Topo puts it. The only way to get true and fresh American style ale was to brew yourself. So they learned and brewed. By the 2010's their know-how and skills of homebrewing reached the point-of-no-return: let's start a brewery! So, Fat Lizard Brewing Company Ltd was founded in 2013, the brewery facility was found and renovated in 2014 and the first commercial batch of 101 California Pale Ale came available in the beginning of 2015.

Which beer is this? Can't remember.
First beer at the brewery then: Lizard On A Stick, American Pale Ale with 6,8 % abv, collab brewed with Radbrew. Fresh, fruity, hoppy, tasty. Puts a smile in your mind.

The reason we were welcomed on Tuesday came clear in the start. The guys were off to a trip to the States on Wednesday. Working trip? Holiday trip? What kind of a trip?
"Just a trip. Visiting local breweries. Giving the likes of Russian River brewers Fat Lizard sample bottles with shaking hands. You know."
Umm, no, I don't. Haven't been giving samples of my own - or any, since my own are none - brews to representatives of a world top brewery lately, you know. Couldn't help mentioning about a row of Pliny the Elder bottles on a shelf.
"Yeah, we get them quite fresh from a friend who lives and works near the brewery and visits Finland now and then."
So the answer to the question whether they have any idols in the brewing business isn't a surprise.
"It would probably be Russian River."  

Operating now in a former garage with annual production capacity of 25.000 liters has become a bit of a problem. The biggest problem isn't that you can't get any Lizard beer in Pori but close: the demand of their brews is higher than the guys can brew and they would like to brew more. So they've already found a new brewing facility in Otaniemi, Espoo, where the annual capacity could be 500.000 liters, that is 20 times more than now. The brewery is moving "soon".
"And there will be a restaurant."
A beer restaurant?
"A restaurant."
A food restaurant?
"A restaurant. A place where you can have something to eat and something to drink is a restaurant. Food restaurant? Can you have more tautology than that?"
Ok. So you will run a restaurant by the brewery...
"No, we won't. We will run the brewery, and someone else will run the restaurant. And it will be a great restaurant. Best in the world."
Cheers to that, probably will make a visit. But I'll wait more for a chance to get Lizard beer in Pori. Hope that will happen, too.

Being a professional brewer has its advantages... (here's Hessu)
Second beer at the brewery: Track Day, Session IPA with 4,9 % abv. Fresh, citrus, fruits, tasty. Puts a smile on your eyes.

But let's get back to the demand. One myth in the growing craft beer scene in Finland is that a brewery should have a long list of different and new brews on their beer list, since the pubs and the bars always want to have something different and new on tap. In the case of Fat Lizard the myth doesn't hold: the vast majority of their brews are American-style pale ales with few exceptions. The bars want to have the same beers on tap again. The secret?
"We've automated the process so, that besides the ingredients also the temperatures and the times for each phase in the process gets done exactly the same way as it's done every time. So the brew looks, smells and tastes exactly the same with each batch. And we can see with a glance at the computer screen if something is going wrong. And the people at the bar know what they're getting."
Wait a minute. This must be the way that every brewery in the 21st century brews. At least it should be.
"Unfortunately it's not. Not in this scale. Computer-automated brewing could be a business idea of its own, if someday we got bored with brewing. But for now, we're brewing."
Ok. Learning new things about professional brewing all the way, I guess. What about deciding to quit making APAs & IPAs and switching to something more trendy like sours?
"When we announce quitting APAs and IPAs, Fat Lizard has gone out of business."
Great to know that in the constantly changing world some good things will stay. tasting your products on breaks (here's Topo).
Between the chit-chatting Topo shows us a stack of American homebrewing bibles that have helped and are helping them in brewing. Hessu walks us through the fine details of brewing process, and puts emphasis on two things: quality control (automation mentioned before) and hygiene in brewing (= avoiding unwanted starch and proteins as well as conditions favourable for bacteria). We even get the answer why Fat Lizard beers are vegan but every beer isn't.
"Some unfiltered beers are cleared from yeast with finings. Most common fining is isinglass, which is made from the swim bladders of fish. We don't use finings, so our beers are vegan."
We look and listen in wonder, since we know we are forgetting this lesson soon, at least before our first homebrew. Which will possibly never be, since neither of us has the courage to suggest the idea to one's spouse.
"What's there to suggest? You just decide to brew and that's it."
Yes, Topo. We're still waiting for the stone to spin on the surface.

Third and final beer at the brewery: Arctic Fuel, India Pale Ale with 7,3 % abv. Fresh, fruity, malty, hoppy, piny, tasty. Puts a wide smile on your face.

The white van, the open garage door and Hessu's beard still marking the X.
Around 8 p.m. it's time to thank our hosts and leave the building. The professionals have some work to do, still. We've caused enough trouble with our visit, even though the guys seem to have been unstoppably on the right track all the time, knowing just what to do next and working together. All the best to Hessu, Topo and Fat Lizard.


I heard Topo mentioning the fatal words "Eppu Normaali" during our visit. Well, you can only wish Abby Normal's Finnish cousin to show up here. This song's - and probably also the video's - content clearly imitates the guys' visits in the Golden State.

The Offspring: Cruising California (Bumpin' in My Trunk) (YouTube)

From the 2012 album Days Go By, the song was written by Dexter Holland.

Follow Fat Lizard on Facebook & on Twitter and visit their booth at OlutExpo on 28-30 Oct, 2016 in Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki. 

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