Wooden Pickle Brewing: Põhjala, my new best friend

We’re not friends in the traditional sense, where it’s mutual. It’s more of a stalker/stalkee kind of relationship, but it works. Seriously though, if you’re ever going to take my advice, take this one; If you come across a bottle of beer with a wax seal and somewhere on the bottle it says Põhjala, buy it! Don’t be a jerk and buy them all, but buy one or two and share with a friend. The wax seal it means it’s part of their cellar series.

Põhjala, my new best friend

I’ve had Põhjala beers occasionally during the last few years, and they’ve been good. But it wasn’t until I discovered their cellar series that I realized just how amazing beers are being brewed by the brewery located in Tallinn, Estonia. My first cellar series experience was Pime Öö PX, a sherry barrel aged imperial stout. That beer alone made me book a trip to Tallinn. Not kidding. Once I got there I learned that Pime Öö is apparently only released once a year and already sold out for the season. I did find another cellar series beer though, Odravein, a bourbon barrel aged barley wine. Also fantastic!

In full disclosure, I have tasted Põhjala’s cellar series beers prior to the Pime Öö PX, at Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend (TCBW). I know that from pictures I’ve taken, but from pictures only. At that event I’m too much of a kid in a candy store to remember what exactly I’ve had and by whom it was brewed. It’s not from lack of planning. Planning is part of the fun. Each year I go in with a list of the beers I have to try, but after two or three beers the latest, that plan goes out the window and I wing it for the rest of the evening. That’s also part of the fun.

Pime Öö

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I’ve mentioned before how my own stouts always come out harsh. When drinking Pime Öö PX I remember being amazed by its smoothness and wondering how they are able to achieve it. I’ve always figured my issue is process or water related. But what if it isn’t? What if I recipe related?

Best way to find out is to just ask I figured. I found an email address on Põhjala’s web site and wrote them; I’m a homebrewer from Finland, yada yada yada, would you be willing to share the recipes for Pime Öö and Odravein? Sure enough, a few days later their head brewer Chris Pilkington responded with not only the recipes, but instructions as well, including mash temperatures, boil and barrel aging times etc. How fucking cool is that! I’m planning on brewing the Pime Öö recipe next weekend. More about that later.

Põhjala tap room

Previously you haven’t been able to visit Põhjala’s brewery, but that all changed late last year when Põhjala opened their new brewery including a tap room and bottle shop. Calling it a tap room is a bit of an understatement since in addition to having 24 beers on tap they have a BBQ menu to boot. They also started offering brewery tours for 10€. It didn’t take long before I booked another trip to Tallinn.

The new brewery is located in the Kalamaja district, about a 20 minute walk from Tallinn old town. It’s close to where TCBW 2016 was held. My first thought upon arrival was that I hope people will discover this place. Beer geeks will visit for sure, but hopefully it’s not too far away for casual beer drinkers. The place was relatively quiet when we visited, but we did visit early on a Saturday because of the 1 p.m. brewery tour.

Brewery tour

The tour lasted about an hour and included tasting of four beers. One of the beers we got to try was naturally Virmalised, their flagship IPA. Interestingly Virmalised, along with all other core range beers, were still being brewed at their old location. They had not yet been able to replicate the beer with their new equipment. You got to try their “clone” attempts at the tap room though, not sold under the name Virmalised, but as Prototype 1 and 2. I gave both a try and found Prototype 1 to be maltier and Prototype 2 to have a brighter hop character that Virmalised. To be honest I preferred both prototypes over the original, but I do understand them not wanting to change the beer too much at this point.

Bottle shop and tap room

As soon as the tour ended I made my way to the bottle shop. Shopping took me about a minute when I simply followed my own “wax seal” advise. I wasn’t hungry yet at this point so before ordering food I took a “beer flight” where you choose 5×100 ml of Põhjala’s own beers for 8€. To make things easy, they happened to have five cellar series beers on tap, none of which disappointed.

  1. Öö XO, Cognac Barrel Aged Imperial Baltic Porter
  2. Early Morning Regrets, Bourbon BA Imperial Stout with coffee from the Yunnan province of China.
  3. Taanilinn, Cognac Barrel Aged Spiced Imperial Stout.
  4. Sombrero, Mezcal barrel aged Imperial porter with Belyzian chocolate and flamed orange zest.
  5. Valge Öö PX, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Barrel Aged White Stout.

Next up was the main event, the BBQ. I went for the three meat platter, with onion rings on the side. The food was good, not the best BBQ I’ve had, but good nonetheless.

(Side note; top BBQ spot still belongs to Fette Sau in Brooklyn NY. This is the same place where Logan Plant, son of Robert Plant, decided to quit being a musician and open a craft brewery/BBQ joint. You might have heard of the brewery he ended up founding, Beavertown.)

All in all, Põhjala delivered once again. The only minus was when we arrived on Friday evening, we took a walk to the brewery only to find out that the tap room was closed for a private event. Did not notice any info about this on social media. So, if you do plan to visit, make sure to book a table in advance.

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