The island fortress of Suomenlinna, reachable by a ferry, is the site of a brewery and restaurant of the same name, Suomenlinnan Panimo.
Suomenlinnan has been making beer since 1995, but only three years ago did Braumeister Peter Torniainen take over brewing operations. Given that the brewery receives a lot of tourist traffic from Helsinki, I had my suspicions that the beer would be typically touristy (simple, dull, kit beer). To my surprise and delight, Suomenlinnan is producing some of the cleanest and most characterful beers in Finland.
Given changes in equipment, ingredients and people, it may be that Suomenlinnan is much better under Peter’s direction than before. A look at the Ratebeer scores shows recent improvement, but Ratebeer is sadly unreliable for lager and English-style ale ratings, those styles do not translate well for the Western Drinker, the geek looking more for highly-hopped, sweet, ester-forward, stronger Anglo-American and Belgian-style beer. Too bad for them, because Suomenlinnan Pilsner is straight out of Franconia with a rich German pilsner malt core, frothy carbonation, bright lemony German hops and a touch of yeast left in to lend it further creaminess.
Peter gave us a tour of the brewery and eagerly answered our questions about the history of the space, company and his experience in the industry. Most interesting was why Peter seemed to do so well what other people struggle with their entire careers: make astoundingly flavorful, defect-free beer with no bells and whistles to cover errors in technique. It’s easy enough to brew a throw-away Pilsner, hundreds of breweries in Germany do just that. But to make a 4.0-level pilsner, to this picky beer traveler, is a very rare and exciting thing.
For Finnish beer, everybody knows of Koff Porter. Plevnan and Huvila and Stadin and the Beer Hunters are what you see in pubs. They are sexy right now. But Suomenlinnan is killing them all with these soft-textured, balanced, flavorful beers. The fact that they are overlooked because the brewery and brand are old new is a shame. It may take beer travelers to truly appreciate something the Helsinki natives find run of the mill.
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For this beer traveler, I couldn’t ask for anything better: well-made beers of German and English influence with no fruit additions, spirit barrel treatments or anything else unnecessarily added.
That’s not entirely true. There are some experimental batches of beer being made on the island, though still not the kind of beer for which the geeks go nuts. Self-sourced spruce rye beer produced for local eatery Ravintola Ainosta, and a centuries-old recipe dated to Sweden’s King Gustav III.
Don’t take the ferry over simply for the brewery. Suomenlinnan island offers a few kilometers of walking paths through historical remnants of the fortress infrastructure and offers a number of interpretative centers, museums and even a prison for your visit.