Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sessio #4 (Jan 2018): Finnish vs. foreign beer

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 me, Ölmönger, and I will wrap up the Sessio posts on this blog. Since I'm the host, taking part in Sessio was kinda mandatory.

When I selected the topic for this Sessio - which by the way occurred under the disclaimer "If you're ever forced to host Sessio" when Tuopillinen presented the idea of these postings in fall 2017 - ,  I had a brilliant idea of what I was going to write about. Like most of the brilliant ideas - not just mine - that idea didn't get written down. So I lost it somewhere on the way. And now I'm putting together a piece of crap instead of a quality Sessio post. I'm pretty sure that I'll remember the idea after this continuum of bad excuses is finished but will not write this post again.

Instead, I'm writing about how important it is to compare Finnish beer to its foreign competitors. Why? Because it's the first thing that popped into my head after the actual first idea had vanished and because I have no motivation for looking back at the blog and pick some boring statistics about "what are the differences in the number of styles represented in a) Finnish beers and b) foreign beers". In addition, the Finnish beer fanatics often seem to be pretty critical especially towards Finnish beer and at the same time praising towards foreign stuff. So comparison happens - and it's actually good for Finnish beer.
What's the point of this?
First of all, we have to admit that continuous brewing tradition has lived longer elsewhere than in Finland. Yes, we've brewed sahti in Finland for centuries but why should it count. Sahti is a brew for the freakiest of the beer freaks, and it's only one narrow local style in the world of beer. Based on my very narrow experience, one hell of a style when well brewed, though. Yes, Finland had around one hundred small local breweries from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. But prohibition (1919-1932) basically killed that tradition for decades. After that until the 2000's the Finnish beers were mass-produced pale lagers that represent no brewing tradition whatsoever. So, it's fair to say that there's more experience-based brewing skill outside Finland than in Finland, and based on the common knowledge experienced people tend to have better routine for basic things and therefore better base for experiments.   

Brewing is no exception from other human activities in the sense that there has to be development to keep the activity alive. To keep things developing, it's necessary to aim for better results than those already achieved. What could be better goals than those they've already reached for Finnish breweries? Better sales, of course. Better quality and taste, more critical acclaim, more demand, of course. To deserve a similar reputation of the foreign brewery they secretly admire - or at least a Finland-scaled version of the reputation? Hopefully. To be compared to that brewery in a positive way? "This beer reminds me of my visit to Russian River - just a notch or two missing from Pliny the Younger, I think." No, no one in a Finnish brewery would like to hear that kind of stuff. They'd surely be glad to hear praising like "Not that bad. Almost as good as Karjala." Get the difference? Surely not, but we'll continue.

Secondly, the majority of beer is produced outside Finland. "Oh, really?" Yeah, really, and actually Finnish beer's stake of the world's beer is almost nonexistent. Looking only at the locally produced beer and making comparisons inside that category would be like settling to play football inside a less-than-one-square-meter (< 10,67 sq ft) closet and enjoying it. Even though that's the space where any Finnish men's football team could probably somehow manage, we shouldn't settle for that with beer, since there's a much larger space for the game easily available. If you like watching football, a Champions' League game is much more interesting than a local 4th division match, isn't it?


Unlike in football, since there's a chance for it, international competition is better than just national recognition. Comparing Finnish beer not just to other Finnish beer but also foreign beer helps to consumer to see - or rather taste - what's the actual state of Finnish brewing skill at the moment. For the consumer, only the taste means quality. For the breweries, knowing what's going on outside the country borders, is probably necessary: not just for widening the view for mew ideas but getting some spectrum for developing the process and the quality. And as a no-brainer, also the earlier mentioned tradition of brewing certain beer styles in certain places should offer if not the best but still a rather suitable area for comparison.

In the end, drawing strict country borders for experiencing beer is for assholes. If it's not that clever for a Finn to drink just Finnish beer, the same goes with Belgians, Brits, Germans, Czechs and even Americans. It's allowed to prefer certain countries, styles or even individual beers, but having a pint of something completely different helps you know - not just assume - what you really like. On the other hand, categorical principle for automatically considering a beer good or bad because of the country where it was brewed - "American beers are always better than Finnish ones." - is for assholes. But that's a slightly different story.

So, what does the picture in the beginning have to do with the subject - Finnish vs. foreign? Well, the beer in the tasting glass happens to be a collab brew called We'll Always Have Paris by Sori Brewing and Brouwerij Kees. I enjoyed it one day in Sori Taproom, Helsinki. What about the Finnish-foreign thing with it? First, Sori is from Estonia and Kees from the Netherlands, so the beer is a product of international co-operation. That happens pretty often nowadays. Second, the founders of Tallinn-based Sori Brewing are Finnish, and the brewery is considered to be at least "having the other foot" in Finland, which is at least partly shown true by the fact that their taproom is in the capital of our country. The beer was excellent, by the way.

Ölbeat

Many nationalities mentioned - check. Unnecessary association to football noticed - check. "And if I catch it coming back my way / I'm gonna serve it to you / And that ain't what you want to hear / But that's what I'll do" - check.

The White Stripes: Seven Nation Army (YouTube)

From the 2003 album Elephant, the song was written by Jack White.

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