OlutExpo 2017 does it right

From the time you pick up the lanyard with credit card attached to the time you drop it off and get reimbursed for the balance left on it, you know these guys have done it right. It’s pro, it’s efficient, the queues are shorter at the entrance and you leave knowing that nobody’s tried to rip you off, you got what you paid for. If you so wish, you could muster up an even warmer fuzzier sense of goodness when you leave the balance to one of the charities they support.

Fat Lizard Brewery from Finland

A whole string of local micro breweries have come up with selections of beer that speak of real craftsmanship, each one with its own specific punch line and story. Fat Lizard has a sense of humour as in their ‘No crap on tap’ slogan. Topi Kairenius, brewmaster, explains their take on what makes them stand out,“We like American style APAs and IPAs and use mostly American hops. Except for Rib Tickler which contains New Zeland hops.”Their products come in funky cans and are all of a lighter, drinkable style, a hint of their own laid-back approach to life.

The intrepid couple from Pien

 Pien meaning ‘small’ deserves a mention. This couple are bold if nothing else. They have two small shops: one behind Ateneum Art Museum on Ateneumkuja and another one in Iso Omena Shopping Centre. Their products are hand-and heart-selected and they’re selling some unique beers and other goodies from their stores. Because of the monopoly Alko, they have to stick to anything under 4.7% alcohol but whatever they have to sacrifice is made up for by big flavours and choice ingredients. They’re the exclusive importer of Brewski, an outfit in Helsingborg, Sweden, that bottle in small sizes using labels designed by a kick-ass artist. The contents are pretty good too.

Pekka Montin, importer and veteran of the beer scene

From Estonia comes Tanker Brewery. Everything’s unfiltered and only American hops is used since 50% of the business belongs to Graham Suske, American himself and the other half by Jaanis Tammela. The Ketser will creep into the corners of your gob and squinch up your cheeks with the sourness it brings with it while Pretty Hard has a touch of raspberry to soften the blow. The latter’s label is pink with a speech bubble for the lady, ‘ It’s so hard to be pretty’. At 7% you’re likely to forget the make-up and get the party started.

Cider has its place at this festival and it’s the elegance of the logo of Kuura Cider that catches my eye. They’re from the little town of Fiskars, about a 60 minute drive from Helsinki. With a still and a sparkling product, their focus is on ripe, local, cooking apples rather than cider ones. Minimum intervention leaves it unfiltered but with an elegance and complexity that put it in a class of its own.

Also from the famous artist/artisan town of Fiskars is Ägräs Distillery. Infused with nettles and fennel is their greenish coloured Long Drink, the freshest hit of herbal delight you can possibly imagine with no hint of sugar but pleasantly accessible. Their Akvavit is also made from foraged nettles and wild herbs and is aged in American oak, a smooth, golden-coloured, velvety drink that caresses your tongue as it slides around the furthest recesses of your mouth.

Food is the focus at Malmgård Brewery where they use their own spelt, wheat, grains to make their products including bread. They’re located in the countryside near Loviisa at a manor house owned by a count.

From the far-flung island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides, the whisky that comes from there is user-friendly. No heavy peat, no heavy smoke just something easy to drink, terribly enjoyable and made for the market. Their 16 year-old Jura Diurachs’ Own is the whisky of choice for the islanders and you know why when your taste buds get a hint of apricot, marmalade and toffee, a mouthful of rounded goodness.

End your taste tour at Helsinki Distilling Company where their brand new rye whiskey comes with a kick but no aggression. Applejack can only be described as light Calvados, a pleasant apéritif or a less powerful digestif.

In the spite of the archaic alcohol laws in Finland, OlutExpo has managed to put together a thought-through, well organised event, represented by both local and international brands without a single moment of unruly behaviour and plenty of class and luxury in which to spoil yourself.

Hieta Restaurant – history in the making

If you want to follow a hard act, leave it in the hands of the pros. Royal Restaurants have taken over this historic spot overlooking the old shipyard and handed over the reins to Jani Hiltunen, manager, and Ali Toppinen, head chef, to reconstruct an age-old tradition.

Jani Hiltiunen and Ali Toppinen, Ravintola Hieta, avajaiset. Photo: ATTE KAJOVA

Dating back to 1897 when stevedores and workers called the then-named Salve their ‘local’, these walls have seen it all including billows of cigarette smoke, countless millions of litres of beer and Finnish hooch called Koskenkorva being consumed. Today we walk in there and the gasps of airy delight spring from the daylight shining in on the white walls. I ask whether there were always floor-to-ceiling windows and the answer is ‘yes, but they were half covered in stickers and huge ventilation boxes’.

Fried Baltic herring and craft beer

Jani and Ali are on the same page – they really don’t want to destroy that trademark history of good, homemade large portions of food at reasonable prices but they also realise that we’re living in a different age and that a modern twist is vital. Hence, smoked Baltic Herring still comes crispy but the salty cucumber is a crunchy mix of pickles with good acidity to cut the grease. Wiener Schnitzel is a slab that fills the plate with a dollop of parsley butter and not enough lemon to give you that hit of freshness. But you can ask for more and the super amazing staff are only ready to lay it on. Pancakes are the Finns’ favourite dessert and crispier I have yet to come across.

‘HIETA’ had to fit the boots of its predecessor ‘Salve’ in size and historic importance.

Enough of the food, let’s get down to the drink and then you know these guys have got it sussed. Their own blend of Stuvari ale comes from Donut Island craft brewery just down the road and is a refreshing balance of malt and hops with a twist of citrus to make it your favourite drink of choice this summer. But if brews are not your best, top quality Jacquart Brut Mosaïque champagne is available for an affordable €10,80/glass. All of this, with a view of the water and musings of times gone by, from the terrace of Hieta which will be opening as soon as the restaurant does, on Wednesday 26 April 2017.

Watch this space for links…

Finding the Moomins – Fiskars and Mustionlinna

This elusive family of gentle trolls that inhabit the imagination of children across the world, are pretty hard to find. Head west of Helsinki about 100 km, and you might come close to spotting one in the spectacular countryside near Karjaa.

Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna
Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna

Mustion Linna or Svartå Manor (pronounced ‘svart awe’) is tucked away along a country road and is the proud possession of the Linder family who have owned it since the early 18th Century. A museum of course it should be, but in the capable hands of Christine and Filip Linder and Maria his sister, the many majestic and quaint buildings with the magnificent gardens that sweep down towards the lake, have been transformed into a multi-faceted business. Hotel guests are put up in uniquely styled rooms with modern conveniences, the sauna is next to the water which lures you into taking a dip while the restaurant has a small but carefully selected menu using only local ingredients many of which come from the farm itself. A culinary school is at the disposal of groups where they’ll teach you how to whip up dishes that you never thought you would even begin to attempt. The museum gives you a peek into the lives of the nobility that had close connections with this place and can only be visited with a guide. There’s a summer theatre and plenty of events happening especially in the warmer months. The children can look for Moomins while the adults relax on the terrace overlooking the immaculate surroundings.

Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor
Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor

If you don’t find Moomins there, you might just come across them in the fairy world of Fiskars, arguably the prettiest town in Finland. Oozing charm from its wooden houses, mill and river, this place used to serve as a foundry once upon a time. Today artists and crafts people occupy these spaces and take exceptional care of them. Finnish design can be seen in every nook and cranny of the boutiques and restaurants and a major exhibition takes up room from May to September. This year ‘Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth’ is organic and earthy and pretty wild with 45 works to intrigue, puzzle and wow you.

The organic 'Growth' exhibition
The organic ‘Growth’ exhibition

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Have lunch at the famous Wärdshus Restaurant where you can also spend the night. The local brewery is a class act and calls itself Rekolan Panimo. They are extending their craft beer selection to gin and whisky in the near future once the distillery is up and running. In the meanwhile, try their Metsän Henki or Spruce Shoot beer, it’s different and apparently their biggest seller. Café’s are in plentiful supply but there’s one that’s just a little different. It’s called The Laundry. Soak up the sun, sip on a cold one while overlooking the pond or stay the night in their cute little B and B.

Beautiful Fiskars - it couldn't get any greener
Beautiful Fiskars – it couldn’t get any greener

Fiskars has it all. Their summer programme is jam-packed with events including the Beer Camp with products from micro breweries and lots of munchies to drive away the hunger pangs and Faces Festival in August, celebrating multiculturalism and world music. Nature lovers can take long walks in the truly beautiful surrounds and who knows, you might come across a little creature hiding in a crevice? Don’t be afraid, it’s only a Moomin and they’re known to be gentle and kind.

 

Links:

Svartå Manor

Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth Exhibition

Wärdshus Restaurant

Rekolan Panimo

The Laundry

Faces Festival

Beer Camp

 

 

 

When in Helsinki, Do Helsinki Menu

You may have heard a rumour or two about Scandinavian cuisine lately? What with the Danish restaurant Noma in third place of the best restaurants in the world, news travels fast. Even though Helsinki didn’t make it into the top 50 list, it’s not going to stop Finnish chefs from being creative and innovative in their quest for the best.

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So you find yourself in Helsinki and you’re wondering how you’re going to get to taste the finest the season can offer. Here’s where the Helsinki Menu comes in. Seasonal is the name of the game, as local as ingredients will allow is paramount, taste and texture are right up there and combinations of food and wine or food and beer are skilfully matched.

A total of 9 restaurants have put together 3- or 4-course menus to highlight what’s best right now. The Helsinki Menu changes of course according to the freshest ingredients, in some spots even 5 to 6 times a year. With the emergence of myriad microbreweries, Finland has become a mecca for beer lovers who like to drink this beverage with their food. Bryggeri and Suomenlinna Panimo both have their own breweries right on the premises and their combos of starter, main course and dessert go extremely well with their brews. Blue cheese from Peltola with caramelised walnuts is a striking match with Bryggeri’s own Weiss beer called Bryggeri Weizen whereas the grilled Finnish sirloin with creamed beets and horseradish butter holds it own against Spithead Bitter, an English type bitter with slight carbonation from Suomenlinna Panimo.

DSC02511 When Ari Ruoho’s not in the kitchen, he’s in Lapland fishing or chatting to small farmers scattered around Finland who are producing some great products. His Helsinki Menu at Restaurant Nokka is a knock out starting with a selection of Finnish lake fish with a sour cream sauce, followed by wild duck and cherry sauce, Finnish cheese and finally baked apple with buttermilk sorbet. Yes, you’re allowed to let your mouth water. On the seaside in one of the most picturesque parts of Helsinki, with oodles of atmosphere, the spirit of nature abounds and your taste buds are guaranteed to be soundly satisfied.

Ari Ruoho from Nokka getting carried away
Ari Ruoho from Nokka getting carried away

Where’s the reindeer you might ask? Graniitilinna kicks off with smoked whitefish tartare and their pièce de la résistance is no other than farmed reindeer from way up north in Inari. Lapland potatoes, port wine sauce, perfect! And then Crème Brûlée with salt licorice and strawberry ice cream, oh so Finnish.

DSC03054 Other participating restaurants include Arthur Helsinki, Fly Inn Restaurant and Deli at Helsinki Airport, cosy Kuu and KuuKuu in Töölö and the best view in town at Ursula. Prices range from €40 to €64 excluding beer and wine menus.

Links:

Helsinki Menu

Bryggeri

Suomenlinna Panimo

Restaurant Nokka

Graniitilinna

Arthur Helsinki

Fly Inn Restaurant and Deli

Kuu

KuuKuu

Ursula