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Põhjala Brewery Leads Quiet Revolution in Estonian Beer

The Estonians are Coming, and They're Bringing Beer (Issue 24)


Nordic by Nature

Three passionate co-founders grew to include brewing and design talent, before an angel investor – and coincidentally the ex-CEO of Estonia’s most famous company, Skype – provided the additional means needed to found the brewery. Since then, Põhjala have evolved, swelling in numbers and taking on a part stake in one of Tallinn’s finest craft beer bars, before opening their own brewery tap, "Speakeasy." But throughout, they have stayed close to their roots as a brewery that takes inspiration from the beer trends and styles that grace the world stage, before transforming them into something uniquely Nordic.

And it's not such a surprise that Estonia’s Nordic heart should produce some great beers. Aside from being the tenth biggest per-capita consumers of beer on the planet, Estonia has clean air, expansive forests and picturesque coastlines. It is also home to the best "cheers" of all European languages, "Terviseks!" (Or "pervy sex" if you struggle with the original phrase).

One of the first purpose-built craft breweries in Estonia, Põhjala has been online for two years and has already been expanded three times.

Sidestepping the titillating language, Põhjala take their inspiration from local nature and cuisine – the simple and clean flavors of the region. 'We don't design beer for a market segment – we brew the beers that we like and that we want to brew. We are the guys who make Baltic porter in the Baltics, beers with a Nordic flavor for the world stage," Enn explains. With a relatively young market, customers warm easily to new ideas, turning to Põhjala for quality beers with some local heritage.

Head Brewer Chris goes on, "The innovation we do, the beer concepts and recipes, are inspired by Estonian nature and food." And the Nordic influence is often clear, with brews like rye ale Rukkirääk, a mainstay of the core range. Translated as "Corn Crake," an elusive bird which inhabits the many rye fields of Estonia, this beer showcases caramel tones of rye malt set off by punchy hops. Picture swooping barn swallows, sparkling seas and the twinkle of cornflower among swaying grain fields – an Estonian summer’s day in a bottle.

A seasonal favorite is Pesakond, described as a "Black Forest IPA," and first brewed to celebrate a favorite local comic strip of that name. This Black IPA takes flavors of the Estonian forest – fresh spruce tips and blueberries, to give the drinker an evocative taste of the best of Nordic nature, all packaged in an eminently drinkable brew. Põhjala’s dark beers stand out especially, and more than hold their own on the world stage – their global recognition hinting at the ability and ambition of Chris and the whole team to produce brews that punch well beyond their weight.

Pohjãla have brewed prolifically, brewing over 75 different styles since being founded as gypsies in 2011. They're beers worth seeking out – Pohjãla is generally considered the best brewery in Estonia, with most beers garnering high ratings. Pohjãla's collaboration with Danish To Øl, 'Taanilinn,' has received near-universal praise.

Pohjãla is generally considered the best brewery in Estonia, with most beers garnering high ratings.

In fact, it's their delight for collaborating that might hint at Põhjala’s insatiable desire to experiment, learn and expand – 12 of the 75 beers are collaborations with Brewers from the region and across Europe and the US. Enn explains why. "We love doing something with the guys we like, learning from each other, networking – it's not unusual to wake up at a festival with a sore head and a handshake on a collab with a new friend." An early collaboration with Oregon’s iconic Boneyard Beer produced the exquisite Baltic Notorious IPA3, a Baltic take on the Boneyard classic triple IPA brewed in Tallinn with brewmaster Tony Lawrence in attendance. An awesome beer, and a great way of reaching new drinkers – collaborate and conquer, if you like.