How the Estonian Põhjala Brewery Works
In October, Estonian brewery Põhjala announced the millionth bottle of beer produced since the beginning of the year. In winter, Põhjala opened a new factory with a production capacity of about 1200 decalitres per month, and the brewery supplies 70% of its products to other countries. Stef Bays talks about the success of the brewery in an article on Good Beer Hunting.
Now Põhjala beer is most actively sold in Finland, France, the Netherlands, China and Italy. There is growing interest in South Korea and the USA, which are the largest consumer of beer in the world. Põhjala recently shipped the first container to Australia, soon will be the first shipment to Hong Kong.
The Põhjala plant and taprum are open for only a few months. Production is still divided between the new and old locations, which are much smaller and are located in the Tallinn Nõmme region. The new facility, with a laboratory and a bottling line, has not yet been fully commissioned: the equipment is in its original form, sterility and spaciousness reign everywhere.
The new Põhjala brewery is located on the site of a former shipyard on Peetri Street in the Noblessner quarter on the Baltic Sea. Over five million euros were invested in it and taprum. The renovated complex occupies about 3000 square meters, and 35 people work here.
Behind the heavy doors and dimly lit lobby is a bright taprum, decorated in a style that can be called “industrial chic.” It is huge, with high ceilings, large windows stretch along the walls, and at the back of the building is a modern kitchen with a view of the entire hall. Here they make a barbecue in the Texas style: pork ribs, smoked sausages, corn bread, chopsticks, slaw. Chef is Mike Holman, who spent some time in Texas after leaving his hometown of Vancouver, which gave him the opportunity to improve his skills. Among his favorite dishes is a banana pie with cream and fudge, served with Cherry Bänger imperial stout. “Cherry loves banana, and chocolate loves vanilla. This is a perfect match, ”says the chef. But Mike himself attributes the successful combination to his fiancée Hannah, who runs a pastry program.
In taprum you can also try the variety, brewed together with the Texas brewery Jester King. Port Over Easy is an imperial Baltic porter aged in a port barrel, brewed with caramelized Estonian birch syrup. According to Peeter Keek, one of the founders of Põhjala, they often end up with their porters. “We get emails all the time reproaching us that our porter is not downstream fermentation, but upstream,” he says. Although the beer is excellent – thick, tarry, sweet; It goes well with beef tacos.
Põhjala started brewing beer in 2012, producing several varieties under the contract, while the creators of the brewery were preparing to build their own factory. “None of us had hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Peeter Keek recalls, and therefore, when their previous facility opened in 2014, they brewed beer at a rampant pace. – As a result, we ran out of space at the old factory. We decided to decide whether we would increase volumes or remain a niche brewery. I said: “What the hell? We need money! “”
Keek and other cofounders, Tiit Paananen, Ann Parel and Gren Noormets, needed funding. The money they received for the development of the enterprise is made up of loans and funds collected from two dozen investors, most of whom are owners of IT startups.
“This is a common practice among the younger generation of Estonians. Most of our investors are entrepreneurs. They don’t have business ambitions, but they like beer, ”says Keek. This freedom means that the brewery has carte blanche for any experimental whims.
The Põhjala Laboratory is run by Samu Heino. He has been working at Põhjala since 2014. He studied microbiology in Finland, but he became acquainted with the world of beer thanks to Põhjala. “We have a lot of tasks,” explains Heino. “I’m just trying to make all the beer the same.”
The chief brewer, Christopher Pilkington, had previously worked at BrewDog until he met Keek, who had come as a trainee for a week in 2012. They got along, and Pilkington became interested in Põhjala’s plans. He arrived a few months later. Together they cooked several batches, and a year later he officially moved to Estonia.
Pilkington suggests taking a walk in the woods across the road from the old brewery: this place inspired a whole line of Põhjala beer with the talking name Forest Series. Now Põhjala has changed the forest on the coast.