Last Updated : 31/05/07
For Mark Enderby's July 05 visit update, click here....
(Pole Viga Balti in Estonian - maybe!)
Estonian beer scooping, May 2005 by Gazza.
ere we go again… I thought to myself as, yet again, we joined the A14 in the middle of the night. The temperature had plummeted to an unseasonal 2°C and, despite the time of 03:00 in the morning, the road still had a healthy complement of 38-ton lorries lumbering along it which, as all night-time drivers know, is a good thing as negotiating trucks is a good way to keep awake; anyone who has driven the A14 during it’s relatively quieter spells will know that it is mind-numbingly tedious at best. I switched on the cruise control and settled back for the long drive whilst in my mind I ran through the scooping plan for the next 4 days.
I suppose I’d better set the scene as to why we were on our way to Stansted for a ridiculously early flight yet again, although I suppose you can guess why; after all, you’re reading this to get some gen about Estonian beer aren’t you? If you’re not then you’ve either mistyped the URL or you’re hopelessly lost and you may as well give up now – it can only go downhill from here. If you’re still with me, however, then settle back and let me elaborate on our being on the A14 in the wee small hours when most sensible people (and a lot of the not-so-sensible ones) are tucked up in bed.
Before we go any further, however, I must confess a love of Baltic porters. These beers are a historical descendent of the imperial stouts which used to be delivered to the Russian courts in the last century, but are now bottom-fermented in the prevailing style of the region and should have a smooth, mellow integrated flavour. Originally they came from, as the name suggests, the Baltic States but they can now be found in places such as Croatia (Tomislav – the best beer Inbev make!) and the Czech republic (Pardubice – a superb warming drop) amongst others. The general flavour profile of the beer is rich, caramelly and liquoricey, strong in alcohol (6-9%) with a warming, malty finish. Some fruitiness may be tasted, especially in Pardubice, which has a lovely plummy character and some have a dab of bitterness in the finish although this isn’t standard. Basically, if you like dark beers then there’s every chance you’ll like Baltic porters and I was hoping that we’d find quite a few of these around in Tallinn; after all, it’s a Baltic country, isn’t it?
Anyway, back to the A14. Through long and bitter experience with budget airlines I’ve learnt the following –
1) If there’s a place you really want to visit, the only flights will be from Stansted or somewhere equally remote such as Benbecula or Manston, and
2) The flight from the remote airport will always be at 06:30 meaning you need to drive there overnight.
This is particularly true with Ryanair whose motto should be “Stansted to anywhere, anywhere to Stansted” (although they are now branching out at other hubs). Basically, if you want to go to a lot of the more obscure places in Europe then your only option is to drive overnight to Stansted for an early flight – which is why we found ourselves on the A14 yet again in the middle of the night. The things we do for beer…
Sunday 15th May 2005.
As we’d done the journey for the last three months it was all getting a bit routine by now, so I was almost driving on autopilot the whole journey (all trunk roads M5, M42, A14, M11) so the aforementioned cruise control comes in very hands thanks very much. The only interest we had along the route was the appearance of numerous foxes – two on the M42-M6 sliproad that had very little road sense, and one living on the A1/A14 roundabout who was scavenging roadkill in the middle lane. I was debating whether to include this information in case some inbred Tory scum in comical red coats decide to go and illegally murder them, but eventually I decided that as I’ve never seen any of the landed gentry beer scooping they are unlikely to read this – they’d probably just get their butler to do it anyway so, to any butlers reading, I’m only joking about the foxes, OK?
We were soon checked in (numbers 1 and 2 again in the priority order!) and through security (where I had the soles of my shoes checked yet again!) where, no matter how many times I travel through Stansted, I never cease to be amazed at the hordes of people travelling early in the morning, especially Sundays. We bought some Anthon Berg marzipan chocolates to sustain us through the flight before settling down with a coffee and butty; we were very early and had over two hours to kill before the flight departed – we’d only been late for a flight once (our trip to Oostende in 2003) and had immediately decided that rushing through passageways clutching a coffee and being the last on the plane was a very overrated occupation! After this we’ve always been in good time for our flights, although the downside of leaving recovery time in the schedule is the boring wait at the airport. Swings & roundabouts?
Time ground by and, eventually, we deemed we’d waited long enough and made a beeline for the transit system that is used to transfer passengers to the departure gates. Those of you who are frequent readers of my diatribes will know how sad I am in this respect – there are 9 vehicles in the Stansted fleet and, over the course of our many visits to the airport, I’d managed to travel on every one apart from numbers 7 and 9. This time I was determined to get my last two as, on our previous visit, we’d done the transit back from the terminal and seen them both departing from the terminal in a pair. Enough was enough!
For those who have never seen it, the transit system at Stansted is pretty efficient with 2-car trains running from the main terminal building to the two satellite stand terminals every few minutes or so. As we approached the station a transit arrived – but it wasn’t my required two so we let it go to the bewilderment of the other passengers who crowded past us onto the vehicles. We did the same with the next one… and the next… and by this time I was wondering if my two scoops were sat in the maintenance shed laughing at me (figuratively, of course). I’d calculated that there must be four trains in operation and one under maintenance so I knew that this next transit was my last chance – so when it arrived and I saw that it was 7 and 9 I cackled aloud with unmitigated joy, much to Sue’s embarrassment, but that was it – I’d done them all!
A Shambles at the gate.
The excitement of transit scooping over for the day, we alighted at the gates 1-19 stop and made our way up the escalators. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’d have thought by now that easyJet would have worked out how to organise boarding aircraft. How wrong I was. We arrived at the ominous-sounding gate 12B to find a fairly large throng of people massed into the gate area and two flights on the screens. As we were boarding numbers 1 and 2 we thought we’d better join the queue for priority group A boarding, so we joined the scrum and waited for events to occur. For those who don’t know what I’m gibbering on about, when you check in for easyJet flights you get a sequence number that corresponds to how many people have checked in for your particular flight. You are then allocated a “priority group” which is as follows: Group A = sequence 1-30, Group B = sequence 31-60 and so on although they sometimes vary this. Obviously, with the free boarding, the earlier you check in the better chance you have of getting the seats you want.
The shambles that had been obvious to us when we arrived soon got worse – the first flight to board from the gate would be that to Nice – which wasn’t even on the screens! A farce of epic proportions was soon contrived with the Tallinn passengers who had been queuing (rightly so according to the screens) being told to sit down again and the people for the Nice flight (which suddenly appeared on the screen) being called forwards first. It didn’t help that the control staff seemed unable to operate the PA system, which left the Tallinn passengers fuming at the lack of information – and by this time we should have departed! easyJet must do this a hundred times a day, how can they make it so difficult and un-professional is beyond me.
Eventually we were called forwards but by this time, being 20 minutes late already, the customary easyScrum degenerated into an easyShambles with the by now very fidgety normals massing around the gate with any semblance of queuing having been abandoned. We were lucky, being in boarding group A, and doubly lucky that the gate staff were denying access to the other groups (which they hardly ever do) so were soon wandering down the airbridge towards the tarmac. I had been in high hopes of scoring one of easyJet’s new Airbus A319s – there were 2 of them and 2 737’s by the stand – but, predictably, we were ushered towards a 737 and as booked it was one I’d already had; G-IGOB, one of the original GoFly planes!
The plane was almost full and took ages to board, without doubt owing to the incompetent gate staff, but eventually we were all aboard and ready to go. After a short pause waiting for a slot we were away – just over an hour late, although I’d been prepared for a lot worse! I consoled myself with having scored my last two transits (which I’d been desperate to do – it’s sad, I know…) and settled back for the 3-hour flight. The weather was good with reasonable visibility and we were soon passing over Belgium and Germany and then on into Scandinavia; it seemed like the adventure had now begun, as we were leaving our usual area and venturing into unknown territory. We followed the coastline of Latvia before swinging inland in an arc over Tallinn – it looked like I’d imagined it and I was pleased to see how close the sea and air ports were to the town centre; this would make life a lot easier! We were soon on the ground and through customs at the small but efficient airport, and now we had a slightly unusual thing to do – we needed to get some money! As almost all of our trips are to the Eurozone we keep a float of around €40 to kickstart us when we start the trip, but this was different; Estonian Kroons were the currency and we needed some or we’d be walking into town!
Estonian or Russian – the choice is yours.
The airport itself was fairly good and by the looks of things had recently been modernised to the normal standard of small regional airports. We soon found a cash machine lurking in an alcove and I gingerly inserted my card – would it give me the choice of English? If it didn’t then we’d be guessing! After a few seconds of the usual grinding and clicking a menu appeared – with English as an option, although the languages and buttons weren’t lined up too well making it difficult to guess which button was for which lingo! With a whistle of relief I pressed what seemed to be the appropriate button… but the machine had obviously decided it didn’t like the look of me one bit and a screen in Estonian popped up. “Cheers then!” I huffed. Between us we guessed the button for “cancel” and out popped my card. “I’m sure I pressed English,” I said indignantly before inserting my card again - whereupon the same thing happened again!
I ejected my card and then Sue tried hers, but once again the machine was resolute in speaking either Estonian or Russian to us. Now we were in a bit of a hole; we needed money, but the cash machine was speaking languages we had no comprehension of! Suddenly, I had an idea – I would ask at the information kiosk which buttons to press to get money out! After a quick consultation with the helpful woman on the desk we arrived back at the machine armed with the necessary words on a crib sheet. I glared at the machine in an intimidatory way – I would get some money out of the thing! (Just in case the same thing happens to you, the words were; cash – sularaha and cancel – annulleerima).
I inserted my card for the third time in ten minutes and selected English - clutching my sheet of Estonian translations in readiness - as before, the ATM refused to speak English but this time we had our crib sheet! Using the words provided by the information desk I managed to get 1000 EEKs out of the machine; result! Sue then tried her card and, unexpectedly, the machine ran up the white flag and displayed instructions in English! I’m sure it was taking the piss out of us, but at least we now had some money and could get the bus into town – and, more importantly, buy some beer and food!
To celebrate our victory over the ATM we bought a bottle of Saku Tumé under the guise of getting some change for the bus. We checked the bus times and discovered we had 15 minutes to wait so we had time to buy a ticket from the R-Kiosk in the airport concourse that would be cheaper than buying it on the bus. I’d read on the Internet about tickets called “ID cards” which could be charged up and used on public transport a bit like the “Creditrans” in Bilbao, but I had been unable to ascertain if tourists could get one or if they were for residents only so I asked the nice young lady in the R-Kiosk for the gen. She told me that ID cards were available in post offices or we could buy a book of ten public transport tickets for 80EEK (which is almost half price compared to buying them from the driver) or maybe get a “Tallinn card” which is one of those 1 or 3 day tickets which gives unlimited travel, discounts in certain shops/bars and free entrance to museums. As we weren’t aiming to visit any museums I’d already purged the Tallinn card from the reckoning due to it’s price of £15 for 3 days so we decided to get 10-ticket book and try to get an ID ticket when in the centre.
Next stop the harbour!
The No.2 bus soon arrived and we bailed on. My idea of getting an ID day ticket was soon thwarted by a poster in front of us which explained that you need to take your national ID card in order to get one and pay a fee too – bollocks to that! With this scenario we’d have to make do with single tickets; this would be cheaper than buying a Tallinn card although without the flexibility of being able to do whatever moves on the trams/trolleybuses we wanted to – a bit of a pain but better than nothing and, with a ticket working out at around 35p a time, at least we’d not be wasting too much money. With only 4 tram routes to scoop (and a few trolleybuses if we could work them into the move) I reckoned we’d only need to spend around £7 all told!
The bus descended into Tallinn, following tramlines for most of the way, and I was pleased to see the trams looked old – no rancid plastic new ones here then, but heritage Czech tatras. We had planned to leap at Viru Varjak, which is a park alongside the main road around the historic centre, but the bus stormed straight past the junction - cheers then! We elected to stay on to it’s terminus at the harbour; that way we’d suss out the ferry gen for Monday as there are 4 terminals and we didn’t want to be gibbering around and miss the ferry!
A few minutes later, we were traversing the harbour side and I was impressed by the size of the boats berthed there – large seacats, high speed ships and massive “traditional” ferries crowded the berths and all around was a buzz of activity. We passed terminal C for the Nordic Jet Line catamarans and saw that, most conveniently, it was the closest to the town centre although it suspiciously resembled Coventry airport’s portakabin-esque terminal building. The bus terminated just around the corner and we had a look around whilst sorting our bags out – the city centre with it’s many spires was a short distance away over the ringroad and there was a large market hall right by the terminals called, most amusingly, Sadamarket which looked like it might be a good hunting ground for some food before taking the ferry as we were on a “room-only” deal in the hotel. The bags sorted and coats stowed (it was quite warm in the sunshine) we set off to see the sights.
We wandered past the huge Sadamarket which, on closer inspection, transpired to be a cheapo duty-free outlet for the Finns who presumably come here for the cheap “beer and fags” much the same as Brits go to Calais. In the market we bought a few bottles of beer to drink later (including Saku and A. le Coq porters for only 12EEK or 50p each) whilst dodging Finns staggering under the weight of multiple 24-can beer packs before escaping back into the relative peace of the port area. A few minutes later we were crossing the busy ringroad and tramlines where I scrutinized a passing tram – as I had thought, it was a Czechoslovakian (they were built before 1993!) Tatra articulated tram some of which had modern-looking low floor centre cars installed, presumably as a cheap method of providing accessible trams without the expense of buying plastic new ones!
The lie of the land.
We walked along the city walls and then into the centre proper and it looked just like it had in the pictures –cobbled streets lined with old gabled townhouses that wouldn’t have been out of place in the depths of Gent or Brugge in Flanders. As seems to be usual for our trips we’d discovered a few days before the visit that a festival was on whilst we were there – Tallinn day! The city’s website was a bit vague as to what was going on but as we neared the main square (Raekoja platz) the feared hordes of tourists hadn’t materialised although there were some strange sounds wafting over the buildings which sounded like live music…
Raekoja platz can be entered via a multitude of alleyways and the visual impact is very favourable – or at least it would have been if it weren’t for the large stage and crowds of people sat on what looked like primary school benches watching events on the stage! There must have been around a thousand people in the square but the atmosphere was friendly and jovial with most people watching what looked like schoolkids singing various folk tunes. We ambled round to the tourist information office where we picked up some very useful maps and confirmed the price of the Tallinn card (still too expensive!) before taking a quick look at another stage that was set up nearby. This one seemed to be majoring on “urban music” and featured some teenagers desperately trying to look “cool” and miming badly to so-called music whilst gyrating alarmingly.
After a few minutes the gyrating teenagers lost their interest, so we decided to go and find the hotel and dump our bags. We walked down the main shopping street, Viru, and then through Viru Varjak park and the short distance to the hotel I’d booked – the Hotel G9 on Gonsiori. Most of the hotels in the centre of Tallinn had been rejected as too expensive (I usually try to find something at around €50 a night) so I’d started to look further out in my search. The Hotel G9 had sounded reasonable, being 750EEK a night room-only and was, importantly, near a tramstop and within easy walking distance of the centre. We soon saw it on a road junction and it looked quite Stalin-esque in a solid, no-frills, blocky kind of way – which was no problem as 5-star hotels aren’t really my cup of tea (just so no-one can accuse me of not knowing anything about 5-star hotels, let me state that I was involved on a project for Marriott hotels where we stayed 4 weeks at each hotel on full expenses. Our weekly bills at County Hall, opposite parliament, were around £3,000!) and, besides, location is a lot more use than a mint on the pillow and 37 towels in the bathroom – or so I think, anyway!
The hotel was situated on the third floor of the aforementioned Stalinist low-rise block but it was a lot easier to find than some other single-use buildings as a result of the signs scattered around the entrance. We pressed the bell and the security guard buzzed us in after and gestured up the stairs with a brief “Hotel?” before resuming his newspaper. No lift is a bit unusual these days but we weren’t complaining – yet! The colour scheme of the stairwell made an immediate impact on me; it was deep Beige, probably “Badger Beige” as seen on the Scoopergen Beige gauge, the Beige-ometerÓ! Impressed so far, we soon arrived at the recently refurbished reception and checked in whereupon I was pleased to see my online reservation had reached the hotel – I know they should do as I’d used Venere before during our Venice trip, but it’s always a bit of a worry when you’re that far from home!
A trolleybus named dreadful.
After a brief investigation of the room we declared ourselves satisfied – it was modern and bright with a large bed, shower, and – bizarrely – a sauna attached! We didn’t intend to make use of this facility but it was good to know it was there if we did need it – a bit like an appendix. It was also noted that it fulfilled one of our main room selection criteria – trams were visible from the window (just – between a gap in buildings!). We were soon scurrying back down the beigeness of the stairwell and out into the sunny afternoon with the prime objective in scooping all four tramlines and some trolleybuses thrown in for good measure!
We soon found the Paberi tramstop (although the one on our map was strangely absent from reality!) and settled down on an unrefurbished Tatra tram bound for the terminus of Ülemiste in the Southeast past the bus station and not a million miles from the airport. From there we took a refurbished Tatra with one of the strange plastic centre cars to the South-western terminus of Tondi then another back to the North-eastern loop at Kadriorg. Whilst waiting for the next tram on our move we spotted our first Estonian cat crossing the road but he was too far away to assess his purring potential. With the excellent service frequency the next tram soon hove into view and we boarded, stamping our tickets in the small stampers on which you need to pull the top back in order to validate the ticket – each vehicle punches a slightly different pattern of holes to prevent fare-dodging. The refurbished vehicles also have an electronic time stamper that, usefully, records the number of the vehicle you’ve just scooped onto the ticket. Very thoughtful of them!
The last leg of our tram network scooping went by without incident until we reached Linnahalli, the stop for the ferry terminal, where there seemed to be a stacking up of trams. As we slowly passed the station the cause of the shambles became evident – a man was sprawled on the ballast between the tramlines! It wasn’t obvious if he’d been hit by a tram or was there in a drunken stupor, but the latter may have been a possibility given the lack of interest of the witnesses and tram drivers. To make matters interesting an annoying drunk had also boarded the tram and proceeded to growl gibberish at all present and stagger back and fro along the corridor annoying all and sundry. We decided it’s not often that drunks are annoying – most are either amusing or comical – but this bloke was definitely irritating, and it wasn’t just us that thought so.
Luckily he soon lurched off the tram, along with most of the other passengers, leaving us in peace to enjoy the rest of the journey along Kopli which is a very long road indeed – I’d hate to have to find a brewpub along here, it must be well over 3 miles long! Eventually we reached the terminus where, irritatingly, the trams emptied at one side of the loop before running light to pick up at the other side – D’oh! Our plan, however, didn’t involve a tram back but, in a change of traction, one of the old Škoda trolleybuses on route 9. We didn’t know how often they ran, but as I was photographing the tram one hissed past so we scampered over the park to the other side where we’d pick it up for the run down to the Southwestern terminus of Keskuse.
The trolleybus was soon declared to be a right monster – it stormed along with wires singing and motors droning in a most outrageous manner and the suspension seemed to have been designed for maximum oscillation; we were thrown around all over the place, even having to hold on at one point to prevent us being thrown into the doorwell! The run took a good 15 minutes but, unfortunately, Keskuse turned out to be a dull park ringed with Communist-era flats and nothing really interesting to hold our attention. Sadly, the first trolleybus back to the centre was a plastic new one so we rejected that and wandered around the grass aimlessly until the next one appeared – which, to my delight, was another old Škoda machine which whined and buzzed us back to the Balti Jaam (Baltic train station) on the north-western edge of the centre by which time we were very hungry and thirsty – by common consensus we decided that it was now pubtime!
Let the scooping commence!
By the time we’d walked into the centre via the impressive Klooster gate we were famished so, when the Hell Hunt bar on Pikk hove into view we didn’t try to resist and stormed inside, bagging a strange round table situated over a spiral staircase. This bar has two house beers available, a hell (pale) and tume (dark) from the Saare brewery on the island of Saaremaa so, naturally, I ordered a half-litre of each before we studied the food menu. This turned out to be wide ranging, fairly cheap and included gems such as dried pike and a warm ciabatta filled with things at hand (!) alongside more commonly encountered victuals. I ordered country sausages with caraway sauerkraut and Sue had a pasta dish and, just to ensure we didn’t starve, we had an extra portion of potato wedges too. The food soon arrived and, much to our relief, the portions were huge – we only just finished it all off – and it was of excellent quality too right across the board. The beer was less interesting; both were thin with a suggestion of grassy hop but little else apart from a hint of toffee in the tume, but they were perfectly acceptable and, more importantly, got our Estonian scooping tally off the ground!
One problem we had was soon discovered – I’d forgotten the beer-scooping list I’d meticulously constructed from the www.beerguide.ee site so I had to rely on my memory as to how many breweries existed and what they produced – which was a right pain in the arse as I hadn’t studied the breweries in too much detail as I’d have the list with me… D’oh! I remembered there were 9 or 10 producers and we should get most of them if we tried hard enough so that would have to do, but I was hoping the bars would have the brewer name obvious on the pumps so we’d know what we were scooping!
We were aiming to have another scoop in Hell Hunt (which apparently means Gentle Wolf) but the superb fodder had wedged us out totally so it was time for a short walk across to the Beer House, the new(ish) brewpub situated just off Raekoja platz right bang in the centre. As we entered the square we could hear some music coming from the stage – and it sounded pretty good too! The earlier school choirs had evidently departed and the evening entertainment had arrived; the square now held a good crowd watching a young band onstage who were playing what I assume was Estonian folk music but with a bit of attitude – an electric bass and guitar is always a good sign in a folk band! They reminded me of a cross between Breton folkheroes Tri Yann and the UK folk-rockers Oysterband and they seemed to be having a good time onstage. We were aiming to get to the brewpub ASAP but the band were so good (and the sound too) that we hung around until they gave way to a more “traditional” folk band who, although excellent musicians, didn’t have that “kick-arse” attitude of the previous group so we sloped off to sample the delights of the Beer House.
It proved difficult to miss – most of Dunkri seemed to be taken up by this mammoth pub with the Salm brewery very visible in the front windows nearest the square. On entry there is a strange lobby-cum-cloakroom before the pub begins with German-style long tables much in evidence along with smaller ones behind what must be a fake jumble of copper vessels and pipes lurking behind an unused bar. The menu seemed a touch ostentatious being shaped like a beer mug with an appropriate picture printed on the front of said mug foaming with delicious looking beer. I’d been hoping for a special beer for Tallinn day but, alas, we’d have to make do with the standard beers – Pils, Märzen and Dunkel. These were expensive for Tallinn coming in at 30, 35 and 40 EEKs respectively, but we were determined to try at least two; we went for the Märzen and the Dunkel leaving the pils until our next visit.
We sat back on our benches and looked around. The place was certainly raking it in with masses of tourists swigging beer and waiters scurrying back and fore to the kitchens laden with plates of provisions and, unlike Wetherspoons back in the UK, there seemed to be enough staff to cope even if a few more coach-loads suddenly drew up. Our beers soon materialized and they certainly looked the part with a good yeast haze on both and lively, rocky heads. Unfortunately they didn’t taste as good as they looked – I suppose we’re spoilt having travelled around a lot of Europe drinking beers from some of the finest brewers around but, to be honest, the beers were just too safe – what you’d expect from the two styles but nothing more, and certainly not worth almost double what ordinary draught beer would cost in a bar… Thinking about this, I had better beers in these styles from the Salm brewpub in Tunisia! We still managed to finish them so they can’t have been that lacklustre – the Dunkles was the best with a gentle roasted caramel flavour and an earthy malt body and toffeeish finish – not too bad really! The Märzen was very soft and malty but with little else of interest.
As time was now getting on and we wanted to scoop a few more Estonian beers, we rejected the Pils until another visit and headed off to a few more of the bars recommended by Beige Phil in his excellent article. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any more dark beers to scoop – the Tristan & Isolde seemed to have vanished and the Karja Kelder only stocked Saku tume. We located the Kalle Kusta just beyond Viru Gate but, despite showing Viru Palmse porter on the board outside, only the universal Saku beers seemed to be available on draught. It was a strange place too – we descended the steps and there seemed to be a separate room on each side of the stairway but no customers in either! The barmen didn’t give off a very welcoming vibe so I can assume even the locals felt the same way too so, when the barman confirmed that only Saku beers were available, we made our excuses and left. At this point, we decided to call it a night and return to the hotel as we were in Helsinki the following day and didn’t want to be too knackered!
Within ten minutes we were back in our room and the bottles of beer we’d bought at the Sadamarket were lined up to scoop so, in preparation for imbibing, I threw myself onto the bed - which promptly collapsed! Cheers then! Sue’s head popped out of the bathroom to see what was happening and, on seeing me sprawled in the wreckage of the bed, laughed and vanished again. I managed to extricate myself from the shambolic doss-device and discovered that some wooden slats had twisted and fallen through the base so, with a bit of swearing and twisting of wood, I managed to secure it – fingers crossed! We then nicked the stool from our sauna (I’m not joking about this, honest!) to use as a table and spent an hour or so drinking Baltic porters whilst watching a hellfire German music channel whose staple output seemed to be gothic/industrial material – hellfire! Eventually we decided to get some doss, but I was careful not to move around on the structurally suspect bed too much just in case I woke up on the floor!
Monday 16th May 2005.
Watch which bits of paper you hand over!
We were booked on the 10:15 Seacat to Helsinki so we had the luxury of a small lie-in. When I awoke and cautiously looked around I was relieved not to find myself on the floor entangled in the ruins of the bed, so I concluded that my repairs must have been a success – well, successful enough to enable us to sleep in peace! We quickly sorted ourselves out and headed off for the city centre for a quick bout of sightseeing before our ferry across the Baltic Sea and, hopefully, some massive scoops.
Down the beige stairwell and out of the front door we went and immediately noticed that the tramlines outside had a large metal fence across – just round the corner were all manner of diggers and rollers which seemed to be excavating and repairing the road/tramlines. We were relieved – it was a good job we’d cleared all the tramlines on the Sunday, as the line to Ülemiste was now unscoopable! As we crossed into Viru we noticed a number 6 tram – and I was confused. The public transport map had told me there were 4 tramlines (as well as No.5 which seemed to have been discontinued) so what was this all about? All soon became clear when I read the destination board; No.6 was a Kopli-Tondi service that, presumably, was running to compensate for the trams to Ülemiste being cancelled. It also meant we could do the part of the central junction which otherwise would have been impossible to scoop! As long as they were still running tomorrow we’d be fine…
We managed to cross the chaotic ringroad and were soon in the relative peace of Viru. I had a quick look at a curry house menu but, unfortunately, the majesty of nargis kebab hadn’t reached Tallinn as it didn’t feature on the menu – although Reshmi did which, as everyone knows, is simply a nargis without an egg inside! We walked through Raekoja Platz and then down Pikk with it’s rows of old trader’s houses complete with winches and stepped gables then through the Great Sea gate, across the tramlines (where more No.6 trams were spotted) and finally across the scrubland and into the port proper. As we had around half an hour before departure we’d have plenty of time to raid the Sadamarket for some food after we’d checked in for the ferry.
We entered the terminal and found about 20 people shuffling around looking bored – this was good, as I’d expected hundreds to be thronging around the door. I approached the check-in window with my Internet printout and handed it over, to which the lass gave a strange look and a shrug of the shoulders before printing the tickets – after we’d paid an extra £1.30 each in fuel taxes for the privilege. This kind of thing really gets on my tits; it’s not my fault fuel is expensive and why should I have to pay extra when I’ve already paid for the ticket? Being in Estonia and not wanting to miss the ferry wasn’t a position of strength from which to argue, however, so I meekly paid up and handed Sue her ticket.
Sue soon alerted me to the fact that the tickets we’d just been given said “Helsinki to Tallinn” on them rather than the journey we were about to make so I rummaged through our “gen file” and discovered, to my embarrassment, that I’d just checked us in for the return leg of the trip tonight…. Cheers then, that’s why the check-in Ada had looked confused! Clutching the correct piece of paper, I scurried back to the check-in and presented the very amused lady with the correct sheet of paper and, after parting with more fuel duty, we were in possession of the correct tickets. All I can say is it’s a good thing someone was looking what was going on, as I’d never have noticed until it was too late! The upside to this sorry escapade was we were now checked in for the evening boat back, so we had more time to get the trams in the book and weren’t troubled by the 30-minute check-in rule.
Another day, another country
As we still had some time to kill before the ferry arrived we strolled across to the Sadamarket to see what was there. It soon became apparent that this market was the equivalent of the “Cite de Europe” at Calais; people from a country with ludicrously high duty and tax rates on tobacco and alcohol take a day trip to a country with more sensible duty and tax rates to buy shed loads of aforementioned narcotics for later consumption and maybe have a quick look around the town before heading home with trolleys groaning under the weight of booze and fags. Given that it was only 09:45 in the morning the place was heaving with Finns manically grasping 24-can packs of Koff and Saku from high stacks of the stuff so we decided to leave the beer until tomorrow and go in search of some food to eat on the 100-minute crossing.
We soon located the food hall downstairs and were soon stocked up with filled rolls and pastries containing cabbage and ham. There was a good selection of sausages and cheeses along with the usual crap for tourists and it’s certainly convenient for terminal C of Nordic Jetline. As we walked back to the terminal I saw something that fitted into the category of must have – a t-shirt with a huge picture of Stalin on it – me being a commie and all that! (I didn’t fancy the shirt adjacent to it, which displayed an image of Hitler with the words “Ein Führer – Ein Volk” on it. Hmmmmm, maybe not). I resolved to buy one the next time we were there as the ferry had just arrived and we needed to be back over the road as soon as, so back we went to terminal C.
There was time for a quick scan of the duty-free hut where we found some marzipan (always good as an emergency food source!) and what I assumed was a can of Koff Porter in a small black can. Without reading the information kindly provided which, had I bothered to read it, would have told me that it wasn’t really porter but a strong alcoholic brain-blasting concoction, we paid for the items and loitered with the knot of other people to board the Kvaærner 60-metre Caterpillar-powered super seacat (or so it said on the side). We were soon climbing the alarmingly high gangway and found seats along the port side near to the rear “observation deck” which was a small corner of the ship where passengers could get out into the fresh air – or it would have been fresh if it weren’t for the cancerous smokers polluting the place - cheers then!
Baltic jet departed right on time at 10:15 and we slowly edged out of the harbour and into the Baltic Straights. I stood on the observation deck and watched Tallinn slip slowly away until full power was applied whereupon everything vanished in a massive cloud of foam and spray! I returned to the seats and duly discovered that it wasn’t Koff porter I’d bought and, after a few sips of the sickly-sweet fluid just to say we’d scooped it, we decided to put it down to experience and tipped it down the sink. (Mental note to self : read the can next time!) After a breakfast of rolls and cabbage pastries, which were far nicer than they sound, we settled back and watched the rain and spray beat against the windows; I’d been hoping for good weather but as we’d be on trams or in the pub most of the time it didn’t matter that much really!
The sea was fairly calm and we zipped along towards Helsinki at around 35 knots. This may sound quite fast but looking out of the windows it still seemed snails’ pace; to get the full impression of speed it was necessary to stand on the “fag deck” and lean over the edge. The 85km were soon behind us and we slowed to enter Helsinki harbour; I always feel that arriving anywhere by boat is one of the best approaches possible as you get a panorama of the destination and watch it get closer and see more the nearer you get. Our berth was almost on the harbour front so we were soon through customs and pacing through the rain towards the tourist information office where we could buy a day-rover for the public transport system in town. “Let the tram and beer scooping begin,” I thought as the rain dripped into my eyes. “And let this bloody rain stop too!”
Another ferry – to a brewpub!
The tourist office was only five minutes from the boat and we were soon in possession of 24-hour public transport tickets for the very reasonable sum of €5.40 each. To make things even better, the tickets were valid on the ferry to the island of Suomenlinna where a brewpub was situated. This just had to be done, but first we decided to spend the next couple of hours having a spin round on the city’s excellent tram network to see what was going on but, more importantly, to shelter from the pouring rain which showed no sign of relenting at all – if anything it was getting heavier! We sat it out on the trams until we arrived back by the tourist office to notice the rain had almost stopped; right, the move was on, off to the island it was!
There are several companies who run ferries to Suomenlinna from the harbourside but only one of them is free if you hold the 24-hour transport pass – make sure you get the right boat as some of the fares quoted on the others would make the 2/3 beers available very (even?) more expensive than they are already! The correct boats are the ones with the city transport logo on the moorings – a bit like a BR symbol. It’s about halfway along the harbourfront and has an electronic indicator quoting how long until the next boat leaves – very handily it flashes when the boat is about to head off as it spurred us into a run and we just made it!
The trip is a short one of around 10-15 minutes but is a great break from pounding the streets as the little boats (or the big plastic new one) chug across the harbour and venture out into the open sea where the swell is a little disconcerting in such a small vessel as MV Tor. The radiators inside were pumping out heat at full blast for all their worth which soon dried our soaked coats and trousers; the move was looking better all the time! We were soon nosing into the little landing stage on Suomenlinna and I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the brewpub. I’d read that it was the first thing you walked into after disembarking the ferry and, sure enough, there it was – a long low white building about 10 metres from the ferry terminal! Result!
As this was the sole purpose for our fleeting visit to Suomenlinna we headed inside – after first checking how much time we had before the next ferry – and we had a free choice of table as we were the only customers! It was a strange building with a barrelled ceiling coming as a surprise after the plain exterior but we weren’t there for the architecture, we were there for the beer! This was available in the form of Höpken Pils 4.2% and Portteri 5.6% but the other regular beer, Coyt, wasn’t on so we ordered a pint of portteri and half a pils. After drinking in Tallinn and being used to reasonable prices the cost was quite a shock; €8 for a pint and half? I suppose it’s not too bad for Scandinavian countries but it’s still a bit steep… As an aside here, pity the poor Czechs who fly into the UK – back home they’re used to beer at 35p a half-litre - what must they think when they order their first pint and get charged 7 times more than at home? I think we got off quite lightly really!
I’d expected, naturally, to like the porter more than the pils but it turned out to be the other way round; the porter tasted OK but amongst the caramel and liquorice flavours was a strange vegetal character that was a little off-putting. The pils, in contrast, was a gloriously hoppy beer with masses of bitterness, fruit and hops giving a refreshing and very tasty beer; shame we only had a half, but our budget (and time) didn’t really stretch to scooping in another half – unfortunately! After a quick wander around the pub (and seeing the compact brewplant in the process) we scuttled off to catch the ferry back to the mainland and continue the scooping. We’d timed our departure admirably as it was beginning to spit with rain again and the ferry was waiting – unfortunately it was a brand new plastic ro-ro thing with no character whatsoever, although it did have a positive point in it’s favour – it was leaving in a few minutes for Helsinki!
We were soon aboard the plastic boat and heading back to Helsinki. I stood on the front open deck as we approached and, even though it wasn’t a patch on approaching Venice from the Lido, it was still a great way to arrive in the city as we passed the huge ocean-going ships of Silja and Viking lines which towered above our piddly little vessel. A few minutes later we’d docked on the harbourfront and we strode off to catch a number 3T tram to Appolenkatu for the tram 8 to the One Pint Pub for, hopefully, some Finnish winners including some Sahti which I’d heard was available in the pub and – hopefully - their unique Cantillon beer!
A brush with the law.
As we waited at the pedestrian crossing by Kauppatori for the tram one suddenly appeared and headed towards the stop at quite a lick. Simultaneously we decided to dodge the traffic and catch this tram as we’d taken more time than we’d budgeted for so far and we needed to get to the quick-sharp. As we scampered across the road between traffic phases I heard someone calling to us but, obviously, we carried on across the road until we got to the tramstop. I turned round and saw Sue right behind me – and right behind her was a policeman who seemed quite agitated! Oops! I prepared to try and justify our road crossing but, luckily, he merely glared at me and muttered something in Finnish before carrying on in pursuit of his target - a slightly dodgy-looking character who had go off the same ferry as we had. That was a bit of luck! We leapt onto the tram and, with a screech of flanges on the sharp curve, we were away leaving the policeman interrogating the dodgy geezer on the platform. Breakin’ the law!
After a slick change of trams we were soon at Santakatu. To be honest, it didn’t look a very obvious location for what has been called one of Europe’s premier beer bars but, saying that, neither does Siegestraße in Köln-Deutz! I re-checked the map and gen we had on the place but it was definitely here – somewhere! We walked up the road as far as the next junction but No.2 was back where we’d started so we trudged back up the road getting a bit irked – beer scooping shouldn’t be this difficult! Soon we were at the other end of the street and saw the whole block of buildings at the end was numbered Santakatu 2 but with no sign of the One Pint pub. In desperation I asked a passing teenager if he’d heard of it – I didn’t have much hope but he was the only normal I could see anywhere close! He thought for a few seconds then nodded. “Yes, I know this place” he replied in near-perfect English, “it is around the corner and keep going along the water”. Mumbling profuse thanks we hiked around the corner of the building and saw there was a kind of canal running parallel to the road we’d just walked along. After 20 metres we were getting a bit sceptical – surely it wasn’t up here, this was just blocks of flats? Suddenly I saw it – and we’d have walked past it if I hadn’t been so eagle eyed; it looked like a basement shop underneath some flats with limited signage to betray it’s presence!
A little piece of paradise.
All the frustration of the last ten minutes evaporated and, after a brief panic where we thought it was closed (it wasn’t, but it did look it!) we were soon inside and looking around with wonder – how could a local’s bar in a backstreet have this many rare and classic beers on offer? It seemed too good to be true, so we chose a table and made our way to the bar. We’d soon find out how good this place was! I’d heard they had a unique Cantillon beer made from Buckthorn, which was a bit of a scoop in anyone’s book, and was the main reason we were here; we weren’t going to miss a winning Cantillon brew no matter how much it might cost!
I was minded of the parlous state of our finances (we had 23 Euros between us!) so, after exchanging greetings with the barman, I enquired how much their Cantillon special was. “12 Euros” he replied cheerily as if he were the bearer of cheap beer. “12 Euros?” we croaked, almost expiring with shock - £8.50 for a small bottle of Cantillon… however, there was another shock in store from the sociable barman; there was not one, but two unique 2002-vintage Cantillon beers for sale – Buckthorn and Redcurrant! After a quick calculation I’d realised we wouldn’t be able to afford even the two Cantillon scoops, so I asked if they took debit cards. When the reply was positive, a huge smile lit up my face and I rubbed my hands together in the style of Ebeneezer Scrooge although I drew the line at manic cackling. Let the scooping commence!
I cast my eyes along the rows of taps and spotted Stadin Alpo’s IPA 6.5% from Helsinki’s brewery without a pub! What a treat, this was a bonus and would save us time going to the Black Door where the beers were available. The knowledgeable barman pointed out a Diamond brewing company beer that he said was brewed by Proef for a Finnish wholesaler and that was our first round finalised! We retired to our table underneath the rows of (empty, unfortunately) Cantillon bottles to taste the beers. They were both very hoppy but the Stadin came out on top being a typical IPA with lots of body and bitterness finishing with a rich, tasty hoppy and resinous aftertaste and berry fruitiness. The Diamond beer was also hoppy but with an unusual curranty fruit flavour which slightly dominated the palate and left a strange tannic finish.
Our beers finished, I approached the bar again. “Right”! I proclaimed, “One each of your special Cantillon beers, please!” the barman seemed amused by our random gibbering about lambic and quickly returned with the bottles and the correct Cantillon glasses! He was very informed and we discussed Belgian beers for five minutes whilst he showed me the pub’s beer list that would put this bar in the top flight in Belgium, never mind Finland! Where else can you get Bouillon, Brabant, Cam, Cantillon, De Ryck and Cnudde on the same list? I was very impressed – for such a basic, nondescript little place in an unpromising location this bar punched miles above it’s weight – it was indeed one of the heavyweights of the beer scooping world! I even spotted one of the flask-like bottles of Bayerischer Bahnhof Gose on the shelf – I’ve never seen that anywhere apart from the brewpub itself. Getting beers this rare demands commitment and maybe a bit of obsession!
The lambic beers were superb – both were recognisably Cantillon but with very un-Cantillon fruits in the flavour! The Buckthorn beer (Baie d’Argousier) had lots of tannins with a gentle fruity sweetness backed up by the usual Cantillon musty citrus character, whilst the Redcurrant (Groseille) was gorgeously sour yet perfectly balanced with red fruit and citrus. As we drank the superb beers we tried not to think that they were costing us around £16 for the pair – but, hey, you only live once and where else could we get them? The whole batches had been shipped over to Helsinki, according to my new friend the barman, all 270-odd bottles per batch – and when they were gone, that was it! I felt quite privileged to be drinking such rare beers and allowed myself a pat on the back at being such a top scooper…
And another classic world beer style in the book…
By now well and truly smitten by the One Pint Pub, I approached the bar on a quest for something even huger than Cantillon – Sahti. This beer style must have a fair claim to be another of the last surviving example of the ancient style of beverage making; it uses no hops, is fermented with a non-brewer’s yeast (nowadays usually a baker’s yeast, unfortunately not wild yeast!) and filtered through spruce branches with the needles still in-situ. It’s extremely rare outside it’s small homeland and even rarer in bottle as, having no hops to preserve it, it starts to go off if not kept at fridge temperature. I’d read that a few bars sold it in Helsinki and the St. Urho’s pub had a Sahti festival in May, but realistically we didn’t have time to visit any other bars and I was hoping the One Pint pub wouldn’t let me down. “Do you have any Sahti?” I asked nervously, but I needn’t have worried – the barman replied “yes” as if I was asking him if the sun came up in the morning. He strode to a fridge at the back of the pub (a real white kitchen fridge, not a glass-fronted bar fridge!) and, with a flourish, produced a small bottle of beer. “There you go, that’s real Sahti, kept at the correct temperature” he declared, looking happy that I was taking so much interest in the native beers of Finland. I looked happy as I’d scooped another world beer style!
I had no idea what to expect from Sahti except I anticipated it would taste strange what with all that filtering through spruce and baker’s yeast business. I was not disappointed. The beer, Lammin Sahti 7.5%, was a cloudy orange colour and totally flat. Intense wafts of banana and bubblegum billowed from the glass and I knew we were in for an experience! The flavour was unique – well, maybe triple-concentrated Bayern Hefeweiss with herbs would be as close as I could get to giving an indication of what to expect but even that wouldn’t do it justice. The cloyingly wheaty body was packed with banana esters which meandered all over the tongue along with a fleeting hint of spruce forests and something more elusive; maybe some variety of riverbank herbs? Whatever, it was very interesting and what European beer scooping is all about – broadening the palate and experiencing superb pubs and beers that you’d never otherwise visit in a lifetime.
As we drank the Sahti, the barman had casually dropped a menu from a recent Belgian beer festival they had held on the table. I read it with ever-rising eyebrows – how the hell had they got Cnudde bruin? And who were Brabant? This was one of the best Belgian beer lists I’d ever seen and my estimation of this unremarkable little bar climbed even higher. The barman told us they still had some bottles of the Brabant Gueuze de Nivelles 6.5% so, despite the €17 price, we ordered one as our last beer of Helsinki. I decided to settle up to allow us to enjoy the beer at our leisure and handed him my debit card – which refused to work in the reader! Sue tried hers, but the harsh card-reading device rejected that too. Cheers then, now what?
With the bill over €50 there was only one thing for it – we needed a cashpoint! The barman didn’t seem too fazed by our cards not working, explaining that quite a few didn’t work in the machine, and pointed out a cashpoint 200 metres away along the canal. Leaving Sue behind as security, I purposefully strode along the canalbank until I found the ATM. After one false start where it unexpectedly refused to give me any money I managed to secure €120 from it and, greatly relieved, scampered back to the pub to pay our dues and finish the big bottle of Brabant beer we’d just opened. “I thought scooping was supposed to be a relaxing hobby?” I mumbled to myself as I scuttled along the footpath; “whoever says that knows bugger all about Finland!”
Back over the Baltic Sea.
The barman seemed mightily pleased to see me back with the money – maybe he thought we’d drunk all his best beers and I’d done a runner! I settled the frighteningly large bill, which quickly wiped out most of the notes I’d extracted from the obstinate ATM, before settling back to enjoy the Brabant beer. It was a strange tasting beer; not really a lambic and too musty for a strong golden or blonde, but interesting all the same. As time was now marching on we reluctantly said goodbye and headed off for the tramstop for the trip across town to the ferry terminal. Unfortunately we’d run out of time and were unable to sample the delights of the Black Door or the Teerenpeli (which may or may not be a brewpub!) amongst others, although I’d enjoyed myself a lot more that on my first visit to Helsinki in 1991; that was during my interrail and had lasted a few hours before we’d made tracks elsewhere. This time, however, I knew we’d have to go back!
After a quick tram ride across the city via the Senaat square we arrived at the ferry terminal with more time than we thought we’d have to spare so, being checked in already due to the shambles in Tallinn that morning, we nipped off to a local supermarket to buy some supplies for the trip back. We returned with various pastries and water but failed to find any Finnish beer to take away – unfortunately! Back at the terminal the catamaran was just arriving and I got some good photos as it turned round in the harbour. Being a saddo I was also pleased to see it was the company’s other ship, Nordic Jet, meaning I’d scooped the whole fleet on this route into my bright orange scooping book. The things I write down…
We departed right on time and, as on the outward journey, I stood on the observation deck and watched the city recede into the mist – just as I think arriving at a city by boat is the best way, I also think departing by one is too; it gives you time to see the landmarks you’ve got to know fade away into the cityscape and leaves me, at least, with more of a yearning to return. Once we were underway, however, I rejoined Sue in the almost empty cabin and we made a decent meal of the pastries and watched the sea slip by. The trip back seemed to take a lot less time than the outward leg and soon we were easing into Tallinn harbour. We were through customs quickly and immediately started marching towards what, on paper at least, was the bar with the best choice of beers in town – the Ölletorn, or beer tower in English – which sounded a bit like a scooping bar and sold most Estonia beers and quite a few from other countries too. This had to be done; maybe we could complete our collection of all 10 Estonian brewers? Off we headed for Liivalaia 40.
Denied a second round!
The Ölletorn sounded like it would be difficult to find being through an archway on the ringroad to the southeast of town but it’s discovery proved remarkably easy, given I’d fashioned a visual picture of a medieval portico in a merchant’s house with the pub lurking seductively beyond… instead, for medieval substitute “concrete square” which was punched through a 1960’s Stalinist monstrosity – substitute this for “Merchant’s house” - and the pub was hidden away beyond. However it’s described, however, we were soon walking through the “archway”, past a shop which only sold Saku or A.le Coq, and into the strange-looking bar with it’s namesake tower at the front; I don’t know if it’s real or a fake, but it looks reasonably heritage!
The inside of the bar bore little resemblance to the outside, however, and was quite “trendy” if you’ll pardon the expression – stark lighting in the main room and a darkly-lit area to the right with couples all over each other between pub games. We bagged a table near the bar and I tried to work out what was available on draught which, after a few minutes, soon became clear; the beermats in front of the taps was what was available! With a strange scooper-esque twist Depeche Mode’s “Everything counts in large amounts” (surely half a litre is enough?!) blared out from the fairly decent stereo and I decided I liked the look of the place.
All this was to change when I met the bar staff. I’d have thought staff at what, after all, is being billed as a specialist beer bar with over 100 on the menu would know just a bit about beers and care? Wrong. The two young girls seemed reluctant to serve me and I had to ask for the beer menu twice before it was forthcoming with a glare. I was puzzled – I’d hardly spoken at this point, so how could they know I was English? I checked my attire – the t-shirt didn’t advocate the re-instatement of the Soviet Union or Communism and my flies were securely done up. What could they possibly have against us? I retired to the table with the beer list and a confused frown to choose some beers.
The list was pretty good, stretching to around 25 Estonian beers then through Russia, other Baltic states and random other countries including a few from the UK! We selected Sillamäe München Vaskne 6.2% and Viru Palmse Porter 5.6%, both on draught, and the beers were dispensed by the glowering barstaff with some reluctance as if they’d hoped we would go away before it came to selling beer. The Sillamäe was obviously an attempt at the almost extinct Vienna style and actually tasted German in a malty, nutty kind of way and was one of the best beers we found in Estonia. The Palmse was also good although it definitely wasn’t a Baltic Porter in style being too low in ABV and light in body but, apart from being a Dunkel rather than the promised porter, it was a fruity, treacly, deep brown beer with a toffee hint which made interesting drinking.
We finished our beers and, having chosen some more, I attempted to order them. At this point, I feel the need to state that I’ve only ever been refused beer a couple of times in my life; they were a few years ago and I was a bit of a mess at the time. This time, however, we were both near enough sober and I couldn’t work out why the girls just kept saying “No!” and shaking their heads at me – maybe they’d mistaken me for the local police chief? I could see that we weren’t going to get any more scoops so I shrugged my shoulders just to show them I wasn’t really that bothered about drinking any more and we left, confused and annoyed. Call itself a specialist beer pub? They’d better get some staff who know beer lovers when they see them, then!
By now time was getting on so we decided to call it a night and retire back to our hotel to consume the bottles we still had waiting in reserve. Within ten minutes we were back and tucking into Saku tume 6.7% and A.le Coq Bok 8% which were both very forgettable with the tume just nudging ahead for it’s slightly caramelly character, but it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone unless they are a desperate Euro-scooper! We soaked the labels off the bottles after surmounting the initial problem of the plug not fitting the plughole; Sue ingeniously used a plastic bag to seal it and allow the bottles to fester in the warm water for a while. The German music channel seemed to have lost it’s touch for decent tunes so we soon dossed out – but I still kept as still as possible to save myself plummeting through the base of the bed onto the floor again!
Tuesday 17th May 2005.
It’s only 12:00 and I’m thirsty!
We had the luxury of a lie-in the next morning as we had all day to explore the city due to booking the return flight on the Wednesday, giving us in effect an extra day to explore – I reasoned that as we’d come this far we may as well stay the extra day and enjoy it! The bed seemed to have been mollified by my repairs and, although it creaked at intervals, didn’t deposit either of us on the floor and mercifully let us sleep. When we finally left the hotel to start our touristy phase it was gone 10:00 and the earlier light rain had given way to a hazy sunshine and occasional spots of drizzle. We walked the now well-trodden route through Viru Varjak and then into the city where comprehensively pounded every street we could and even climbed up to the castle and looked out over the red-tiled rooftops to the port beyond; this gave an impression of just how small the medieval centre was but also just how well preserved it had been from the ravages of war and time.
It was whilst we were climbing up to the castle that I realised I was thirsty – and only a beer would satiate my thirst properly! Unfortunately for me we’d decided not to start drinking until later to save continuous looking for toilets and, anyway, there was nowhere that sold beer inviting enough to drink apart from the Beer House which we’d be visiting later for some food, and the Ölletorn which hadn’t exactly endeared itself to us the previous night with a really poor show on the barstaff front. For a minute I visualised myself in Bamberg supping from an unfeasibly huge dimpled mug of Spezial lagerbier… mmmmmm, Spezial… I awoke from my daydream to find we were still trudging up the cobbled hill towards the lookout point and not in Bamberg; well, at least we could have a good search around later for some winning beers and, anyway, I was really impressed by Tallinn’s architecture and general feel – it was a bit like Gent without the decent beer!
Back on the trams again.
The weather was perfect for wandering around and by mid-afternoon we’d covered every square foot of road in the old town, including scooping in the surreal marzipan in the town square chemist’s shop. This confectionary, apparently, has been made for hundreds of years on-site but we certainly weren’t prepared for the shapes - I’d expected a little block, or maybe a bar, but certainly not brightly painted vegetables! Still, we thought that we’d better scoop them in so chose an unfeasibly orange carrot and a scarily realistic clove of garlic to sample; unfortunately it didn’t taste as good as it looked being a bit sweet and sugary but the appearance sort-of made up for that! Marzipan carrots indeed – whatever next… Nargis kebabs? Well, unfortunately not… I bounded expectantly up to the curry house on Raekoja platz but only Reshmi was available, and I didn’t think my Estonian would stand up to asking them to stick an egg in the middle of it!
After all that walking we decided it was time for a sit-down and where better than on a tram? (well, Spezial did spring to mind again, but…) so we made our way over to Viru to see if the number 6 trams were still running; these seemed to take the left-hand side of the triangle and, therefore, were covering rare track and had to be done – if they were still around! As we crossed the busy road at Viru a number 6 came from the Kopli direction; that was that question answered then! Within a few minutes one arrived going northbound and we leapt aboard, punching yet more tickets – we never saw a ticket inspector but, as it was only costing us 8EEK each per journey (around 35p), we reckoned it was worth that paltry amount to avoid the hassle from any remnants of the secret police who happened to be employed as tram ticket inspectors!
The tram screeched around the “rare” side of the triangle and headed off for Kopli along the seemingly never-ending road; one interesting event (well, it’s interesting for saddos like me, I suppose…) happens after the train station where the tramlines cross the rail lines – the sight of metre-gauge tramlines crossing the broad-gauge railway is very unusual! Once at Kopli we had a quick wander along the tram depot fence just in case there were any rare trams around (there weren’t) and looked out over the sea before we got bored and took the first tram back to the Linnahalli stop for the port and great sea gate. The move now was to find some coffee and cakes so back we went to the centre via the city walls which are, in places, in a remarkable state of preservation and complement the Hanseatic merchant’s houses perfectly.
Kaffe und Küchen – und Bier!
Behind Raekoja platz is a building covered in scaffolding with no indication as to what it’s purpose is, but we’d seen normals going in and out of one of the doors so we took a look inside – and we’d hit the jackpot as far as coffee houses went! I’d read about this place in the rough guide where it (Maiasmokk, Pikk 16) was described as “venerable” so we stormed in and whilst Sue bagged a table I approached the counter. There was a superb array of cakes stretching for metres on each side of me, most of which (fortunately) had descriptions in various languages, as my grasp of Estonian is practically nil! I purchased two coffees and some marzipanny cakes before sitting down to admire the architecture of the place; it was certainly a very nice coffee shop and we were soon staring at empty plates… so I rushed back to the counter and filled them up again! Well, it was cheap…
I could wait no longer. “I need a beer!” I declared, and a it was now getting on for 16:00 we decided to try a few of the cellar bars in Beige Phil’s report and try to find some food too. We tried the Karja Kelder on Vaika-Karja 1, just off the main square, which was a dark vaulted cellar with dazzlingly bright keg fonts arrayed on the bar of which Sake Tume was the only one really worth drinking – hopefully it would be better than the caramelly tat from bottle we’d had the night before. In the dim light of 5-watt bulbs and barfonts we studied the menu which turned out to be quite impressive; we ordered huge portions of cheap food accompanied by a Saku Tume 6.7% and an A.le Coq Tömmu Hiid 4.7% which were both bland, thin and caramelly and pretty indistinguishable from each other, although the Tume had a slight vegetable twang lurking in the aroma which necessitated not breathing whilst drinking – which is a lot harder than you think!
We’d soon polished off the excellent food and not so exceptional beer and it was time to move on. We had been unable to find the Tristan and Isolde on Raekoja platz so we cut our losses with the centre of town and walked quite a long way out to a bar called Ale Kok – which no longer existed or, if it did, it wasn’t where it should have been! About turn, then, and back into town… the next tavern, the Bierstube, had been described as a “German bar” and they weren’t joking either – all the beers were German except one, Sillamäe München Vaskne, which we’d had the previous night in the Ölletorn… we had it anyway as I wanted Estonian beers not Paulaner; It was very good and probably shades it as the best draught beer we had all weekend although the bar itself was a bit strange, being a wood-panelled cellar with a very small bar and few customers!
What to do next? We’d almost run out of ideas for places to visit so we decided to give the Ölletorn another try – surely we had imagined the useless barstaff the previous night? As we trekked back towards the centre we passed through what I assume was the Russian part of town as there were lots of little bars with Russian-sounding signs outside (well, they were in Cyrillic anyway!) although we didn’t take a look for several reasons; we had no idea what sort of beer they sold (although I suspect it may have been Obolon from the Ukraine), I’d heard the Russian minority can be funny with tourists as Russians in Estonia are looked upon as second-class citizens, and I only speak a few words of Russian and don’t know the word for beer which is a rather important omission in my knowledge! So, we stomped resolutely past the Russian bars and through street after street which all looked the same in their drab concrete anonymity before we eventually reached the Ölletorn – just before the rain started in earnest.
All extremities are fit for consumption…
As we entered the Ölletorn I was dismayed to see the same staff slouching behind the bar – and they looked equally dismayed we’d actually got the brazen cheek to show up again. We sat at the same table as the previous night and I actually managed to order two beers and elicit a modicum of civility from one of the girls; we had Pärnu Jubileum 5% as it was a winning brewery and another go at the Viru Palmse as it had been rather nice the previous night. The Pärnu was, as expected, a bland euro-lager and the Palmse wasn’t as good as the previous night as we, somehow, received a bottle rather than a glass of draught so I decided to try my luck and order a second round of scoops from the list – maybe I’d have more luck this time?
I approached the bar with the menu and the barstaff seemed to have decided that I wasn’t easily discouraged and I could have another drink but they still weren’t happy about the situation! I ordered two Russian beers by way of a change, but a few minutes later one of the girls informed us the beers weren’t available. No matter, we tried another – this too was out of stock! Eventually we managed to get Tinkoff Porter from Pushkin, just south of St Petersburg, which wasn’t a porter but was rather nice in a coffee-ish, roasted kind of way. With no more Estonian beers on the list tickling our fancy, and more importantly the last three brewers not even featuring, we decided to pay up and leave, much to the relief of the barstaff. We walked out feeling that this bar’s reputation as a “scooping” pub was definitely undeserved, on our experiences at least!
Now what? It was still before 20:00 and we weren’t going to give up on finding some beer this being our last night in town so, with no better ideas, we traipsed back towards the city centre, pausing to watch yet another band playing on a stage seemingly erected in the middle of a dual carriageway who, had we understood Estonian, may have been OK (think Rage against the Machine style). It didn’t take us long before we were back in the centre and wondering what to do. After considering the Old Hansa (who apparently don’t brew but either commission beers or add spices to existing beers) and rejecting it on the grounds of it being a tourist trap we had to face up to the fact we were going to have to re-visit the Beer House. Decision made, we set off via Raekoja platz for the short walk to the pub.
The upside of this move was we could scoop the one beer we’d not had so far and get some food inside us. We were soon sat at one of the long tables and in possession of a half-litre of Pils and one of Dunkel and studying the food menu which contained some rancid sounding concoctions, most of which contained parts of the unfortunate pig which should really have been converted into petfood – Pig’s ears with “dip” or Pig’s tails in garlic sauce anyone? There was also the sinister-sounding Siberian ravioli (no ingredients listed but presumably heavily salted) and my favourite - roast chicken crops! Yum yum. Unsurprisingly, we flagged these rancid-sounding dishes and went for a mix of small snacks including cheese and potato skins which, when eaten together, sated our hunger very well. On the beer front the Pils was actually very good with a fresh, hoppy, citrussy character and the dunkel was thought better of than the previous evening with more of a rich, dry coffee character – but then it should be for the extortionate price of 40EEK (£1.80!)
When we finally left to walk back to the hotel in the (now pouring) rain, we felt we’d rounded off the trip on a decent high although we both had a less than glowing admiration for Estonian beer – it’s quite standard that the brewpub is the best beer in town, but here there wasn’t much competition and I’ve had better beer from a similar brewplant in Tunisia – a Muslim country (albeit a very relaxed one)! And don’t get me started on the prices in the Beer House either… Back at the hotel, we finished off the last of our bottles which was A.le Coq Saremaa X 10%, a pale combination of water and industrial alcohol with a weetabix crumbled into the mix somewhere along the line. Yeuch! Not a good way to finish our Estonian beer adventure…
Wednesday 18th May 2005
Any dictator apart from Stalin!
As we were flying back at 12:10 on Wednesday we didn’t have time for any more drinking in the morning, so we took a last walk down to the port to pick up the bus to the airport as we didn’t know which stop it used in town (about 25 metres from our hotel, it turned out). We hiked across some old railway yards to the harbourside where the first Nordoc jetline departure to Helsinki was still sat in it’s dock with engineers in attendance – glad we weren’t booked on that one then! We had a last walk around the still-amusing Sadamarket in search of a Stalin t-shirt, but it seemed every other dictator was represented on a shirt apart from Stalin. Gutted, we bought some snacks for the wait at the airport and wandered over to the bus stop.
The airport bus arrived early but sat in the carpark until 1 minute before departure time whilst the driver read his paper, cheers then! As we progressed through the town we saw that the tramlines to Ülemiste were still under repair; we’d been lucky to scoop them in one the first day! (they are still closed as of July 05). Soon we were turning into the airport terminal and that was it – all over. The flight was half an hour late and, infuriatingly, was the same plane as we’d had out – G-IGOB! We consoled ourselves by buying a top bottle of wine in the duty-free, Chateau Pez 1998, for a ridiculously low price although the beer selection was Saku or nothing. The flight back dragged, being 2¾ hours, although we got a great view of the amazing bridges connecting Denmark’s islands with each other and Sweden before the customary cloud of doom closed in over the channel. We were on-stand 20 minutes late and soon back on the A14 yet again – we love it!
If, like me, you’re under the impression that the Estonian beer scene is full of quaint old breweries producing lovely rustic, tasty brews with a Baltic porter on every bar then, like me, you’re going to be very disappointed. There are either 9, 10 or 11 breweries (depending who you believe) but one thing’s for sure – almost all the output is safe, bland, eurolager for the masses and, although I have no evidence, I’d say most of these breweries are owned by the big multinationals – why else would most of the beer be such rubbish? True, there is some fairly good beer around – Sillamäe springs to mind – but it’s far between on the bars in Tallinn where the average Saku rules the roost. Saku do make a decent Baltic Porter, but the other beers were far from impressive as was the whole output we tried of A.le Coq that, if anything, was even worse.
The Beer House brewpub is nothing to get excited about either although, compared to the standard beers found on almost every bar, it’s nectar; perhaps they’ve realised they don’t have to try too hard? It’s also very expensive – beer in most bars averages out around 25EEK a half-litre (around £1.10) but the Beer House’s prices were 30EEK for Pils, 35EEK for Märzen and a whopping 40EEK for Dunkel! Cheers then!
You think that’s expensive – well, try going to Helsinki and ordering a beer and then you’ll see what expensive means! True, Norway and Sweden are far pricier, but reckon on around €4 a half-litre at least in Finland. However, the beer scene in Helsinki is far more interesting and exciting than that 85km across the Baltic straights – rustic Sahti, lots of Lambic, a few brewpubs and various bars selling guest ales make it well worth at least a day of your time, and with the ferry crossing only around £30 return (even with the ludicrous fuel surcharges) it’s rude not to take advantage of it. The One Pint Pub is straight into my “top 5” European bars on the strength of it’s marvellous beer list although it’s a good thing architecture doesn’t feature in the criteria list… or ease of finding! The Suomenlinna brewpub is worth the trip for the ferry ride alone and there are plenty of other bars we didn’t have time to try out. All in all an excellent drinking city for the scooper, but just make sure you get your euro wad is well and truly topped-up before you buy any beer … unlike us!
It’s not all beer and more beer on these trips though, and Tallinn certainly doesn’t disappoint in the architecture stakes; it certainly lives up to its name as a perfectly preserved medieval city looking like Gent or Brugge with loads of stepped gables and cobbled streets, although the centre is deceptively small and the rest of the place is typical Soviet-era square concrete flats. It has an easy-going atmosphere and the people are friendly and most speak very good English – which is a good thing as Estonian is ridiculously difficult to speak; I usually try to learn a few words but I gave up when I couldn’t pronounced “thanks”! Helsinki has a much more modernist style but does have some interesting areas, including the senaat building and the art-deco train station although medieval it certainly isn’t.
All in all we had a really good time in these two countries, although I don’t think I’ll be going back to Estonia in a hurry for the beer – but we may be back in Helsinki next May for the sahti festival! I’d recommend anyone with an interest in quiet historic cities to visit Tallinn before it does a Prague (to which it is sometimes compared but, to me, the two are totally different) and is swamped by tourists and, sadly, British stag parties who are increasingly visiting the city for the cheap beer and “low expectation tourism”. Helsinki is in many ways a negative of Tallinn – architecturally uninteresting in the main but with a great beer culture to delight the adventurous drinker, especially lovers of lambic. Just don’t forget your wallet!
Getting there, staying there and getting around (there!).
As usual, the saviour of beer scoopers and other tourists has been the budget airline revolution - before 2004 the average fare to Tallinn was well over £100 return with all the usual ludicrous restrictions flag carriers impose on any market they feel they have a stranglehold on – “must include Saturday away” and “no single fares” being the usual ones. To put this into perspective we flew from Stansted to Tallinn with easyJet for £40.98 return each, including “taxes and charges” – you can’t get much better value than that, considering how far Tallinn is (over 1,000 miles). Air Baltic fly to Tallinn from Gatwick and Manchester, but otherwise your only option is a flag carrier from Heathrow (although Estonian Air from Gatwick seem reasonable). A more fun option would be a flight from Berlin to Tallinn, again with easyJet, so if you feel like making it a very long weekend then fly to Berlin where you can do the brewpubs followed by a flight to Estonia. You could even consider flying to Helsinki and doing the ferry across or even doing a bus from Riga (Ryanair from Stansted) – which takes about 6 hours apparently!
Tallinn, like many Eastern European cities, has a substantial electric tram system which is augmented by trolleybuses (buses which run off overhead electric wires) and diesel buses which mesh together into a very coherent public transport system which puts most of the UK to shame (some good info and photos here). The only problem we found was the lack of a “day rover” ticket (apart from the prohibitively expensive Tallinn card, although I'm told daytickets do exist) meaning single tickets need to be used for each trip. Don’t buy these from the driver as they cost 15EEK each; instead, buy a book of ten from any R-Kiosk or news stand for 80EEK (you’ll see tickets stuck in the window as a rule; the word for ticket in Estonian is Pilet).
When you board a tram or bus, there are ticket stampers positioned by the doors – either electronic ones which print the time on your ticket or, more commonly, manual ones – insert the ticket in the slot and pull the top of the stamper towards you. This embosses a unique pattern to that vehicle on the ticket although we couldn’t work out if a ticket was valid for one journey or 1 hour – we erred on the safe side and stamped one per journey, although we never saw any inspectors.
Getting to or from the airport is dead easy – it’s only 4km from the centre and bus No.2 runs every 20/30 minutes from Moigu to the port, Reisisadam, although the schedule does have the odd 50-minute gap. There is a timetable on the bus stop at the airport which is just outside the door – you can’t miss it. To get off for the centre alight at the stop with the huge glass hotel on the right and you’re only ten minutes away at the most via Viru Varjak park. No transport runs to the centre, so walk – it’s not far! If you’re very lazy you could take a Kopli-bound tram to Linnahalli, just outside the walls, then walk all the way down Pikk to the centre, taking in the architecture as you go, and stop off at the Hell Hunt for the Saare beers as it’s about halfway along!
Estonia’s railways are a prime example of privatisation and the free market gone mad. The whole lot was sold to a consortium of American/British companies whose main revenues is bulk oil from Russia to the port. Well, that’s about it for the railways in Estonia – there are a few suburban trains from the train station (Balti Jaam) just off the centre to the northwest (any tram to Kopli) and the odd one to Tartu but the connection to Latvia was severed 5 years ago, leaving the nightly St Petersburg train the only international service offered. To show the absurdity of it all, the railway museum at Happsala is now unreachable by train – the line was sold to a private owner who has now ripped it all up for use as a cycleway! Make sense of that if you can…
We stayed in the superbly Stalinist Hotel G9 at Gonsiori 9, only ten minutes away from the centre, and actually very nice inside apart from the beige stairwell (we had an ensuite sauna!) although if you’re the kind of traveller who likes luxuries then maybe you should have a look at somewhere more upmarket; there are plenty of expensive hotels in Tallinn, just take a look at the prices on any of the hotel search engines and see what I mean… We paid €50 a night (or 750EEK) which is our usual rate and – more importantly – we could see trams from the window! Most other hotels in the centre charge way above this; €100 a night isn’t unusual with the ever-increasing tourist glut the city is seeing as more and more people hear about it – unfortunately!
Options for getting to Helsinki are limited since FlyingFinn went bust a few years ago. There are currently no direct flights with budget carriers from the UK so your options are limited to Ryanair from Stansted to Tampere, which is about 90 minutes via regular train to Helsinki and, as a bonus, is a fascinating industrial city where the first large factories were built in Finland (it also has a brewpub!). Germanwings fly from Köln to Helsinki, which is another beery option as you can get to Köln from most regional airports in the UK for example Germanwings from Birmingham, easyJet from East Midlands / Liverpool and from Coventry with Hapag-Lloyd / Thomsonfly and have a great day or two around the brewpubs before jetting off to Finland.
Helsinki’s public transport is excellent – a sprawling tram network and small one-line metro will get you all over the city and to all the relevant bars easily. The tourist ticket is the best thing to buy if you’ll be in town and having a spin around on the trams; buy it from the tourist office opposite the Kauppatori tramstop; it’s only €5.40 for one day or €10.80 for three. Importantly, this ticket is valid on the public boats to Suomenlinna island for the brewpub there which run every 20 minutes or so and makes a great little excursion from the centre. Stamp the ticket the first time you get on a tram and the clock starts ticking (and you can!) from then, so to speak – it’s great value.
Across the Baltic Straits.
There are various ferry companies offering services across the straits, most using fast craft which knock off the trip in 90 minutes or so from Tallinn’s port to the waterfront at Helsinki between April and December depending, amusingly, on “Ice conditions” – the straits freeze over during the severe winter. Companies include Silja line and Nordic Jet Line although only NJL offer online booking – make sure you book economy class and, just to make it interesting, you need to book each leg of the journey separately, but it’s worth it for €44 return! (You may be able to get a cheaper walk-on fare at the port, but we decided it was worth a few Euros extra to ensure we were on the departure we wanted). NJL’s terminals are also the closest to the town at both ends making it the easiest choice for the scooper with limited time to spend walking! If you’ve a surfeit of money you could always go by Helicopter – flights leave from near Tallinn harbour and only take 15 minutes or so and, if you book in advance, aren’t that expensive when you think about the time saved.
Tallinn Beer Gen.
The city is mostly dominated by Saku whose beers, whilst not the worst we had, are on the bland side (with the exception of the Porter). There seem to be a lot of bars aimed at young men on “low expectation holidays” which only sell Eurofizz (and Saku) and play loud music. Outside the centre, there seem to be quite a few Russian bars which look like they sold Obolon beer from Kiev in the Ukraine, although we didn’t check any of them out. The following list is comprised of the bars we drank in and is surprisingly short for a supposed beer-drinking city.
There are quite a few bars selling Czech beers around town but we were only interested in Estonian scooping so didn’t bother trying any of them. We didn’t see any beer shops but most supermarkets (there’s one next to Ölletorn) only sell Saku or A.le Coq beers at around 10EEK a bottle – ideal to stock up and drink in your hotel room after a fruitless day searching for scoops! The beer shop in the Sadamarket by terminal C at the harbour sells Saku Porter – the best beer we had (just) and the only place we saw it apart from the Ölletorn.
Hell Hunt, Pikk 39. (Open from early until late by the looks of things). Situated halfway between the sea gate and the old town square, this bar is a strange mixture of coloured lights and traditional fixtures. It sells two house beers from the Saare brewery on Saremaa that are rare – so there’s your reason to go! The food comes in huge portions and is very good indeed. A few other bottles on the menu may yield some winners. May 2007 - the beers are now from Parnu, sounds like they may be rebadges to me...
Beer House, Dunkri 5. (Open all day). Styled as a “Central European” beerhall (read German) this huge sprawling place is the only brewpub in the country situated a few paces from Raekoja platz. Unfortunately, the beer is very pricey and not as good as you may have thought it should be being a Salmbräu (Vienna) installation. Food is above average though and you may get treated to the sight of old people dancing in the lobby in front of a large TV or be invaded by coachloads of German tourists. Enjoy.
Karja Kelder, Väike-Karja 1. (Hours unknown). Just off Raekoja platz in the direction of Viru this cellar bar is dimly lit and atmospheric. Serves Saku Tumé on draught and has a fair selection of bottles from Saku and A.le Coq in the glaring fridges. The food is cheap and very impressive.
Kalle Kusta, Viru 21. (Hours unknown). Another cellar bar about 5 minutes from Karja kelder just past the twin towers of Viru gate (on the left). The beer menu shows Viru Palmse on draught although only Saku beers (surprise) were on when we visited so we made a swift exit.
Bierstübe, Süda 7. (Mon-Fri 11:00 – 00:00, Sat 12:00 – 00:00, Sun 12:00 – 22:00). For the authentic Germanic experience! Almost everything is German from the food to the beer, but there is one draught Estonian beer – Sillamäe Vaskne, which is about the best beer you’ll get in Tallinn. A bit of a walk from the centre but not many tourists will trek this far out. In a promising area with lots of Russian/Ukrainian bars that may, or may not, sell Obolon beer from Kiev in the Ukraine.
Ölletorn, Liivalaia 40. (Mon-Fri 10:00 – 23:00, Sat & Sun 10:00 – 01:00). This should be the best bar in town – it’s even a sort-of scooper’s pub – but see my writeup in the report above! Still the best beer list we found anywhere and quite cheap too. Well away from the tourist crowd through a concrete square (it’s not an arch!) off the ringroad and close to the landmark Hotel Olümpia with it’s tacky “Englishman’s pub”, which looked as bad as you’d imagined it would be with a name like that, and only Eurofizz on tap (we didn’t stop!).
There seems to be conflicting information about the Old Hansa restaurant just behind the town hall. Some sources state it makes its own beer from honey and spices, whilst others (who I trust) say they simply add spices and the like to commercially-available lagers. We didn’t go in as it looked a right tourist trap so we have no idea who is right, but I know who I believe!
Well, that was about it! We poked our noses in quite a few other bars but most only seemed to sell Saku or A.le Coq beers. The following have also been recommended, which we didn’t visit –
Mihkli, Endla 23. A hotel that sold the very decent Sillamäe beers when Phil stayed there in 2003.
Tristan and Isolde. Apparently on Raekoja platz in the town hall, but we couldn’t see it (probably due to the square being full of people and loads of roadworks going on in that corner). Sells Karksi beer.
Vana Villemi, Tartu mnt. 52. Locals bar near the bus station which sells Saku beers.
Hüppav Hobune, Narva mnt. 6. “The location may be obscure, but the Jumping Horse is one pub that beer-lovers should definitely seek out. Around 30 kinds of imported beer are available (many on tap) including several Belgian varieties”. Sounds like more of a tourist beer bar than an Estonian scooping pub…?
For more bars, have a look at the In your Pocket guide – but don’t expect to find much interesting! For a list of Estonian beers and breweries, check out www.beerguide.ee which has an English option - luckily!
For an excellent language converter from English to Estonian and vv, check this out!
Helsinki Beer Gen.
The beer scene of the Finnish capital is miles in advance of that 50 miles away over the Baltic straits. There are a couple of brewpubs, a micro, and lots of bars which sell independent beer, lambic, sahti or all three. Unfortuantely, we were restricted by time on our visit and didn’t get the opportunity to visit many of the places on our list which I repeat below. The places we did visit were both good, one exceptionally so. A quick surf of the internet will update you on the current situation as the Finns are amongst the highest users per capita of the internet in the world and there is literally stacks of gen out there to be read.
Suomenlinnan Panimo, Rantakasarmi, Suomenlinna Island (every day 10:00 – 01:00). The first building you see when you step off the ferry – honest. Look, I’ve heard that too before but it’s actually true this time. A strange place with a possible 4 beers on draught. The brewplant is visible on the way to the toilets and the food looked quite good too although we didn’t sample it. Beers were above average but the prices were a bit of a shock after Tallinn! Worth the visit for the 20-minute boat trip from the harbour alone which is free with a dayticket; see the “How to get there…” section above for all the information you’ll need about this place.
One Pint Pub, Santakatu 2. (Sun-Thu 11:00 – 01:00, Fri-Sat 11:00 – 02:00). Very difficult to find with the address given but persist – it’s one of the best bars in Europe. Get off tram 8 at Itämerenkatu, walk back around the building to your left then along the canal for 50 metres and the pub is opposite a bridge but isn’t that obvious! Has an absolutely superlative range of beers ranging from Lammin Sahti to de Cam oude kriek and loads inbetween including Stadin Alpo’s IPA on tap and friendly educated barstaff who really know their beers and speak perfect English. There is a cash machine 5 minutes walk away, you may need it…. But it’s worth every Euro. A must-visit on the beer scooper’s tour of Europe.
Other bars we didn’t have time to visit (but will next time!) were –
Teerenpeli, Vuorikatu 16. (Mon-Thu 12:00 – 02:00, Fri-Sat 12:00 – 03:00, Sun 16:00 – 00:00). Allegedly a brewpub (it says it above the door) but part of a countrywide chain of bars with a central brewery so maybe it isn’t. If anyone gets to check it out, please let us know!
St. Urho’s Pub, Museokatu 10. (Sun-Thu 15:00 – 01:00, Fri-Sat 15:00 – 03:00). Apparently is a classic bar with a Sahti festival in May (also available all year) and around 100 beers available. We simply ran out of time to get here – unfortunately – as it sounds like a superb place.
Black Door, Iso Roobertinkatu 1. (Sun-Thu 11:00 – 02:00, Fri-Sat 11:00 – 03:00). Sells Stadin beers – what more excuse do you need to visit this place? It also sells real ale from the UK if you’re missing your fix of low-strength bland beer and also has around 50 bottles alongside the 15 draught beers.
Vanha Beercafe, Mannerheimintie 3. (11:00 until late except Sunday). Apparently has 14 draught beers and over 70 in bottle although we can’t verify this!
Vastarannan Kiiski, Runeberginkatu 26. (12:00 – 02:00 daily). May have around 90 beers available.
Pikkulintu, Klaavuntie 11. This suburban bar is situated in an Eastern Helsinki shopping mall, and can best be reached by the underground. Finnish micros are always available on draught, and the landlord's pride is the wide range of single malts. Apparently.
I also found a website which seems to be a chain of several bars and most of them sound like they may be OK from my limited grasp of Finnish. The William V chain of bars are part of the same Oluthuone chain and sound worth a visit – they are located at Annankatu 3, Fleminginkatu 6, Fredrikinkatu 65 and Mannerheimintie 72 – all have around 10 beers on draught and 50 in bottle.
Helsinki’s only micro is Stadin who brew a huge range of beers. We only tried one, the Alpo’s IPA 6.5% in the One Pint Pub, but this was a superb, bitter and resinous hoppy beer in the best expression of the style – and the right strength too! On the basis of this beer I’d advise anyone to seek out more of their beverages. There also seem to be two Alko shops (Government alcohol supplies) that sell Sahti although I’m not sure which one it is (Lammin seems the most likely) at Salomonkatu 1 and Kantelettarentie 1.
Our Beers of the weekend.
To finish off, I suppose I’d better choose some beers we enjoyed over the weekend. I’m going to have to split the results down into country divisions or else no Estonian beer would get a look-in!
Best Beers of the weekend – Estonia
1. Saku Porter (7.5%), bottled.
2. Sillamäe Vaskne (6.2%), draught in Bierstube.
3. Viru Palmse Porter (5.6%) draught in Ölletorn
Best Beers of the Weekend – Helsinki
1. Cantillon Baie d’Argousier (5%), One Pint Pub
2. Cantillon Groseille (5%), One Pint Pub
3. Stadin Alpo’s IPA (6.5%), One Pint Pub
Beer of the Weekend – Cantillon Baie d’Argousier (5%) in the One Pint Pub, Helsinki.
Bar of the Weekend – One Pint Pub, Santakatu 2, Helsinki.
Some maps to get you started... (click to expand)
Update - July 2005 by Mark Enderby
Funnily enough, Mark went out a month or two after us, and kindly sent us this update to the gen above....
We flew Estonian Air from MAN. Not as cheap as EZY but a helluvalot more convenient. 1000 ex MAN and 0815 ex TAL 3 days a week. Interestingly, no e-Tix ... they are mailed out from Estonia so difficult to get a last minute. However, they were with me within a week. Seats allox on check-in. MAN check-in very good at dedicated SAS desk but the Tallinn end was chaotic with a 5 queue scrum at what, for Tallinn, was a busy time with 4-5 flights leaving. Would advise NOT heading for the min 45min check-in as we were in the queue for 45 mins !
We took a taxi from the airport. Although the airport website said 60EEK, the airport mag said 100EEK and so did our guidebook - the actual Tariff one metered fare was 160EEK out and 120EEK return. Don't ask me how a 35EEK flagfall and 7EEK/Km worked that one out but then airport taxis are a law unto themselves !
There are timed tickets - 1hr, 2hr, 1day (40EEK) and 3day (80EEK)and devices exist to validate these.
The Ulemiste routes (2,4) are still shut (until 31/8) and part of the route is de-wired at present. The 6 is therefore still running. However, there was no sign of any replacement bus services for the route.
The EEK is pegged to the Euro so exchange rates had slid. Exchange against the pound was approx 20.8, cash machines did a little better at around 22 and credit cards were around 21.5-22. However there were clearly daily fluctuations.
We stayed at the Reval Central (just down from the G9 !). Perfectly adequate and buffet breakfast was included.
And so to the beer ...
Beer 30EEK (pils) - 40EEK (Dunkel). However Dunkel was off ! Tried pils and marzen and both were average (though the best of the trip !).
Tried the thin-ish house beers. Also on the menu was Belhaven St Andrews on draught plus a shed load of ScotCo products from the UK and Russia.
Tristan and Isolde
This does exist and occupies a prominent corner of the Town Hall with a few benches outside and a bigger seating area in the square. It now does Viru Palmse and Toolse - pleasant enough but will set you back 50EEK (or 55 in the square seats). Saying that, the place was extremely pleasant and we visited most days. (Gazza: Ah yes, now we know where it is... behind all the hoardings when we were there!)
The one you've been waiting for ! Arrived about 6 and there were only a couple of customers. The 2 barmaids were at the bar and I asked for a menu. One spoke clear English and said that they didn't have one. What's more there was no draught beer on and the only available bottles were in the cooler. Of these, most were imports apart from Saku Original and Viro Bear - so had the Bear ! The cards at the door did advertise 100 beers with a weekly guest. However, the last guest noted was mid-April. It sort of had the hallmarks of a great beer pub where the licensee had changed and hence was living on it's past reputation. Or maybe the b*gg*rs were lying ! However, all the customers that came in while we were there had bottles out the fridge.
Gotta be a scoop here - so we trekked out only to find it was shut until Aug 1st !
All other bars we came across seemed to be solid Saku/Alecoq. However, on the last evening, Linda picked up one of those "What's on" guides and found an advert for a beer pub with a picture of a bank of 6 handpulls with UK beers from nationals, regionals and one called "Sherlock Holmes". A quick check of the map revealed it to be opposite our hotel at Narva mnt 6. It is called the Huppav Hobune and claims 8 draft beers and 50 bottled. It was empty at 6 when we arrived and the barmaid seemed surprised to see us ! No handpulls but a row of 8 fonts with the likes of Hoegardeen, Kozel, Staropramen Dark, Leffe Brune, AleCoq Premium. After establishing that there were no interesting local brews, I settled on the Kozel (at least a change from the local brews). Bottles included a selection of Youngs, some German, wheats, rauchbeer, Kwak etc. All fairly mainstream. My common sense should have told me that the handpulls were in an UK pub but by some perverse logic, I linked the Sherlock Holmes beer with the Scotland Yard pub on Mere pst, so after a burn out to Kopli we approached our target. Outside was a "bouncer" dressed as a policeman (I'm sure he said "evenin' all" !) and inside was even more bizarre. A large and empty space with a bar at one end and a gaggle of barmaids done up as policewomen ! Resisting the urge to run, and following a conversation with a copper regarding the availability of local brews (only Alecoq) I picked the draft Franciskaner Wheat beer and retreated outside. Well it was different !
Had a meal at the Old Hansa with it's honey and (very strange) herb dark beers (50EEK). Also a light beer with cinnamon (55EEK). No info about their provenance could be obtained.
The Tanduur on Vene only had Saku but DID have Nargis ! ... Very nice though the price was extortionate even for UK standards.
Best food was the Must Lammas on Sauna which did Georgian food ... along with a Czech Dark bottle (Starobrno Cerne) and Black Sheep Bitter and Holy Grail !
Finally, the restaurant at the top of the TV tower does Saku Original - view's good though.
As expected, I did trawl the offies for something different but had no joy whatsoever. Saku and Alecoq with Viru Bear were all that was on offer. Even the Saaremaa X is brewed by Alecoq !
I tried ...
Alecoq Double Bock
Alecoq Saaremaa X
... nothing to right home about and some downright cr*p (i.e. the 10% Saaremaa X). (Gazza: He's correct, it's absolute shite - like water mixed with weetabix and meths!!!)
So there we have it. A great little city but clearly on the downhill slope to lowest common denominator beers to satisfy the tourist hoards (and I suspect the locals - those in the know probably drink German, Czeck and Belgian imports - or wizz over to Helsinki).
Go there now before it's too late ... it could be that further exploration is required - particularly to the other cities/towns where there are breweries. There must be some good beer out there !
|Beers in Hell Hunt, Tallinn||Real brewery at the Beer house Tallinn||The plant at the Suomenlinna island brewpub Helsinki||Suomenlinnan brewpub Helsinki||The awesome One Pint Pub Helsinki - doesn't look much but it rules!!!|
|Tallinn 150505||Tallinn 150505||Helsinki 160505||Helsinki 160505||Helsinki 160505|
|Massive winner Cantillon bottles in One Pint Pub Helsinki||Viru Gate Tallinn with the Kalle Kusta bar to the right.||Tallinn old town from Toompea Castle||Hell Hunt on Pikk Tallinn||Ölletorn (the Beer tower), Tallinn|
|Helsinki 160505||Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505|
|Beermat from the Beer House, Tallinn||Saku beermat||A Tallinn public transport ticket||Sillamäe brewery beermat|
|Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505||Tallinn 170505|
V1.1 © Gazza 21/07/2005