In Finland, drinking might not be just a regular social interaction, but also a special occasion, a public holiday, a celebration. "Alcohol is, and has been, an unusually important substance for Finns. It's not because Finns always have drunk, or drink, an unusual amount – rather the opposite." This piece is from the book 'Finland, a cultural encyclopedia,' and talks about the influence of alcohol in the country.
The prohibition of beverages between 1919 and 1968, and the overregulation, kept spirits and the joy of drinking in a glorified position for a good portion of a century. Drinking was a sign of defiance after the 70s, and for decades - with the urbanization of the country and the recession in the 90s - the 21st century is trying to break the prejudice.
Craft beer is the youngest alcoholic movement in Finland, with almost two decades of activity, and now calling attention to the number of microbreweries and the quality of products. Binge drinking in this crowd is not so active, as Pasi Pelkonen from Iso-Kallan says, "those who prefer craft beer don't watch the alcohol level and don't concentrate on quantities but quality. Those who like binge drinking prefer vodka or then "keskiolut", about 4.5 % beer, or the strongest light beer available."
As said, Finns prefer lighter beers, like the high alcohol lagers, best sellers in Alko. It is a very particular style of beer, prevalent in Nordic countries and Russia. Many breweries rush the fermentation so that the final brew won't be too light, and signs of higher alcohols will be present in the aroma and flavor. Another demanded style in Finland is Porter/Stout, as dark beers are also high in alcohol and can be drunk easily in cold weather.
Trending now is also IPAs, sours, and of course, following the healthier course of consumption - the blooming of organic, gluten-free, and no alcohol beers. In terms of flavors, there's some room for experimentation, as herbs and berries can be added to the recipes. But historically, as brewing is something running in Finnish blood, the most traditional is, and will always be sahti.
It is the only primitive beer to survive in Western Europe, the beer that peasants learned to brew in the 1500s and is still very much alive, homemade for celebratory events. It is a sweet, malty, turbid beer with complex flavors of banana and sometimes juniper. Some breweries have their recipe of sahti, but it seems like the real deal can be found at your neighbor's home.
With the homebrewing, and the preference of high alcoholic beverages, and many other reasons, Finland is now the 17th country in the world in beer consumption, with almost 77 liters per person. With a little more than 5 million inhabitants, this is more than 400 million liters of beer in a year, bought in Alko and drank in bars, restaurants, homes, and Beer Festivals.
Now, with the Coronavirus situation still alarming the world, the microbrewers might be at risk. "The restrictions hit very hard, and they will have a big impact on the companies. It forced the breweries to try to create new ways to get some revenue to keep the business' alive and sell the products that were brewed for summer. The end outcome will also depend on how this epidemic will affect the customer's behavior in the near future" says Jussi Wallendahr from Ö Brewing.
The craft beer movement in Finland has a path to grow, with only 5% of all beer sold in the country coming from micro and small breweries. Other Nordic countries such as Sweden and Denmark have a stronger market development, showing there's no way to go but up. The beer movement is dynamic in Europe, as the UK, Czech Republic, Belgium and Germany can affirm, so can we wait for a boom in Finnish beer?
As the epic poem "Kalevala" says, "Whence indeed will come the liquor, Who will brew me beer from barley, Who will make the mead abundant, For the people of the Northland" this only has one answer: the brewers.
Photo Christin Hume Unsplash