Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sessio #1 (Oct 2017): Finnish keskiolut

This post is a part of Sessio, Finnish beer bloggers' monthly posts on the same topic. The topic is selected by a monthly changing host. This topic was selected by Tuopillinen, who will wrap up the Sessio posts in his blog. I will take part in Sessio whenever the subject feels nice and I have time to write a post.

"In Finland we have this thing called reilu meininki." According to modern legend, the popular phrase was first used in the 1981 Finnish rock documentary Saimaa-ilmiö by the band members of Eppu Normaali, possibly the most popular representative of Suomi-rock substyle. Roughly translated 'reilu meininki' means actions/atmosphere of fairness, depending on the context. The phrase, however, is commonly used as sarcasm: there's very little or nothing fair in the situation that is described with the phrase, e.g. when the rich seem to get richer and the poor poorer, when people in need of help aren't helped but instead kicked in the ass or when a friendly and polite person gets beaten in the line for night snack instead of the bullies fighting with each other. That probably fits some Finns' idea of reilu meininki, but hopefully not the majority's.


Finnish keskiolut - also known as keskari, keppana, kepardi, keikyä etc. - is officially translated 'beer having the alcoholic content between 2,8 % – 4,7 % of its volume'. That's the definition from Finnish beer tax legislation since 1988. Usually keskiolut is considered to be, according to the legislation changes coming into effect in 1988, the beer of the 3rd tax class (III-olut, kolmosolut) that had the abv of at least 3,7 % and at most 4,7 %. In Finland beers with the alcoholic content between 2,8 % - 3,7 %, almost like the Swedish mellanöl, haven't been brewed too much because of low sales. 

Since 1969 it's been allowed to sell keskiolut in grocery stores - until then selling beer above 2,8 % abv was strictly limited to Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko and restaurants with appropriate selling right for alcohol. After that, due to its relatively cheap price, keskiolut pretty quickly became the most sold alcoholic beverage in Finland and has been ever since. Since in the 2000's there's variety in the beer styles with the abv at most at 4,7 %, the style of keskiolut can be limited to pale lager. And since even some microbreweries brew mild pale lagers which aren't so cheap, keskiolut can be strictly limited to 'cheap bulk pale lager with the abv of 4,0 %  - 4,7 %'. This last one, of course, is completely my own poor definition and can easily be questioned by people, who don't have anything meaningful to do with their lives and who often find themselves in the middle of a pointless Internet argument with no winners.
Finns' favourite beer?
What does a proper keskiolut taste like? Let's look at the short expert definitions of the keskiolut brands at Alko product pages:
  • Pale yellow, light, mildly hopped, grainy notes (Olvi III)
  • Yellowy brown, tawny, medium full bodied, medium hopped, light malty notes, fruity (Karhu III)
  • Yellow, light, mildly hopped, grainy notes, biscuity, fresh, refreshing (Lapin Kulta Premium III)
  • Yellow, medium full bodied, mildly hopped, light malty notes, fruity, fresh, refreshing (Koff III
Well, what can I say? My notes of "metallic cardboardy malty, dank bitter, near-watery clean, simply forgettable" don't quite match the expert definitions, do they? But that's just me. The majority of beer-drinking Finns isn't on my side. Haven't seen the latest sales statistics, but I strongly presume that at least five most sold beer brands in Finland are traditional keskiolut brands.

I belong to the minority of Finnish beer drinkers, to the group of elitists, snobs, dilettantes, aficianados, hipsters or whatever word you want to use, who aim to get different and even challenging experiences coming from the beer's taste. Not the amount of pints drunk nor the level of the drinker's toxicity, which are the most common measures of beer when discussing the concept of traditional Finnish beer culture. Also, difference, challenge and experience are not the right words to describe reasons to drink bulk pale lagers - easy, simple, cheap and shitfaced are. And because I drink my beers from a glass, because I like differences in the way the beer looks, smells and tastes and because my life is too short for drinking bad beer intentionally, there will never be any keppana reviews in this blog.


So, what does the phrase "In Finland we have this thing called reilu meininki" have to do with Finnish keskiolut?

In the aspect of alcohol politics, we are living in interesting times in Finland right now. Since 1969 and bringing keskiolut to grocery stores, it's soon the first time in Finnish history when the parliament votes about raising the abv level of brewery products sold in grocery stores to 5,5 %. And it will be a tough vote. There are other changes coming up in the alcohol law if the goverment's motion will pass, but to raise or not to raise the maximum abv of alcohol products sold in grocery stores from 4,7 % to 5,5 % is clearly the toughest question.

Finnish concept of reilu meininki steps into the picture, when we look at the arguments presented against changing the alcohol law in the discussion. For 48 years Finnish politicians have watched and allowed Finns to turn keppana their favourite alcoholic beverage, raise the total consumption of alcohol with keskari and face the social and health problems that over-consumption of easily drinkable and cheap keikyä causes. Now some politicians are seriously claiming that raising the abv level of alcoholic beverages available in grocery stores with 0,8 percentage points will increase alcohol-related health problems and deaths in the country magnificently. That the nation will change its almost for half a century legislatively guided taste for beer in an instant and the kepardi drinkers will turn to "nelosolut" (= 5,0-5,5 % abv pale lager) drinkers overnight. That the people who've drinked cheap pale lager all their lives will start to buy somewhat more expensive German-style wheat beers instead.

And of course the politicians are correct. People should be protected from free choice between cheap bulk pale lagers and expensive craft beers, since it clearly makes thing worse if people would start to choose one expensive 5,5 % craft beer rather than four cheap 4,7 % lagers. There seriously would be some real problems in the future. Like people thinking for themselves and taking responsibility of their own actions. Probably they would take responsibility of people around them and start to show Finnish reilu meininki by its actual meaning. Sounds painful and 'orrible, doesn't it?


Keskiolut has an iconic status in the Finnish beer scene, so we'll have to select a Finnish iconic pop song to match it. Since Eppu Normaali has already been mentioned in the text, we'll take the band's most popular track. Initially the song was meant to be parody of the melancholic themes of Finnish popular music. However, even though only viina (booze) is the only beverage mentioned in the song, I would argue that keskiolut has its part in "työttömyys, viina, kirves ja perhe / lumihanki, poliisi ja viimeinen erhe" (unemployment, booze, axe and family / snowdrift, police and the last mistake) of the main character's destiny.

Eppu Normaali: Murheellisten laulujen maa (YouTube)

From the 1982 album Tie vie, the song was written by Martti Syrjä and Mikko Syrjä.